To address the COVID-19 achievement gap, it might be time to reevaluate print
It’s no secret that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning is having something of “a moment.” As many schools shift from traditional in-person models to long-term hybrid and online ones, the interest in platforms that support distance learning has grown.
In return, there’s been an explosion of new distance learning solutions on the market that address a range of educational needs.
Just because the products exist, however, doesn’t mean that everyone’s needs are being met. The vast majority of distance learning solutions on the market today are digital. This assumes that every student in a given school district has ready access to a reliable computer and internet connectivity.
Today’s conscientious educators and administrators know that simply isn’t the case.
A June 1, 2020, study by McKinsey & Company projected the long-term effects of distance learning on academic achievement in the time of COVID-19. It found that “lower-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning or to a conducive learning environment, such as a quiet space with minimal distractions, devices they do not need to share, high-speed internet, and parental academic supervision.”
The study concluded, sadly but predictably, that underrepresented and minority students could fall behind academically anywhere from 10 months to a year. It also projected that “COVID-19 closures will probably increase high-school drop-out rates” among these groups.
The McKinsey study isn’t alone in its findings. Many other sources have come to the same conclusions.
I believe that our nation’s most valuable asset is its people. Unfortunately, an increasing proportion of underrepresented students are falling behind as their educational needs aren’t met. And that means we risk doing irreparable damage to our students and the future of our country.
Here at Walch, we have a long tradition of supporting and enhancing math programs. We see first-hand the increasing failure rates of algebra students and the discouragement and frustration this creates. Addressing this problem is one of our highest priorities.
Technology fails. Depending on the resources available, it fails more frequently for some more than others. And for some students, the technology isn’t available in the first place—for every school district that can provide a computer to students, there’s another that can’t. And even then, there’s no guarantee that internet access is available.
You know what doesn’t crash or require an internet connection? Print products. I’m aware that in today’s world, print products are almost an old-fashioned notion. But time and time again, Walch has seen that print products, when blended with modern technologies, provide a differentiated approach to teaching and learning that’s more reliable, more effective, and less sensitive to socioeconomic factors than their purely digital counterparts. Any student, anywhere and at any time, can access a printed workbook.
There are other benefits, as well. Printed workbooks are inexpensive. You can write on the pages. They can be customized, tailored, and personalized just like today’s AI solutions. They don’t cause screen fatigue. And they’re secure: they can’t be “Zoom-bombed,” phished, or infected with a virus.
Since the advent of civilization, educators have recognized the importance of having students learn in a physical classroom. Today’s COVID-19 pandemic has provided modern education experts with a bittersweet opportunity: the ability to witness what happens when students aren’t able to learn in person. As seen above, it’s not promising. Many students simply aren’t learning well through digital distance learning solutions alone. In the worst case, an entire strata of underrepresented students isn’t being reached at all.
At Walch, we believe we can—and should—do better. It’s time educators and administrators re-evaluate the power of print in their distance learning curriculums. An entire generation could depend on it.