Since the pandemic started, education has had to go virtual in many cases. Now, we’re in a sort of limbo. As case counts ebb and flow, and states and school districts handle things in different ways, parents, teachers, and students are constantly adjusting. Looking toward what we hope will be the end of the pandemic as we know it, however, one question stands above the rest: Will virtual classrooms persist when this is all over?
There are some benefits that may make virtual classrooms an option moving forward. Schools have introduced some new, convenient processes that make class flow better while virtual. Additionally, both school districts and local governments are working on turning virtual education into something that expands access for more students.
For older students, virtual classes can be more convenient when it comes to choosing subjects and paths, which is to say students studying virtually may be able to tailor their paths even more. Plus, the introduction of virtual classes in lieu of brick-and-mortar classrooms and campuses could in the long run mean that certain aspects of education at all levels become more affordable.
Ultimately, however, virtual classes are not likely to be the “new norm” –– for a handful of important reasons.
Importance of the human touch
One of the most important considerations when we think about the future for educators in this country is the human touch they provide. Beyond pure education, teachers interact with their pupils. They encourage interpersonal communication skills, foster group problem solving, and demonstrate leadership –– all, when you think about it, distinctly in-person processes. These are aspects of childhood development and education that virtual tools and processes cannot fully imitate or support, and they’re among the key reasons why brick-and-mortar classrooms need to factor into post-pandemic schooling.
Socialization for kids
Children learn by interacting with each other. Through playing during recess, enjoying games in the classroom, and even passing notes to each other during class, they acquire social skills they’ll use their whole lives. This socialization also helps children learn how to properly react to certain situations such as losing a game or being insulted by a peer, as well as how to reign in their emotions when need be. Per a study on student-based emotion-related socialization, “Students frequently experience a range of emotions throughout the day, including anxiety regarding academic performance or test-taking, sadness stemming from difficult social interactions, frustration from the difficulty of learning a new academic concept, and joy in response to earning good grades.”
Not all of those feelings are pleasant, but they’re all constructive in social development. And virtual classrooms do very little to bring them about the way traditional schooling does.
The human touch and social development occur through in-person experiences. But the experiences themselves are crucial as well. Consider experiments in science classes for instance, when children might learn how chemicals play into making ice cream, or observe the processes by which flowers grow or small animals live. Or think about field trips, which might take young students on hiking trips to enjoy nature, or to museums to observe relics from ancient history. We’re beginning to hear more about virtual reality being capable of replicating these experiences. But there’s really no full substitute for hands-on learning such as students get from experiences like these (not to mention most students don’t have access to quality VR).
While there are pros and cons to virtual classes, it doesn’t seem like they will be the only option moving forward. School districts may opt for hybrid learning options, or give choices to families regarding how to handle certain aspects of education. But for the reasons listed above, among others, it’s vital for traditional classrooms to endure even if some virtual options become more normalized.