Digital divide, privacy, problem of plenty: Will remote learning work?

May 11, 2020


When remote learning is the new normal during this Covid 19 pandemic, parents and teachers all across are scrambling to make do with whatever resources they have despite the challenges.


Image licensed from Adobe Stock Images.

Rebecca’s phone beeped when she was doing the rounds of her patients at the hospital. Finally, when she got the time to skim through her messages, she noticed one message was from her three-year-old son, Fabian’s, class teacher. It was a home assignment for the little one till the home confinement lasts.

Yes, when schools across the globe have been shut because of the Covid 19 pandemic and remote learning is the new normal, teachers/ educators/parents across the country are looking for ways to keep their students/children engaged and focussed with whatever relevant resources they have in hand. Not to mention limiting their screen time simultaneously

These are unprecedented times for all of us as we scramble to set up virtual classrooms for our children/ students and work desks for ourselves. To add to our woes, problems are plenty: From no internet connectivity to tech challenges and added workload to deal with.

For Rebecca, getting on with her son’s assignments is not a problem because it just entails identifying animals and birds or simple coloring with crayons. But everyone is not that lucky. Especially, for teachers and parents dealing with higher grades.



Everyone is fighting their own battles

“I am having a difficult time coming up with lesson plans for remote learning. Many of the students that I serve do not have the internet connection. They are not able to get online for their learning,”

says Amanda Huntley, who teachers science from grades 3-5 in Oklahoma.

“I teach biology and environmental science. But in my area students do not have devices or internet/cell connectivity. We have been asked to give them assignments every two weeks that does not require a textbook, computer or printer. I am totally bereft of ideas,”

laments Theodore Marie from Montana.

While Susan Ashley, a technology teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, complains of “tech problems and assignment upload issues”, she adds: “Sometimes the platforms are not able to handle the amount of users during peak hours.”

There are also teachers who are feeling overwhelmed with online teaching. Linda Jones, who is an English teacher in New Jersey, says:

“For a tech-challenged person like me, this entire process is so challenging and intimidating.”

When teachers are struggling with their own set of problems, students are fighting their own battle. From complaints about being swamped with assignments and deadlines from their teachers to sharing laptops with siblings or taking turns for their school work, children are no less stressed out. Some children told us that they have to sign in for their virtual classes from 8 am to 3 pm. And we talk about limiting their screen time!


9.4 million students without internet access


Image licensed from Adobe Stock Images.

However, there is an entirely different situation for students from low income households. Without the internet connection at home, education has taken a backseat. A recent Education Department statistics revealed that 14% of children, amounting to about 9.4 million, within the age group of 3-18 years, do not have access to the internet at home.

Several educators in Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington have come forward in saying that the digital divide has left them disadvantaged and disconnected. Though some schools have started distributing paper packets of assignments, collecting from a distribution tent can be challenging for some students.

Meanwhile, school districts are scrambling to get their acts together and ensuring that online classes continue without any glitches. In New York City, which boasts the country’s largest school district, the Department of Education (DOE) is working closely with mobile telecommunications and a technology company to provide internet-enabled devices for about 3000,000 needy students. This effort by the DOE administrators is worth the applause, especially when the NY State has taken the worst hit by Covid-19.

While in the second largest school district, Los Angeles, schools are using their emergency funds and working closely with a telecommunication conglomerate to ensure that all 600,000 students get their internet-enabled devices.

Most of the other school districts are fighting it out alone and struggling to use their existing infrastructure. Everyone seems to be working on providing solutions and easing the impact of school closures.

It’s true that several companies are turning Good Samaritans and coming forward to help parents and teachers alike in these difficult times. Most of them are offering free subscriptions for at least 3 months keeping in mind the present scenario. And yes, educators and parents are now dealing with another problem- Problem of Plenty. When every startup or big corporation is trying to add more subscribers to their platforms, the choices of what and what not become a harder one.


Children’s safety is paramount


Image licensed from Adobe Stock Images.

It is also critical that we provide our children with relevant resources that sync with or boost their core curriculum. What is more important while selecting resources for our children/students is to keep in mind the best practices for their safety and privacy. Yes, we have to be careful of online resources that collect information or data about children

A recent point in case is New York City banning teachers from using Zoom for virtual teaching citing privacy and safety concerns. There are several cities now following suit in banning Zoom for remote learning.

Similarly, we have also been flooded with messages from teachers, who want to use Mand Labs Academy, asking us whether or not we have such safety and privacy in place. As a small organization that cares, we are very strict about privacy protection and do everything “necessary” to enforce it.

To assure all our users, Mand Labs Academy was built to help children learn physics/ electronics remotely without fearing about their safety or privacy. Our program was specifically built for children/schools using Google App. We let children log in using their school/Google accounts. The only information that our system administrator sees on the backend are username (system generated), school name and user email address.

The email is the unique identifier on the system. No additional information is required or mandatory to use the platform. The user has complete control over his/her privacy settings, as he/she is able to control the information/content shared. For instance, based on what they want they can make their documents, posts, projects private/public or shown only in the user’s private group.


What is Mand Labs Academy?


Image licensed from Adobe Stock Images.

Mand Labs Academy is an interactive e-learning platform for project-based learning in electronics and physics. Learners can take our master course, work on hands-on projects, take quizzes, build their problems-solving skills, showcase their project creations to the community, network with other makers and seek technical support from our engineers.

Suited for classrooms, homeschoolers and personalized learning, it also enables educators and schools to create and manage their student groups. It is compatible with AP physics, SAT physics and IGCSE Tests.

We are enabling free-user accounts on Mand Labs Academy for teachers/parents interested in teaching/learning physics/ electronics remotely. All you have to do is register and send us a list of your students/children so that we can grant them permission from our backend to use the Grand Master Plan with access to the master course, quizzes, projects and your school’s group

We know that right now accessing Mand Labs KIT-1 for each and every student is not possible, therefore we have come up with a document containing how-to videos for creating circuit simulations. Yes, our free Electricity Tutorials for virtual classrooms are also available. It is a work in progress, as our team is working tirelessly to bring more content to you.

In conclusion, we would like to say that while we are still adjusting to this new way of teaching and learning from home, we need to ponder over the following quote that is trending over the internet.

“There is no academic emergency right now, so don’t be so quick to set-up a homeschool. Our country is in a crisis, and we are all stressed and tired. Stressed adults cannot teach stressed children. It is a neuro-biological impossibility. Try focussing on connections and feelings of safety.”

About Author
Urmila, who is a Big Data and STEM enthusiast, works as the head of communications with Mand Labs. She is a believer in transformation of life and career through STEM. She can be reached on Twitter @umarak

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