(KSLA) — Distance learning and virtual education have become buzzwords as ways to reach students at home without risking exposure to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
But depending on who you ask, and where, you’ll either hear that virtual education has been an abject failure or a godsend.
If you ask half a dozen school districts in East Texas, they’re very likely to tell you it’s the former, not the latter.
At the moment, many call it a failure, especially when you consider that nearly 1 in every 3 online students in Marshall has at least one failing grade and 1 in 4 have at least two failing grades.
This did not come as a surprise to everyone, especially those who know the heavy lifting involved for a family to support a remote-learning student on a day-to-day basis.
“Yeah, I mean it is harder getting your own kids to listen. I don’t know why it’s so much harder, but it is. It really is,” East Texan Samantha Britt said. “And especially for the moms and dads that have to work. And then they go figure out how to teach their kids and stuff like that. So, yeah, I can see where it’s harder.”
Some parents point to ‘a digital divide’ of the haves and have nots that only has served to exacerbate the argument.
Charli Hall, Britt’s big sister, explained the challenges they’ve experienced because of living in a mostly rural area of Harrison County, Texas: “Where I live at, my kids have not been able to do their homework all the time because I don’t have internet. So there’s some classes that they kind of fail at because they can’t get on the internet at my house.”
That’s why Hall’s 5- and 6-year-old children have had in-person instruction this whole time.
Fortunately, Hall feels comfortable dropping them off at their school.
“Sam Houston, where my kids go, they have the mask, they have the face shield, they do hand sanitizing, they eat lunch in the classroom. So they pretty much stay in the classroom all the time.”
The bottom line: Face-to-face education is difficult to beat, according to parents like Kayla Holland, whose daughter goes to school in Beckville, Texas.
“Cuz they get that one-on-one with the teacher. And they get, you know, to play with the other kids and, you know, be out there and social. And that helps them grow as a kid anyway.”
Now eight months after it began, Marshall ISD is ending its virtual education program.
It’s a move that Britt fears is not a good idea for everyone. “Yeah, I honestly don’t think that it’s time for kids that don’t want to go back to school to have to.”
Britt’s children already are back at school, but she and others fear for students who may have a compromised immune system, which puts them at a higher risk.
“There are kids out there with illnesses and stuff like that that can’t afford to get COVID. And so, I don’t think people should have to go back to the classroom yet, no.”
Britt said she knows of one family that will have to take extra steps to keep their child safe while still getting an education.
“She is going to have to find a different route, which is going to be some kind of homeschooling where she’s probably gonna have to pay for it. So yeah, that part’s not fair that they’re gonna have to pay for their school because they don’t feel safe going back to the classroom."
Meanwhile, as a student attending East Texas Baptist University, Leah Akridge said she knows all about the challenges of virtual education and understands why student performance can sometimes suffer because of it.
“Whenever you put a screen between the learning environment and the student, it does put kind of a barrier. You don’t, you’re not as attentive, you don’t feel like you have to participate as much. And it’s harder for the teacher or professor to like bridge that gap.”
Virtual education programs end in Marshall after Nov. 6. In-person exclusively becomes the form of instruction on Nov. 9.
Several neighboring school districts also are suspending virtual instruction, including those in Tyler, Longview, Hallsville, Elysian Fields and Gilmer.
We reached out to the Bossier and Caddo school districts. Neither plans to change online instruction.