COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, has changed our lives in a lot of ways since it first emerged at the end of 2019. Large gatherings are banned to prevent the spread of the virus and for most of the world, that includes schools. That doesn’t mean students are getting an extended summer vacation though. Nearly every school district in the United States and many around the world have switched to a cyber school platform, distance learning at its finest through tools like Google Classroom and Zoom. Cyber schools aren’t a new concept but are they one that is going to continue to flourish once the current crisis has passed?
Define Cyber School
First, if you’re not familiar with the concept of cyber school outside of this current crisis, what is it? As its name suggests, cyber school is a style of education where all interactions and teaching exist within the confines of cyberspace. You will likely have physical textbooks, but all of your work will be completed and submitted online. Your conversations with the instructor will take place over discussion boards or through video calls, and everything is done at a distance. Cyberschool isn’t a new concept. It’s been a tool for homeschooling families, as well as those in ultra-rural areas where traveling to school every day would take longer than the school day itself. In the US, at the end of 2018, before the current crisis began, there were nearly 300,000 students enrolled in full-time virtual education programs. Cyberschool teachers have already been making a name for themselves, using their platform for more than just education. One science teacher used an internet-based movement — the Team Trees program, which was trying to raise enough money to plant 20 million trees by Jan 1, 2020. (Spoiler alert: They succeeded!). By bringing information about Team Trees into her classroom, this cyber-teacher was able to teach her students about environmental conservation in a way that made it relevant to them.
Why Cyber School Works for This Crisis
With schools closed, school districts are scrambling to find a way to keep up with the necessary 180 days of education required by public school laws in the United States. In most of the country, there were still two months or more left of school until the regularly scheduled summer vacation. In this case, when neither students nor teachers are allowed on campus, cyber school is the perfect solution. All students need is an internet connection — which many homes always have, and for those that don’t, internet providers are offering free or reduced-cost connectivity for school and work — and an iPad or laptop. For the latter, many schools have devices that they’re loaning out to students who might not have access to the necessary technology on their own. Cyberschool works in a crisis like this because so much of the infrastructure we need for virtual education is already there. Laptops and iPad come with built-in cameras and microphones to facilitate video chat when classroom lessons aren’t an option. Digital assignment submissions are easy and user friendly, and in many cases, it makes it easier for the teachers too since they don’t have to worry about trying to understand poor handwriting.
Will Cyber Schools Continue to Flourish?
It’s too early to know if cyberschool will continue to thrive once we’ve created a vaccine for the virus and life has resumed some sense of normalcy. Schools will eventually reopen and many students will return to campuses and classrooms rather than sticking to the virtual education model that the entire country has been thrust into currently. That said, it’s entirely possible that some parents will want to stick to the cyberschool model once things go back to normal. Either they’ll find that their child thrives outside of a school environment, or they’ll cling to some residual fear about the virus outbreak and want to keep their kids closer to hearth and home. Whatever the reason, we will likely see a higher number of students enrolled in cyber school in the coming years on a more permanent basis.
Looking Toward a Post-COVID19 World
Like most of the world, we’re all sitting at home, waiting for the thing to start going back to normal. Logically, we know it’s going to take a few months to start flattening the curve, and we’ll likely be waiting 12-18 months for a vaccine before things will start to regain a sense of normality. While we wait for that to happen, cyber school will provide something familiar that will make it easier to ease back into things like work and school once this virus has run its course or we have the tools to prevent it. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event for most of us, and we’re all struggling to adapt. All we can do is try to keep moving forward, and virtual schooling is one of the best tools to help us do that. Time will tell if enrollment numbers stay up after things have gone back to normal.