Safety and education. Hopefully, they usually go hand in hand and are able to coexist in a schooling environment. However, there are concerns that they are not able to do so in our current pandemic setting. So, which is more important, the safety of students and staff, or a better education? Of course, it isn’t hard to see which side most parents and teachers would be concerned about, especially when the question is worded in that way.

US News writes about a poll that was sent out to 0ver 1,800 parents and teachers, and their responses to this question. “When asked whether reopening schools for in-person learning too quickly or reopening schools for in-person learning too slowly is a bigger concern, 59% of parents and 64% of teachers said reopening too quickly is far more concerning. And when asked which should be the biggest factor in deciding whether, how and when schools should reopen for in-person learning – a choice between protecting the health of students and staff or meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of students – the vast majority of both parents, 68%, and teachers, 77%, said protecting students and staff was more important.” The overwhelming majority of those who responded were far more concerned about the safety and health of students and school staff than the discrepancies of online learning.
(https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2020-09-16/parents-and-teachers-favor-slow-return-to-in-person-learning).

While this concern and overwhelming support of safety is not surprising, it does open another question. What options are available that combine both safety and better education? There are several options that have been explored by different schools and education organizations all over the world. Throughout all of these different options, there are variations that may work better for one specific situation rather than another.

The closest of these options to normal schooling is in person but socially distant school courses. This option has many different faces to it. Things such as dividing the number of students that are in the school on any given day, using larger classrooms to allow students to spread out, and divides around desks are all aspects of these in person, socially distant courses. While they are all in person, these different aspects can be used to create a safer learning environment. Of course, all of these options are also being paired with more washing of hands, masks, and the safety measures that we all are taking in our everyday lives. This option, while the most similar to the original way of doing classes and education, is one that most people are not as comfortable with as they may be with other options.

One such option for a combination of safety and education in the pandemic are hybrid courses. Hybrid courses are, self-explanatorily, a hybrid of in-person and online coursework and class meetings. “In typical hybrid courses, the instructor makes most of the choices, such as when the class will meet in person or online, and the percentage of each format over the term.” However, there are also some hybrid courses that have shifted to having “students decide when and how they participate – that is, for each and every class meeting they can choose to sit in the classroom or to join via video conference in real-time, or they can watch the recording and complete online activities later.” Both of these options create a safer learning environment and cater more towards the comfort of the teachers and students, and how much they want to be in person. This option combines the two extremes of the situation in a way that allows more flexibility.
(https://philonedtech.com/covid-19-planning-for-fall-2020-a-closer-look-at-hybrid-flexible-course-design/).

Finally, the third of these main options is completely online courses. These are good because they allow students and teachers to be completely socially distant and not have to worry about their safety in a large in-person environment. They can complete their classes and homework in a safer environment, and even have further flexibility on the pace they go in some instances. However, the entirely online approach also has its downsides. In an online environment, the abilities of both the students and teachers are not always up to the same potential that could be achieved in person. Online learning can be much harder to get one on one time, free flowing class discussion, and the same level of motivation. However, this is not always true. As with anything, the success of this method varies depending on the teachers and students.

Different education methods work for different people, and this is true of any classroom, whether it is during a pandemic or not. However, one thing that has never changed is that students, teachers, and parents all agree that safety of everyone involved is very important. This needs to be taken into consideration when moving forward with classes and continuing to adjust to the pandemic. While there are many options of how to proceed, each of them have their own pros and cons.

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