We're living in an increasingly digital media-saturated world. Today’s technology allows virtually 24-hour access to media.
Youth are particularly likely to be consumed by the electronic overload available on television, computers, cell phones and iPods.
Last year, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report stating that children age 8-18 spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes daily using entertainment media.
Despite a growing concern about the ubiquitous nature of technology, “digital learning” is a trendy development where kids can take school coursework online.
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Beginning with the current school year, Washington school districts may claim basic state education funding for students enrolled in approved online courses. The hope for this Internet curriculum is that it will provide flexibility and efficiency for students and schools alike.
The first Online Learning Annual Report was presented to the Legislature last month. Since this is a preliminary report representing a very limited period, it’s too soon to rely upon such data exclusively. However, there are some early indications that these programs are alarmingly inferior to conventional schools.
Between 48 and 60 percent of 10th graders enrolled in the digital classes were administered state assessment tests. Where testing was conducted, students enrolled in the online classes fell behind brick and mortar schools in every instance. In some areas, such as writing and reading, the disparity was minimal. However, in mathematics and science, scores from online students were significantly lower than the state average.
There are bugs in the reporting system still to be resolved. Defining class completion, standardizing grading, and determining students’ suitability for this type of study are some of the issues the report identifies as problematic. But, as the report states, “despite data quality problems, there appears to be some reason for concern about achievement in online school programs and courses.”
No doubt they’ll streamline the methodology. However, the general wisdom of “virtual” schooling remains ambiguous. Some of the greatest struggles facing our youth today (media overreliance, obesity, an increasing lack of social refinement) will not improve under such a scheme. Utilizing the Internet as a complement to education is essential. Replacing the institution of traditional school with overly permissive online courses is reckless.
Television advertising aimed at attracting students to online schooling shows kids in their pajamas, able to complete their studies at home, at their convenience.
For kids, this design must seem magical. They can sleep late, attend classes on their timelines, avoid demanding teachers, and circumvent much of the testing so omnipresent in school.
There is no expectation for timely arrival or maintaining decorum for the duration of a lecture. But the social interaction of a classroom has considerable value in teaching kids to handle peer pressure, cope with authority and develop a social identity. Interacting with a teacher via a message board is no replacement for questions posed and discussed “live” in a classroom. In an online environment, students practice none of the discipline and communication skills that will be required of them in upper education or the workplace.
There are some limited applications where digital education would be useful. For example, it could prove invaluable as a supplement to home schooling, for children with health issues or special needs, or for kids who are in a juvenile incarceration facility. But these instances are the exception, not the rule.
Our youth are faced with a barrage of enticing media options. Amid the texting and tweeting, even simple conversational skills are becoming obsolete. Further removing our students from society by turning to online education will prevent them from competing in an ever more competitive world.
Kris Coyner is an activist for immigration justice and civil rights. She and her partner are raising 1-year-old triplet daughters near Shelton. A member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.