Front and center of tomorrow's society – learn smarter, teach harder
Alright, your wishes might soon be granted – real soon. And it may not be a pretty picture. Remember the short story “The Monkey’s Paw” where the couple took a wicked wishing monkey paw from a jaded military friend who warned them to not make any wishes? He forewarned them that the unintended consequences of the wish will severely outweigh the intent of the original wish. The undeterred couple asked for money – 200 British pounds. They got their wish in the form of their first son dying the next day and the couple getting a death benefit check of 200 pounds – dun dun dun! Be careful what you wish for.
On my blog, I wrote an article four years ago called “The Rise of the Androcators”. In it, I predicted the rise of automation in the education industry. People ignored me or gave the “we teachers are indispensable” retort. The sentiment then, and the sentiment now, is that teachers believe that in-person educators cannot be replaced by robots or technological devices. Once again, my fellow educators, the education system “can have another YOU any minute, a matter of fact,” it will be here in a minute (shoutout to Beyonce) thanks to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
As federal and local governments are scrambling to contain the virus, the reactive, effective response has been to limit crowds – e.g. closing sporting events, schools, bars, etc. Even in some places, as at the time of this writing, there has been full quarantine lockdown in countries like China and Italy. For these education systems, many districts have resorted to using the online (e-learning) paradigm to help students learn from home. And with this setup, the future paradigm of education will absolutely shift. The younger generations (Generation Y, Z, etc.) are already comfortable learning online (hell, I owe a lot of my knowledge about fixing cars to YouTube videos). So, why not use e-learning platforms throughout the whole school year?
Imagine students, speaking mainly to the 10-18-year-old, getting permission to stay home, wake up at 11a, get their work done online (text friends while doing so), and doing so while in the confines of their home? Face-to-face social interaction be damned – many of them actually prefer texting – sometimes while standing NEXT TO EACH OTHER! The e-learning set up is ripe for many of them. In this paradigm, students learning from home will make their parents the main responsibility of their students’ learning and well being (wish #1 fulfilled!). However, this would reduce the number of teachers needed. A class of 32 in-person can be equivalent to a class of 64+ online. Get the picture? More students opting for online options can alleviate the skilled teacher shortage and even create a teacher surplus (meaningless teachers needed overall). Imagine the money that local governments and property taxpayers could save with this plan? And as we know, cash rules…
States spend anywhere from $7k (Utah) to $22K (New York) per student for the 180+ days they have to be in school. Costs include teaching personnel (highest cost), building cost, transportation, materials, etc. Let’s not forget federal spending on students as well. In the fiscal year 2018, the U.S. federal government spent $59 billion (about $3k per student). Imagine if most of those allocations were given directly to parents, per child, to figure out what to do with their kid’s education? For example, let’s say the parents of three children in New York receive 80% of what the school spent per student in 2018. This would be $22,366 *3 *80%, totalling $53,678.
Imagine state legislation is passed to allow parents to use the funds to homeschool the students using a guided e-learning program? With that money, per child, a parent could stay home, hire a private tutor, etc. This scenario would ultimately give parents the power and responsibility of their child(ren)’s education (Wish #2).
Rightfully, parents are complaining about having to teach their children now (look at the memes and comments on social media) due to the abrupt changes in the current school structure coupled with the stress about their job (or lack thereof). But, if they were prepared and compensated for this task, many would jump at the monetized assistance of educating their children. Which in turn, would result in the loss of teacher jobs and/or diminishing the teacher shortage. Districts could save, in this hypothetical scenario, 20% on those digitized children (my new phrase). Furthermore, what if the students improve their academic performance and behavior from the environment they enjoy and the increased one-on-one instruction? This would be a win for all – paid parents, achieving students, and less taxed citizens.
Online classes allow schools to avoid having to deal with physical classroom management (e.g. assault, verbal abuse, physical bullying, etc.). Only 30 students can fit in your chaotic class now? No problem, let’s put 60 in your online course. With online classes, teachers can manage more students since they are not having to deal with physical space. Great! Wish #1 granted! Thanks, Genie. Well, not so fast Aladdin. More teachers taking on more students equals a lower need for teachers. This will close the teacher vacancy gap and then some. Meaning: some of your teachers today, especially the ones who need help with attaching a PDF to an email, will be eliminated. It’s a numbers game. Labor costs, i.e. teacher/administrative salary and benefits, hold the lion’s share of school costs of production (anywhere from 60-80%). It is only natural that governments and taxpayers find ways to shave those costs. As we see in Ontario, Canada, teachers are striking over the province’s plan to have students take classes online – this threatens teacher jobs. But, in many industrially developed countries, like Japan, Canada, the U.S., the birth rates are far below population replenishing rates. Point blank, people are not having kids as much as in the past. Fewer kids equal less of a need for teachers, schools, etc. The Coronavirus disruption may be a catalyst to validate the widespread implementation of e-learning schools to prepare for the quickly dwindling school-aged population and local governments’ desire to cut costs.
Calm down. Many students today enjoy using the Internet to learn – some prefer it over physical books. Heck, I really enjoy the presence of people and old school face-to-face interactions; but I also enjoy learning online. Online, I get to learn from Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hahn, and other scholars at my own pace. Students today are digital natives. They are from a world totally different from the ones that I, and people before me, grew up in. In fact, let’s run the numbers. I bet many students of today would prefer learning online instead of going into some of the uninspiring classes they have. Instead of dealing with the in-person and online bullying (at least they can just hide in their room while attending class). E-learning has many possibilities and great potential to advance the education of students today (and answer wish #3). For example:
I know that the main objective of schools is to impart knowledge and help students to properly socialize. But, what if those two goals can be met outside of the brick and mortar schools?
E-learning is not new. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that has a lot of room to grow. The automatization of the education world is in full swing and it will grow even bigger. There is no chance for Ludditic educators to smash the machine or break the internet – approach would be futile. Now, there will be opportunities for entrepreneurial and industrious educators in the new e-learning paradigm. Some could work as ronin teachers (e.g. specialized, in-person tutors for small groups/individuals or as online teachers) or even as curriculum designers. However, many will have to find a new career.
I am not saying that all students, or even a majority, will want to opt into e-learning in the coming months. It may be a slow gaining of steam in the coming years. But rest assured, the e-train will be gaining a lot more momentum once the logistics (internet access, laptop availability, quality online courses, etc.) are firmly in place. Companies have already adopted the remote working and re-training model. Couples have even found computer love. Schools are the final frontier.
During this Coronavirus crisis, students and parents will get a taste of online classes and some may see benefits outweigh the costs of traditional school. In fact, with all of the economic stimuli floating around, local and state governments will want to find ways to major ways to cut back in spending. Education will be on the front lines of the cost-saving measures. At the moment, online public school has been involuntarily thrust upon us so it is going through a test-run. But rest assured that parents and students will get more comfortable with it, online curriculum designs will get more sophisticated with time, and for-profit companies will fully take advantage of the golden opportunity to help districts save money. In all, many of you educators will not be needed in the brave new world of digital education. Praemonitus praemunitus – Forewarned is forearmed.