If the pandemic taught us anything, it was how to be creative and more open minded with technology —whether it be finding ways to allow employees to work remotely, allow citizens to view their governments in action remotely or allow students to learn remotely.
Rather than go back to our old ways now that the pandemic appears to be winding down, at least for the time being, governments and school districts in particular should take advantage of what they’ve learned and use it to provide important services more conveniently and efficiently, while at the same time saving taxpayers money.
A good example of that kind of innovative thinking can be found in the Scotia-Glenville and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school districts, which are looking at ways to provide students with a wide variety of courses in the face of declining enrollment, a corresponding decline in state and federal aid, and a high demand for teachers in specialized subjects.
The two districts are among those discussing ways to expand existing shared learning models promoted through BOCES to include a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction in certain unique courses.
Under the plan being discussed, students from each district might attend classes in the other district while also having the option, when required, of remote learning, with students staying in their home schools.
It’s the same model local governments are using to hold public meetings in person while also making them available online in real time.
As school officials learned during the pandemic, there’s no perfect substitute for students being in the same place as their instructor to get the most out of the learning experience — in much the same way government boards have found there’s no perfect substitute for direct public in-person involvement at meetings.
But remote learning is possible, and can be effective, particularly when it exposes students to subject matter and other ways of learning they might not otherwise be exposed to.
State officials should be doing more to encourage this kind of cooperation, both by providing funding such as grants for equipment and hiring, and also easing whatever legal and legislative impediments that prevent or discourage this kind of innovation.
Teachers unions, we’re sure, might be reluctant to endorse this kind of arrangement to a large degree, fearing it might undercut the market for their teachers’ services.
But the alternative is that if individual districts can’t afford these instructors or if declining enrollments don’t justify the need, their teachers won’t have jobs anyway.
Most importantly, these types of arrangements benefit students by providing them with educational opportunities, particularly in poorer districts, they might not otherwise get. We need to see more of this kind of thinking.