Up to 13 different schools in the Baltimore County area are shifting entirely to virtual learning over the course of the first week of January as a result of increased COVID-19 infection rates, with several others implementing partial closures.
These changes, which were noted on the official website, are based on guidelines issued by the Maryland Department of Health which recommended that schools shift their entire curriculum to online learning in the event that 5% or more of the total student body along with teachers and other staff members test positive for COVID-19 within a 2-week timespan.
Here is the full list of schools in the Baltimore area that are closed for at least the first week of January:
- Carroll Manor Elementary
- Chapel Hill Elementary
- Deer Park Middle Magnet
- Dundalk High
- Fullerton Elementary
- Lansdowne High
- Parkville High
- Randallstown High
- Ridge Ruxton School
- Sandalwood Elementary
- Scotts Branch Elementary
- Woodholme Elementary
- Woodlawn High
Furthermore, the below list of schools have announced partial closures:
- Edgemere Elementary (Pre-school only)
- Logan Elementary (Prekindergarten only)
- Lyons Mill Elementary (5th grade only)
- Stemmers Run Middle (6th grade only)
This trend began barely a month into the pandemic, with schools shutting down all across the globe. As early as April 2020, over 1 billion students were removed from the classroom. Consequently, the landscape of education has changed in a dramatic way, noted in particular by the rise of e-learning in which lectures take place remotely on digital platforms the same way workers have been engaging in meetings entirely through Zoom.
The good news, however, is that growing numbers of research have suggested that online learning has demonstrated a substantial increase in the retention of knowledge, takes significantly less time, and is far more optimized for the necessary education. In short, the changes may be here to stay forever.
However, even before the pandemic, there was already a noted adoption in the technology for remote learning, with investments into global edtech reaching nearly $20 billion and the overall market projected to exceed $350 billion by the year 2025. Whether in the form of language apps, video conferencing tools, virtual tutoring, or online learning software, a substantial surge in usage has taken place since the beginning of COVID-19.
In response to exponential demand, a growing number of platforms are offering institutions free access to services including but not limited to the online tutoring firm based in Bangalore known as BYJU's (now the world's highest-valued company in this particular niche). Through its announcements of free live sessions on the Think and Learn app, this particular company has observed an over 200% increase in new students.
Moreover, after the Chinese government ordered over 250 million full-time students to resume study through online platforms, Tencent classroom has seen a similar exponential increase in use since mid-February of 2020. Both of these created the largest online movement in education history with over 700,000 (or just over 80%) of K-12 students attending virtual classes.
To also provide their own one-stop destination for students and teachers, Lark, a collaboration suite based in Singapore, started offering unlimited video conferencing to students and teachers with automatic translation, real-time cooperative editing of project work, and calendar scheduling. To accomplish this and many other features in a time of crisis, Lark expanded its server infrastructure and engineering to establish reliable connectivity and rapid network speeds.
Despite the myriad number of visible benefits to this sift, there are still quite a few challenges to overcome. Many students without reliable access to technology or the Internet struggle to participate and this gap is observed across nations and income brackets within countries. For instance, despite the fact that 95% of the student body present in Austria, Switzerland, and Norway have a computer to utilize for their schoolwork, less than 35% living in Indonesia do in accordance with data issued by the OECD.
In the United States, there is a substantial gap between those from disadvantaged and privileged backgrounds. Although nearly every 15-year old hailing from a prestigious family background had a computer, almost a quarter from disadvantaged backgrounds failed to have access. Even when some governments and schools have provided digital equipment to those in need such as in Australia, many have expressed concern that the digital divide will continue to widen.