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Improving W.Va. ‘Remote Learning’

No doubt many teachers, students and parents in West Virginia will agree with our nomination for contradiction in terms of the past year: “remote learning.”

It simply has not worked well for tens of thousands of Mountain State children who have had to stay away from the classrooms for weeks, even months, at a time. For some students, it has not worked at all.

“I’ll remain very constant — remote learning is not good for our children,” state school Superintendent W. Clayton Burch said in November. “Actually, the more we’re finding out about it I think it’s one of the worst things we can do,” he added. “As far as I’m concerned we need to take advantage of every minute, every day we can have a live teacher with these children.”

Trying to place blame for the problem would be both counterproductive and unfair. The bottom line is that our system of public schools was set up and relies upon daily contact among teachers and students. Attempting to do something different was doomed to failure from the start.

That is so for a variety of reasons. One is that very few teachers have much training in educating children through online platforms. Another is that school systems did not have adequate online learning infrastructure in place. Still a third consideration is that in many counties, teachers were being asked to do two jobs at once. They spent their days handling children in classrooms when that was possible — then going home to spend their evenings dealing with online work.

An insurmountable obstacle in many cases has been apathy on the part of some students and their parents. To them, schools closed by COVID-19 were little more than a long break.

Finally, of course, there is the challenge that a significant percentage of households do not have access to high-speed internet service.

We were glad to hear Wednesday of Gov. Jim Justice’s plan to have most students back in class full-time starting Jan. 19. That is the only workable solution to ensure West Virginia children don’t fall behind.

Now comes the question of what to do about remote learning. Do we all just cross our fingers and hope there will not be another time during which it will become so important? That would be foolish. No one can say when or whether another epidemic will break out, forcing more school closures.

Finding better ways of teaching children in their homes is essential. State school officials should make that a top priority.

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