• By Jeremy Zajicek, Dr. Joy Stouffer

Rethinking online education

The educational decisions of today will profoundly shape the future leaders of Guam. We know intuitively that the single greatest factor in students’ success or failure in school is the teacher who inspires them to reach beyond what they believe is possible.

Simply put, online education is an inadequate substitute for face-to-face interaction with teachers. As we consider the sober reality of the risks involved with this school year, we must think critically about the long-term consequences of our decisions.

We believe that over time, learning trajectories will fall, social development will be stunted, and relationships will erode. We are watching the consequences accrue, and we cannot be silent about the price that the children of our island will pay for short-term solutions.

On Guam, it has been 170 long days since the students of our island received face-to-face instruction, and our children are feeling the physical, social, and mental effects of this separation from school.

School is a safe haven for the most vulnerable. Students receive physical care, nutrition, and the love of experts who are trained to diagnose, assist, and educate them to their full potential. Some argue that online learning is a comparable trade-off, but we beg you to talk to the teachers, social workers, physicians and police officers on our island who are witnessing firsthand the devastation wreaked by removing school as a refuge for our children.

In addition to the physical trauma, parents and medical professionals are alarmed over the long-reaching and lasting effects on social development (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020).

Imagine a world in which parents were only allowed contact with their children through the phone and video chat! Would children know they were loved? Would they develop into healthy adults, capable of connecting and contributing to society? Parents would never be satisfied with only a distance relationship, but would work tirelessly to be reunited with their children.

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A holistic education must carefully consider the physical, social, emotional, and mental impact on students (United Nations Report, 2020). The government is mandating long-term physical and social isolation from the classroom without considering the devastating impact on our children.

Beyond these implications, a growing body of professional research highlights the lasting consequences on the academic development of students learning online. The ripples from a disrupted quarter at the end of last year are turning into a tidal wave of lost time and failing achievement scores (Brookings Institute, May 2020).

As parents and decision makers in education, we must not ignore future consequences of decisions being made today. There are risks with Covid-19, and the risks can be managed by following policies and procedures designed to mitigate exposure and transmission.

For the sake of our children and the sake of our island, we must not be content to settle for online education. Schools need the ability to offer face-to-face education as a choice for parents.

The authors are officials of Harvest Christian Academy: Jeremy Zajicek, administrator; Dr. Joy Stouffer, elementary principal; Joshua Taylor, middle school principal; and Lawrence Nagengast, high school principal

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