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The past few months my eyes have been opened. I have learned to appreciate many things that I took for granted like worshiping in my church, family birthday parties and celebrations, a walk in the park, exercising in the gym, and so on. But most importantly, I took for granted my grandchildren’s teachers. Digital learning replaced the classroom and digital math, science, social studies and language arts tools replaced the teachers during this pandemic.

But the truth is, these digital tools were already in our student’s classroom being used daily supposedly to assess the progress of the students or in some cases to personalize the learning for students. In fact, under the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) (United States Congress, 2015), schools and districts are expected to use federal funds for evidence-based activities, strategies, and interventions. This includes selecting digital tools and assessment instruments to align with the district’s learning objectives for students. This may be why iReady and IXL are the given tools being used in our district.

IXL, for example tracks each student’s progress, reports it back to the teacher supposedly allowing the teacher to review the digital data and apply what the student needs as additional classroom work or homework. Addressing individual needs is time-consuming and reports show that teachers advise that in order to personalize learning for students, professional development should model this by being personalized to each teacher. While I am not privy to what professional development the teachers are getting, I feel certain it is being provided.

My question is the problem that the online digital tools are not “teaching” the subjects. There is a huge difference between the two, and we parents and grandparents have discovered this during the pandemic. The programs are designed as a supplement, not a permanent form of education.  One discovery that affects the success of iReady and IXL is that when a wrong answer is given, the consequence is the student is forced back to start over again. The average student can spend over and hour trying to reach their goal. And if a child spends all day on the computer learning from these digital online tools, research has discovered that when answers are incorrect without explaining misconceptions, students may lose rather than gain opportunities to learn. I saw this firsthand as my granddaughters struggled with the demeaning and unhealthy manner in which iReady and IXL “teach.”

I could find no worth in either of these programs other than it was better than no education at all. But in my opinion, nothing  can replace a teacher. It is my prayer and hope that when the day comes that our children and grandchildren return to a classroom setting, they will never be exposed to either of these two programs or any other digital learning unless is limited to a small amount of time and done for fun, not as the main way to learn. I would suggest the school districts spend the money they currently spend on digital programs for additional teachers. Give teachers an opportunity to teach without using the programs.

Yes, we have learned a lot. But for me, it is that teaching is a gift and to be a teacher, care and concern for the student come first over test scores. Small groups, individual attention, paper, pencils, library books, and sharing stories should not be replaced by a chrome book and digital learning. Now is the time to prepare for the return to the classroom and what education really means to our future. Living in this pandemic has been hard on everyone. Compassion and understanding are the keys to surviving. Our children are the most vulnerable and because they are our future, it is our responsibility to put them first. To bring them back to school and sit them in front of a computer again will be like a slap in the face. Let us trust the system and remember the value of our human ability to be present in the lives of those that  matter.