A virtual classroom is not the same as a physical classroom, never will be

Sydney Bigelow, Opinions Editor

Educators and administrators have gone above and beyond to create thoughtful and flexible plans during such an unpredictable time with the COVID-19 pandemic. With hybrid learning and adjusting scheduling, there is less interaction between students, increased social distancing, and more accurate contact tracing. The current system for students and teachers allow them to attend physical classes and get the most out of their lessons while also focusing on the safety of themselves and others. 

School districts around the country have adapted to new ways of learning in order to prioritize health and safety of students and staff while we are in a health pandemic. In many school districts, there are two cohorts divided by last name that alternate attending school in the building for a full week while the other cohort attends all classes through a Google Meets video chat for the entire class. The third cohort is made up of students who opted to attend classes completely virtual. 

An online classroom is not a new concept for students completing their education during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was born in 2004, and I have never used a physical textbook and almost all of my written assignments are typed. Switching to online school during quarantine made us realize that textbooks are not the only aspect of a classroom that can be easily moved online. Math exams can be submitted through email, conferences can be completed through video chat, and even the College Board conducted their Advanced Placement Exams through an online platform. In fact, a human teacher could potentially be replaced by a coded computer programmed to explain, release, and grade assignments.                 

Socialization is crucial in the development of social skills, communication, and mental health. Although many students are fortunate enough to complete online school in a supportive household with a loving family and a way to communicate with friends, others do not get the privilege of healthy socialization outside of their peers and teachers at school. Most elementary school students were just learning how to form friendships before the main priority of society was to practice social distancing. 

School is a place of socialization for students of all ages and backgrounds, not just younger children. It is significantly more difficult for students with learning disabilities to learn from teachers via a screen, and also to feel like they are a part of a classroom during a video chat. Some students who suffer from mental health disorders reported feeling more isolated and lonely without the daily interactions from the people they see at school. 

“Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated. 

While some people with mental health disorders experienced increased symptoms, many others suffering found that their mental health benefited from being away from school and enjoyed the break from attending in person classes. There is no denying that students at school face overwhelming amounts of work and pressure, along with bullies and other hostile students. This is a challenging time for everyone, which is why it is crucial that school’s focus on students’ well being and provide mental health resources to make a physical classroom a healthy space for all. 

A virtual classroom is the second best thing to a physical one, and is most certainly better than no classroom at all. There is a great appreciation towards the efforts of every person who spent time finding a way for students to have a somewhat normal education while being concerned for their health and safety. The health and safety of students and the people all over the country should be the number one priority when it comes to how school is run, and if there is a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and medical professionals suggest schools go back to remote learning, then students must turn to a completely online classroom to flatten the curve. 

However, we must not tell ourselves that an online classroom is an equal alternative that can permanently replace a physical classroom. By telling ourselves that online learning has the same impact that in person learning does, we will begin to let go of all the benefits of a physical classroom. While we focus on battling the COVID-19 virus with social distancing, wearing masks, and being cautious in all spaces including educational business, we must not settle for a permanent virtual classroom for reasons other than health and safety of students.