E-learning does not trump real learning

February 10, 2011 — by Denise Lin and Kelly Liu

On the first day of school, Naomi Baptiste of North Miami Beach Senior High School stepped into her precalculus classroom … and was faced with a room full of computers. She soon learned that she would be learning math from a machine. In fact, the only adult figure in sight was a “facilitator” whose main role was to keep the computer programs running.

For Baptiste and more than 7,000 other students of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, “e-learning” is a new and unfortunate reality.

Florida’s e-learning labs can be blamed on the state’s Class Size Reduction Amendment, which limits the number of students allowed in classrooms. Many of the state’s school districts, have turned to e-learning labs because they are not applicable under this restriction. The online courses, made by Florida Virtual School, are composed of text with some graphics and an access to online instructors for help through call, e-mail or text. If this is the future of education, we all have to be worried.

Despite the popularity of some online courses among high school students, online education should not be taken to the extent some Florida schools are doing. Technology can never replace the harsh reprimand of a teacher, nor a flattering, hand-written comment on top of one’s English paper.

Even worse, e-learning labs are starting to trickle down to the middle schools and K-8 schools as well. This is particularly harmful because younger students are not only taught crucial core classes, but also important morals, discipline, social behavior and other important values when they are young. Elementary teachers teach kids to not fight, but to share, to thank kindly and to respect their peers and the teacher. Learning with a teacher delves beyond more than just concept after concept, and an inadequate computer cannot imitate those lessons.

That said, online learning does have its place in the modern world. When students must complete certain academic credits but do not have the room in their schedules to take the necessary classes, one or two online courses often fit the bill nicely. Online classes are also a great means of learning more about subjects to prepare for possible career paths. Virtual learning should be used as a supplementary tool, and also sparingly as a “back-up” plan.

However, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools are causing online learning to become the rule, rather than the exception.

It is no secret that recent budget cuts have sent a rippling effect throughout California, including at Saratoga High. However, replacing flesh-and-blood teachers with virtual ones should never be acceptable, no matter the financial situation of the school. Mild increases in class sizes and class cuts are highly preferable to being taught by machines.

It is disheartening to see the American education system settle to a whole new low with schools having no other option but to host e-learning labs. One cannot blame Florida’s school districts because of budget cuts and a maximum limit of class size. But everyone can remember that one time when a teacher touched their hearts, inspired them to learn or changed them as a whole—impressions which even the most advanced software can never convey.

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