Community Voices columnist Ed McKinney of Johnson City is a retired business educator.

Ed McKinney

Ed McKinney

For all the parents (mostly moms) who are now trying to multitask while helping a son or daughter to complete a lesson on math or any subject, how are you feeling at this moment during a pandemic and remote/virtual learning?

As you attempt to navigate your way through your child’s school day in your living room or dining room, you probably have found that your child’s teachers have been really good at getting students to stay on task and for learning to take place.

Learning about any subject requires work. For some, the ability to learn something new comes easy, especially if the teacher knows all the tricks that can ensure that a student learns the material in the lesson. Teachers have been involved in student learning for a very long time and they do an excellent job regardless of the circumstances.

For some moms this is totally a new development in their child’s learning. Before moms had provided encouragement, some helped with their child’s homework, and have had conversations with teachers about their child’s learning progression. But never have moms had an all day learning event for multiple weeks at home.

Here are some of the problems parents face with remote/virtual learning. First, some do not have access to the internet. Some areas in Northeast Tennessee do not have the ability to connect to the internet because of where they live. Government leaders now recognize there is a need for the entire county to have access to the internet via a home connection. How long will it take to get leaders in all counties to fund and make internet access available to all children in all 12 school districts of Northeast Tennessee?

How far behind will some students be after the school year 2020-21 ends? Parents are in charge of their child’s learning even when schools run a normal every day schedule. They have become more in charge during this pandemic. Some parents do not feel they have the necessary skill-set to help their child engage in real learning. They may be right.

Teachers go above and beyond in their preparation for learning materials for all students regardless of where they live or the socio-economic status in any community. For those who do not have internet access, learning packets have been made available for parental pickup at the school where their child normally attends. Even those who have access can also receive learning packets.

The total number of students in the school systems in Northeast Tennessee is 65,496. According to student data available from the Tennessee Department of Education, in Upper East Tennessee there are approximately 10,873 students (16.60%) identified with disabilities. In addition, there are 1,682 students (2.57%) identified as homeless.

The above numbers help to better identify where the real problems exist in remote learning. Being at home for the majority of students may not be the best learning environment, but it can work temporarily. Being homeless means no electronic devices for remote learning will most likely ever take place.

The Tennessee State Board of Education defines homeless students as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.

A homeless student can be sharing housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship or similar reason. This would include students living in a shelter with a parent (sometimes both parents). Or students living in a motel, hotel, and trailer park or camping grounds due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations. Some are living in an automobile having no availability of necessities afforded in living in an apartment or house, or students and parents living in abandoned buildings.

Their number one priority is survival. What kind of food is available and where? You have heard the old saying, “You can’t learn on an empty stomach.” Food service departments of all school systems have done a fantastic job of providing meals (usually breakfast and lunch) for pickup at their school location when schools are on virtual learning.

We know some students who have disabilities are identified as learning disabled. That’s why we have teachers who have been specially trained for working with students who have special needs. Learning at home for these students may become more difficult even though there is a connection with their special ed teacher.

What happens to a student/child if both parents are working away from home? Who do you get to step in and help oversee a child’s school day at home? What we have learned from across the entire country, moms have had to quit working in order to stay home with children. That impacts on the finances of the family and on mom’s ability to provide for her own financial well-being as she ages.

A recent U.S. Census report stated that of those not working, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands. About one in three (32.1%) of these women are not working because of childcare, compared to 12.1% of men in the same age group.

Another problem with remote learning is some concepts being taught in college prep classes demand high skills and some parents become frustrated when they are not able to assist their child in learning that concept. Those parents should be encouraged to make contact with their child’s teacher either by email, phone or a video internet connection. Be patient because teachers are one of your best resources for help.

The solution to all this and to return to near normal is simple. The spread of this virus is through contact with an infected person. Everyone can lower the risk for all family members when they follow the direction given by the experts in the scientific/health field.

Wear a MASK when you are around anyone! Keep your distance. The numbers of infection will decline. The economics of businesses to operate and avoid closing will improve. The financial well-being of the family and individuals will be at less risk and everyday lives will be greatly improved. Perhaps, then we can return to near normal activity.