It was almost unimaginable a decade ago. It’s now the reality for most students. Only three months ago, nobody would have predicted remote learning would be our main form of education. Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, governments worldwide began closing down schools. Now, most students in the U.S. are enrolled in classes online.
Although some people may be eager to learn remotely, others struggle to learn without teachers and many students lack the resources to study. A 2018 Pew Research survey found that about one in five adolescents lacks speedy internet connection. Many schools want to return to in-person education, and the University of Oregon is one of them. The university’s president, Michael H. Schill, announced on April 27 that the UO plans to return to in-person classes this fall. Unfortunately, the quick decision to reopen the school could further spread of COVID-19 as cases continue to increase in Oregon.
Reopening classes in the fall may seem like a long time from now, but the virus could still be spreading through Oregon then. If more businesses open and the disease spreads faster, the situation could be bleaker in fall. The University of Oregon should therefore postpone announcing reopening the university until the curve has noticeably flattened.
Returning to in-person classes will be risky for students and staff, given that gathering in large groups breaks distancing protocol. Unless UO is planning to make the classes voluntarily in-person (which would seem like an impossible burden on professors), students will be lumped together in a contained space.
California Governor Gavin Newsom is currently considering reopening schools. Unfortunately, Newsom and other state leaders are uncertain about how effectively students will distance themselves. And in close rooms, a few coughs from sick students could easily spread COVID-19. Cough droplets can reach as far as six meters. Moreover, depending on the classroom, students may be unable to sit apart far enough. Unless the curve significantly flattens, the risk of spreading COVID-19 through in-person classes will be high.
Even if UO takes safe measures to ward off sickness, it is still too early to announce opening the university by fall. Schill recently went on CNN to explain that YOU would be taking more precautions to keep the school clean and safe. He discussed a form of hybrid classes where students could take courses online one week and the next in person. However, 80% of Americans still want to shelter-in-place, and it would be inconvenient to switch back to in-person classes after already having online courses.
As irksome as it is, online classes are the safest schooling option right now. Online courses are a major change to our education system, but we must bear with that change until COVID-19 subsides. Instead of racing to announce that classes will be in person this fall, UO must be realistic and watch how the curve changes.