Sometimes a side effect can be a good thing.
As the Coronavirus school closures gathered momentum, few imagined that the world would almost come to a standstill as it did. Businesses shut. People lost jobs. Seniors in nursing homes could not even hug their loved ones, even as many families lost their loved ones to Covid-19.
Many lucky parents kept their jobs and worked from homes; millions of school going kids moved to online classes or dropped out of schools in poorer countries. Internet connectivity was tested to its limit, as was patience, with devices were shared between family members.
The Hardest Hit
When the closures began, many enjoyed it, especially young parents who got to spend time at home with the kids. As the work from home period and online classes were extended, frustrations mounted. Kids were the hardest hit. Parents were short of ideas and kids needed fun things to do in times of social distancing. Teachers found it hard to manage fidgety and disinterested kids. They could not run around and play as before.
They weren’t allowed to play long on devices, but they had to stare hard and long for class!
The Return to Outdoor Classes
Virtual learning was really tested in 2020, and it was not very successful in many instances due to low internet speeds, poor attention spans, tech inhibitions among teachers, and a bunch of other problems.
As the probability of getting infected was higher in a closed classroom, parents, schools and colleges started exploring outdoor classrooms. There had been precedence.
During the Spanish flu, schools had moved outdoors. You just have to go on google and search ‘fresh air class NYC images’ and you can see old black and white images of kids sitting outdoors on benches and even some of kids huddled under blankets!
By Nationaal Archief – Openluchtschool in de vrieskou / Open-air school in the freezing coldUploaded by France3470, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19576333
With an emphasis on fresh air and ventilation, many schools opted to have their classrooms outdoors, even in the freezing cold! In resource hungry countries with good weather, classrooms were frequently held under a tree with a chalkboard as a teaching aid. Forest schools have kids spend time in the outdoors for large parts of their day. So outdoor classes are not really that new.
Here are three which are breaking out to make outdoor classes a viable option for their students:
- Rice University: The University has given the go ahead to have classes in large spacious outdoor tents, the ‘tent project‘ as its called complete with electricity for heating, cooling and tech, internet etc. It did initially remind me of some X-files project tents, but then I surfaced into reality.
- Eckerd College: They have readied outdoor spaces where everyone in class sits 6ft apart. They have even set up a Geographic Visualization System, where faculty can see which spaces are free for use.
- NYC’s in-person pods: These were one of the earliest in-person small group classes which started up in NYC. Parents of kids who could not have in-person classes came together and set up these ‘pod schools‘ in open spaces with a tutor. Although expensive, these were the experiments, which actually got a great many minds thinking outdoors.
Will This Change Continue Post Covid
The advantages of spending time outdoors are many – physical, emotional and cognitive. There is something about the outdoors, that makes learning more fun and joyful. It also improves immunity and mental health. In Covid-19 times, it helps with having in-person classes even as the risk of infection is reduced considerably when compared to indoor classrooms.
As classrooms have gone from open low level schools with large spaces, to high rises with little space around, with rooms occasionally having no windows, it was a time to introspect and bring change. This pandemic has just hurtled us towards that change and we need to land on our feet. It can be done as people come together to create broad guidelines like the National Covid-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative.