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Education Without Boundaries – New Opportunities, New Challenges

A student learning via a Zoom class

School closures during the pandemic brought about many changes to educational systems. Administrators, teachers, students, and parents each faced significant challenges through the course of the year. In some regards, these changes provided new opportunities for students through remote learning platforms. In other instances, however, some struggled with the lack of in-person support and hands-on learning. But as we emerge from the pandemic, schools will not only be faced with these issues but new ones as well. And one of these may well be dealing with classrooms without borders.

Understandably, students who attend public school systems in the US are required to live within specific school districts. But during the pandemic, the boom of online learning platforms allowed some leniency in this regard. (Read more about the online learning boom in this Bold story.) Currently enrolled students were allowed to log in remotely in order to perform educational activities. Most did this from home within the school district, but some chose to do this from abroad. In essence, this education without boundaries, at least in a physical sense, offered needed learning opportunities for some students. This raises the possibility of how school systems may to consider classrooms without borders in the future.

“It takes a thirst for education on the part of the student to log in to school from Egypt or Kenya. It takes dedication from the teachers, staff, school board and administration to make that happen.” – Pat Politano Mid-Manhattan School District Spokesperson

A Snapshot of Remote Education without Boundaries

To gain a better understanding of what classrooms without borders looks like, it’s worth examining student behaviors this past year. In many school districts, particularly in urban areas, some immigrant and minority students chose to attend from afar. While residing in countries like the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Honduras, and others, these students accessed school platforms online. In total, as many as 2 to 3% of these individuals periodically attended classes abroad. Given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, education without boundaries made sense for some.

In many cases, students accessing public school systems from other countries did so out of necessity. Some parents, who were unable to secure childcare at home while working, sought the assistance of foreign relatives. Other students traveled to other countries to care for sick relatives. And others simply took the opportunity that education without boundaries offered to reconnect with relatives living elsewhere. Because all students were essentially participating in classrooms without borders, many students saw this as permissible.

“We of course don’t encourage it. But families here have just faced so many challenges during the pandemic. I’d rather have them learning from wherever they are than not.” – Susana A. Perón, Deputy Superintendent of Paterson Public Schools

Challenges with Classrooms without Borders

In terms of education without boundaries, clear challenges do exist. For one, school districts require that students reside within geographic areas in order to attend both online and in-person sessions. As a result, students logging in remotely can usually only be abroad for a certain amount of time. In addition, classrooms without borders means that students are on different time zones. This means some students may need to access online activities at unusual hours. Notably, this is usually not ideal when trying to create ideal learning environments.

Some kid students learning via Zoom
Innovations in digital communications means classrooms without borders–for better or for worse.

It is also quite clear that students choosing to log in remotely from other countries tend to be immigrants and minorities. It is well recognized that these students already suffer from achievement gaps in traditional classrooms. Therefore, classrooms without borders could exacerbate these problems. The lack of in-person support and inherent technology issues with remote access could make matters worse. This form of education without boundaries enables remote access that can certainly be helpful. But at the same time, it may also create additional obstacles to learning for some students.

“It’s one thing to say kids can log in anytime, anywhere. But if they’ve gone someplace where they need to log in at 2 a.m., that doesn’t seem ideal.” – Mike Magee, Chief Executive of Chiefs for Change

Seizing Potential Opportunities with Remote Learning

If there is one thing that the pandemic taught us, it’s that we are resilient and can rapidly adapt to change. This was certainly true of educational systems as teachers and administrators had to quickly adopt new practices. Notably, one of these practices involved the implementation of online learning systems. Educators scrambled to create new curricula and new learning activities in this new environment. At the same time, they also had to develop new support structures to help both students and parents alike. Though this was challenging, these school systems effectively created classrooms without borders. And now that they are in place, new opportunities for education without boundaries exist.

Understanding this, administrators and teachers together must embrace these opportunities moving forward. Current classrooms without borders have notably given some students and parents a level of support needed amidst a crisis. From this perspective, further developing education without boundaries could result in more effective ways to meet student and parent needs. While these systems should never sacrifice academic quality, it’s evident that many students thrive in remote online learning environments. Therefore, providing such options for learning in a more comprehensive manner could have clear advantages. These are worthwhile pursuits that educational systems should consider in a post-pandemic world.

Borderless Classrooms – Next Steps

Virtual environments are proving to be advantageous in a number of areas. This includes not only virtual entertainment platforms but also those involving telemedicine and telehealth. Beyond public school systems, remote online learning platforms are also on the rise. Therefore, it seems quite logical that public school systems should explore these opportunities as well. Classrooms without borders could potentially better utilize limited educational resources. They could also improve access to learning supports that may otherwise not be available. Creative solutions are needed for education without boundaries to be realized. But as the pandemic has clearly shown, these alternatives do have potential.


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