Public schools still want to drop the hard-copy learning option, but it won’t happen anytime soon, according to Superintendent Jon Fernandez.
He said the Guam Department of Education still needs to work on improving online learning and providing internet access to students who need it.
“Most of our administrators … agree right now is not the right time to pull the hard-copy version,” he said.
About 40% of public school students registered for on-campus learning, but pandemic restrictions forced the schools to start the school year with two distance-learning options, online or hard copy. Hard copy requires weekly pickup and drop-off of course materials.
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Based on the large number of new COVID-19 cases and the island’s high test positivity rate, Fernandez said it is unlikely face-to-face instruction will resume when the next semester starts, in January. He said the school system will make a decision on school reopening by mid-December.
On-campus learning involves dividing students into three different groups, with each group on campus only once or twice each week in order to allow for social distancing.
Hard-copy learning is considered inferior to online learning, Fernandez said, with logistical challenges and limited interaction between teachers and students.
Some parents prefer it, he said, because students can complete work at their convenience and the material already is already printed.
Fernandez said the grades for the second quarter could provide more insight on student performance from online learning compared to hard copy.
The public schools didn’t issue grades for the first quarter, Fernandez said, because of the shaky start of the school year, which made it difficult for teachers to fairly and equitably grade student performance. Teachers instead issued progress reports, showing the completed assignments and the grades for those assignments.
Fernandez noted that online learning also isn’t perfect, with complaints about changing schedules and students being overwhelmed by course work.
Hard to manage
Fernandez, during an online parent’s meeting last week, said Guam is one of the only U.S. school districts that provides a hybrid distance-learning program that includes hard-copy learning.
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He said most school districts offer only online instruction and face-to-face instruction, with hard-copy materials provided to accommodate only some students.
“It’s hard to manage three models of learning versus two models of learning,” he said. “What we’d like to do, as much as possible, is get our kids online so we can focus specifically on how we can improve online learning in terms of scheduling, the way the teachers interact, how we assess student work.”
Fernadez said Guam DOE is in the “final stages” of discussions to provide home internet access to students using $8 million in federal funding through the governor’s office. He said the public school system is waiting for the governor’s office to confirm the funding is available so Guam DOE can procure portable “mi-fi” internet devices for distribution to students who lack internet access.
The school system also continues to distribute laptops to high school and middle school students who want to switch to online learning.
But only about 3,500 students have applied — far short of the goal of distributing 8,000 laptops. New laptops for elementary school students, purchased with federal pandemic funds, could be distributed starting in December.
“We’ll see where we’re at in a couple of months as we push out the secondary and elementary school laptops and as we try to push out the internet access solutions,” Fernandez said. “Once more families have a chance to get online and experience the online platform, … we’ll need to see whether hard copy is still sustainable and working for families and assess it at that point.”