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SPIGOLON: Differences in school starts even starker now
Spigolon Headshot 1
Tom Spigolon was announced as the news editor of The Covington News Monday morning. - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

Some children close to me started their educational careers last week on two different continents — in front of computers rather than physically with their teachers. 

It struck me as to how much alike this whole world is in trying to educate our children amid a worldwide pandemic.

And it also showed how different a few decades (or so) can make between when they and I first saw the inside of a classroom. Because not only was what’s inside the classrooms different, but how we all accessed the classroom and learning materials as well.

The difference already was striking, even before COVID-19 hit.

One child I know began the equivalent of American pre-kindergarten in an Asian country. The school is for children of foreigners living in the country for employment, and is offering a choice between virtual and in-person learning. Sound familiar?

The soon-to-be 4-year-old started the year in front of a computer. He completed assignments by using an app.

However, he began in-person instruction this week. His Monday began in the school parking lot grouped with his classmates who were socially distanced. After their temperatures were taken, they entered classrooms with desks separated by acrylic, tri-fold shields. Lunch was delivered to them in their classrooms.

The other child I know is a 5-year-old who began kindergarten in front of a computer in her home in Macon. She will attend school four days a week (no Wednesdays) and begins the day signing on to a video call with her teacher and classmates at 8:20 a.m. The instructor teaches writing and math and social studies, and plays a GoNoodle learning video part way through class to keep students’ attention. Sometimes, they watch her as she reads from a book.

Her mom takes a photo of her completed assignments and sends them to the teacher through the same app the previous child’s school used in Asia.

Add in how students in previous years already were learning before the pandemic and you begin to wonder if the children of today — raised on digital devices — would be able to learn using what I had available in kindergarten.

At that time, kindergarten was not available in public schools — especially in small-town Mississippi. I was lucky to live somewhere where my parents had a low-cost, private kindergarten available. No bus was available so my mother would bring us in our Desoto station wagon. The only electric-powered convenience was the lights. The teacher did not have a TV in the classroom, though she would have needed a fairly tall antenna to reach the one Memphis TV station available for educational programming. 

She mostly read to us, though she sometimes wrote with chalk on a slate blackboard, and taught us songs by playing on a non-electric piano. 

Teachers for half a century already were able to complement their lessons by accessing free educational programming with a TV and an antenna attached to the roof.

Only a few decades ago, teachers and schools had cable TV or a satellite dish available to pipe in educational programming from any number of kids-oriented cable TV channels, in addition to PBS.

Nowadays, in addition to cable TV, a good wi-fi connection can connect a classroom TV, desktop or laptop computer to the internet and programming from YouTube and a variety of other educational websites and streaming sources that combine interactive lessons with video, such as ABCmouse.

Electronic whiteboards introduced in recent years allow teachers to bring information from the internet into the classroom for use in their lessons.

This year, because of safety concerns around the pandemic, students and teachers either would not be in school or would be facing the risk of contracting a sometimes deadly disease every day without computers and the internet available.

Some might believe the pre-computer and internet days were the “good old days” of education. 

Maybe they were in some ways. But, as we have seen in 2020, they likely were not for the students of today.

Tom Spigolon is the news editor of The Covington News. His email is