The idea is to have a small group of children – a capsule – learning together. Parents, in turn, can educate children, or they can pool funds to hire a tutor or teacher.
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Rachael Marmer lives in Toronto with her husband and four children. She created the Learning Pods Ontario Facebook group to find like-minded families who may not be comfortable sending their children to school and are looking for other options.
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“I started this group because I was looking for alternative learning modalities for my kids in September,” Marmer said. “There are so many unknowns, and I wanted to create stability for my children and their education. But it’s me, personally – everyone has their reasons.
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“The response has been insane. I have received hundreds of messages from interested parents and have had so much positive feedback. ”
Marmer is still trying to work out the details, but explained that the group hopes to match the kids by matching families from the same neighborhood and then grouping them by age.
Planning for the modules is still in its early stages, Marmer explained, adding that she had had discussions with parents, teachers and students at home to ensure the group creates a “sane and reasonable plan for families”.
“We hope to be able to structure it in such a way that each module can be personalized to better suit the individuals in it,” she said. “However, there is still some groundwork to be done and details that we are working out.”
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Schools across Canada closed when the pandemic began and offered online learning instead. But as schools get ready to reopen, educators, parents and school boards must find ways to get children back to school safely.
Most provinces and territories have released plans to reopen schools that include security measures like desks, masks or screens for physically distant staff and staggered pick-up and return times.
For parents who choose not to send their child away, some school boards offer distance education.
But the proposed solutions may not be suitable for some families, as Facebook groups running learning modules are popping up all over the United States and Canada.
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The San Francisco-based Pandemic Pods and Microschools Facebook group now has more than 29,000 members.
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But the idea is not without criticism, because the solution is only for families who can afford it.
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“What’s particularly troubling about these pandemic pods is what it means for educating the general public. It’s a shift from public to private, ”said Agata Soroko, professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa.
“Public schools are one of the few places where students can learn in a diverse socio-economic and racial context… There are more chances to meet people who are not like you in the public school system. So when you create these types of pods you are definitely going to end up with a more similar socioeconomic status, if not a breed. It is the opposite of what should happen in a healthy democracy. “
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Soroko explained that while the idea of “hoarding opportunities” in the education system is nothing new, the coronavirus has exacerbated existing inequalities.
She said even before COVID-19, affluent families were able to purchase more education, whether it was extra tutoring or extracurricular activities, while low-income families may not have the financial means.
“The pandemic shows that not all families struggle in the same way. Learning modules can contribute to greater inequalities and people need to be aware of the social and ethical implications, ”she said.
Marmer said she recognizes having the option of a “homeschooling module” is a privilege. She and her husband took their kids out of school because it was the best option for her family, but she also wants to help families who may not be able to afford that option.
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“I did a survey for parents, and in the survey I put the option ‘Are you ready to help another family’, and I heard quite a few people who are ready to help. financially with other families, ”she said.
“It was important for me to include this in the survey because I know some people cannot afford it.”
Marmer said once the pod organization takes shape, she plans to offer a place to families who cannot afford it.
“For some families it could mean paying nothing at all, for others it could mean paying on a sliding scale depending on their monetary restrictions,” she said.
Are Pandemic Pods Effective?
Pandemic pods are only as safe as their weakest link, said Colin Furness, infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
“The smaller the congregation, the less risk there is. This means that if COVID appears in a pod it is unlikely to spread beyond that and of course the pod is less likely to be infected due to less contact, ”he said. declared.
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But Furness warned that the safety of these pods depends on the vigilance of the group. If families stay in their bubbles and minimize their social interaction, there is less risk of contracting coronavirus.
“For the 18 hours a day that children are out of school, what is the effective bubble? Are parents paying attention? Do children play with others outside the bubble? How many people come to the house / apartment? He said, adding that it is important for parents to be aware of these issues.
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Furness stressed the importance of opening public schools, as children need social development. There is also emerging evidence that children under the age of 10 are not particularly contagious when it comes to COVID-19, he said.
“But I am also in favor of giving parents the choice and of supporting as much as possible home or pod schooling,” he said. “It will reduce parenting stress where it is needed, and it will also reduce overcrowding in schools.”
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