As schools in New York set to remain closed for the rest of the academic year, many have started to wonder what the future of education will look like as social distancing rules become the norm.
Though, Governor Andrew Cuomo has gone as far as questioning why school buildings still exist as he announces a new partnership with Microsoft founder Bill Gates to "reimagine education" through the lens of digital transformation. Cuomo believes that the pandemic has offered an opportunity to change how students learn, the key being technology.
"The old model of everybody goes and sits in the classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms— why with all the technology you have?" Cuomo said during a coronavirus response news conference.
The Gates Foundation is set to explore how digital technologies can be used during the school closures to cultivate a better classroom experience at K-12 institutions as well as colleges.
Cuomo has also tapped another billionaire, former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt to lead his commission to transform New York state.
The announcement drew immediate backlash from education advocates critical of The Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation's role in developing the Common Core standards, which critics have said was rushed into classrooms in New York without time for training or development. A report on effects over six years of the foundation's Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative found that the project did not improve student achievement nor the quality of teaching, and instead did more harm than good.
"Remote learning, in any form, will never replace the important personal connection between teachers and their students that is built in the classroom and is a critical part of the teaching and learning process," New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said in a statement responding to the governor's remarks. "If we want to reimagine education, let's start with addressing the need for social workers, mental health counsellors, school nurses, enriching courses, advanced courses and smaller class sizes in school districts across the state."