As public-school students around the world – and their parents and teachers – struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in California offers a sobering statistic. Roughly 30% of LAUSD students are not regularly attending their virtual classes. Some 15% of the district’s students have not attended a single class.
For Los Angeles’ sprawling system of more than 600,000 students and 24,000 teachers, remote learning is, for now, an educational reality. The challenge facing L.A. educators is to offer new and appealing online coursework for the more than 200,000 kids who are not consistently attending school – as well as the many others who are.
One hundred days since Intel launched its $50 million Pandemic Response Technology Initiative in April, Intel and ViacomCBS are close to rolling out a series of pre-recorded online classes unlike anything most L.A. kids have seen before in their classrooms.
“We are passionate about helping schools tackle the challenges of remote learning — which in the future may play a much bigger role in education,” says Intel’s Rick Hack.
The two companies are partnering with L.A. schoolteachers to create a series of “What I Do for a Living” online classes and videos aimed at inspiring students with career opportunities in media and entertainment.
“We want to be able to show that we can keep students engaged and intentional about their education, even if the traditional model of how they’re taught and how they learn in schools is upended,” say Darrell Stewart of Intel. Stewart and Hack oversee what has been dubbed the Remote Learning Project.
The Remote Learning Project’s immediate goal is to increase LAUSD attendance by 5% – that seemingly modest percentage translates to 35,000 more students taking classes – and perhaps later to scale the concept to school systems across the U.S. and, eventually, the world.
Stewart and Hack say the project has the potential to reshape the way we think about education in the post-pandemic future.
At the epicenter of the U.S. media and entertainment industry, Los Angeles-area students already swim in this environment – but often at a remove. The video-chat style classes will bring young people from grades K through 12 virtually face to face with animators, wardrobe designers, set designers, tour guides, publicists, actors, directors and other media and entertainment professionals. The experts may offer behind-the-scenes glimpses of their roles, career advice or “what it’s like to be me for a day.”
The purpose of the courses is straightforward: to motivate students to kick-start their own professional futures.
To sweeten the deal, courses will come with various completion prizes. A tiered system will start with awards such as a virtual tour of Paramount Studios. It will scale up to include entertainment, sports and theme park tickets, and exclusive conversations with entertainment-industry celebs. For students, the arithmetic will be simple: The more you learn, the more you can win.
The video-chat “What I Do for a Living” sessions are underway, targeting 40 sessions for the 2020-21 school year.
Today, remote learning is often seen as a stop-gap measure, second or third best to in-person education. This need not be, says Stewart. For example, he points to the tens of thousands of students in L.A. who are foster children. Their schooling can be badly disjointed as they move through the foster system and from school to school. Remote learning, he says, could provide these youngsters with valuable educational continuity.
And Hack points out that although the current project focuses on the entertainment industry, he could foresee future projects created for young people who are interested in “engineering, nursing, police work, financial, technology, sports” or any other professional field.