The swine flu pandemic, now at Level 5, according to the WHO, is spreading, schools are being closed down, and we need to protect those who are under our care. My last post on this was focused more on companies; this one is focused more on schools and educational institutions. The problem with the way these institutions are set up is that lots of children are placed in close proximity, they touch themselves and each other more than adults do, they generally don't behave responsibly, and there are frequent activities (like sports) that bring children from multiple schools together. The end result is that a virus like this one could cut through a child population very quickly and be very difficult to contain without closing the related institutions. Technology has never been more capable of dealing with this problem, nor more timely.
Where There Is Connectivity
A variety of conference tools like WebEx, GoToMeeting and InstantConference.com are free or have 30-day free trials that could be used to connect students and their teachers. Setting up the students may require someone to go from home to home to help them configure the related services, but slides, videos and voice can all be carried over these services, which easily scale to relatively large class sizes. The tools aren't that difficult to use and most provide online tutorials designed to get luddites through the process. By using these, classes don't have to be suspended; they can continue.
One of the problems with children, and adults, using these kinds of tools is that they aren't being supervised and may do things they aren't supposed to. PC video cameras can be used to monitor children. This likely should be done more by the parents than by the teachers, even though there are products like Megameeting that can visually connect up to 16 people into an interactive conference where folks can see each other. One of the big problems will be parents who have to go to work and depended on schools to babysit their children. Here the right answer probably is working at home alongside the child. (Another reason for Internet cameras, incidentally, is that there has been a lot of coverage of burglars being caught on home video cameras. With the economic conditions the way they are, having one of these things is making more sense. Just up the street from where I live, a home was hit and about $85,000 of property and jewelry stolen.)
Podcasting and Audio Conferencing
How about when there isn't the needed connectivity? Podcasting is relatively easy and cheap, and most kids have access to an iPod or other MP3 player. The lessons can be taped and provided in a series. with the teacher (properly protected) making house calls or using the mail to deliver the class material. (It probably makes sense to have someone actively checking on children in case the virus takes out the parent leaving the child alone and sick). Podcasting tools are inexpensive, and memory cards and CDs cheap allowing for the transfer of the material, which could contain videos and class exorcises, to be both cheap and relatively easy. There are even services designed just for education like Boomgar that are available.
Whether you are a parent or a teacher, there is nothing more important than keeping children safe. Education performs two roles: teaching the children and babysitting them. Technology that the school system and child may have already purchased can be used to address these needs. Even in economically challenged areas, the phone and some creative thinking may be all that is needed to ensure both needs are met.