Divided We Stand: The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Learning


Photo by Rita Byrne

In the 2020-2021 academic year, the United Nations International School adopted a plan for hybrid learning that alphabetically divided each grade into two groups. This decision has had both positive and negative implications for the school community. While dividing the grade alphabetically creates social challenges such as separating students from their friends, it also gives social opportunities such as the ability to socialize with new classmates. Additionally, while this arrangement would allow students to collaborate in person a few times a week, it would make the process of test-taking and schoolwork unfair given that some students would have the benefit of resources in school, and other students wouldn’t. Lastly, though this choice makes it easier to social distance given the reduced number of students on campus, it doesn’t completely eliminate risk, given the significant number of students interacting with each other.

On one hand, the choice is incredibly up to chance by using a tactic that is completely out of the students’ control. This can be concerning to many students who fear having to make new friends, having been placed in a group separated from the majority of their peers. This arrangement is also incredibly socially challenging to new students who are forced to navigate the school community for the first time without the ability to interact in-person with the entire grade. On the other hand, this action allows students and peers to communicate and interact physically with a sizable group of people as opposed to having no physical interaction and communicating solely through technological platforms in a fully remote model. While this decision could separate a student from their friends, it could also push them to make new friends; forging unexpected friendships that otherwise would have never happened. Additionally, with a smaller group of kids, the UNIS community feels more intimate, which could make it easier for new students to make friends and find their place within the school community.

The new arrangement likewise has implications regarding schoolwork, exams, and opportunities to collaborate. In the hybrid-learning model, one of the largest concerns is the challenge of collaboration between online students and in-person students. This is an incredibly difficult issue because in-person students have the benefit of being able to easily interact with their teacher and peers while students at home are not able to, therefore having to spend more time and energy grasping the same concepts. This further reflects on the concerns that hybrid learning does not give equal opportunities to all students given the many difficulties of online learning. The issue of collaboration extends to schoolwork and testing with the acknowledgement that an exam would have to be taken by a group of students that are half online and half in-person. While students in person would have the benefit of being more accessible to the teacher, students at home could have more distractions. In contrast to this, a fully remote model, in theory, would erase the disparities caused by the benefits of being at school versus at home. This, however, would be worse in that everyone would have to endure the challenges of online learning and nobody in the UNIS community could have the benefit of going to school and collaborating in person. Furthermore, while this model on paper would make both the student and teacher experiences more homogenous, in reality, it would reveal inequalities and disparities embedded within the community regarding differing access to WiFi and other forms of technology that heavily impact the ability to engage and thrive in school.

Dividing the grade into two groups alphabetically also has many different effects on the safety and wellbeing of the UNIS community. For example, with fewer students on campus everyday in person, social distancing is much easier to maintain, ensuring greater safety for the community. However, the hybrid learning model still allows for a significant amount of people to physically interact with each other, which could still allow the virus to spread. While a fully remote plan would be the safest for the wellbeing of the community and would make it nearly impossible to transmit and spread the virus throughout the community, it also comes with additional challenges and negative effects. In the hybrid learning model, it is incredibly challenging to implement regulations to ensure the safety of the community given the desire shared by students to organize in groups outside of school and physically interact. Moreover, this could prove even more challenging for younger students who enjoy playing with their peers, as they may not fully understand the importance of mask-wearing. Not only is the hybrid learning model less safe than a fully remote plan by allowing a larger amount of social interaction, but it also is incredibly disruptive in the case that COVID-19 is contracted by members of the UNIS community. In some cases, the school would have to go remote for extended periods of time. In comparison, with a fully remote learning plan, there would be no testing or changes in the schedule. Ultimately, the safety of the community in a hybrid learning model is mainly up to each student and their commitment to the safety of the community as a whole.

In the future, it is a possibility that UNIS could choose to separate grades in methods other than alphabetical as an attempt to allow students to interact with wider ranges of students. This arrangement would come with many negative effects, such as the testing and additional steps the community would have to take that, in the end, may or may not be worth the advantages. While this choice could cause numerous students to lose contact with their current peers, it could also allow old students to reunite with their friends and new students to make new friends. Only time will tell how this could impact the community both socially and from a safety standpoint.

While dividing the grade alphabetically can be disruptive and challenging both socially and logistically, as well as from a safety standpoint for the members of the community, the model is also incredibly beneficial during the pandemic given how much easier it is to social distance and physically interact with others. Despite its riskiness and social challenges, as well as challenges regarding group projects and communication, the arrangement also serves as an opportunity to meet new people, physically interact with members of the community, and social distance to a better degree than being fully in person. All in all, the benefits outweigh the challenges due to the importance of physical interactions and the ability to foster a sense of community during such an isolating and challenging time.