Andy Gipson doesn’t seem like the most logical state official to come up with a good idea on COVID 19-Era public school education. As a state representative, he was better known for pro-gun rights legislation than for education.
Now he’s the Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, responsible for running the state agency that regulates and promotes agricultural-related businesses. His official duties are more in line with controlling wild hogs than rambunctious kids. To Gipson’s credit he is working on the wild hog problem that’s a bane to farmers and rural property owners.
His department is launching what he calls “the first-of-its-kind state agriculture department-led invasive feral hog trapping initiative” purposed to “provide farmers, ranchers and landowners with the resources and training necessary to effectively combat the rise of destructive wild hogs in Mississippi.”
Gipson, in a recent column published in some state newspapers, also has come up with an idea on enhancing education during the coronavirus pandemic that’s keeping too many students out of traditional classrooms. Noting that many rural residents in Mississippi are without access to high speed internet required for online teaching, Gibson pointed out that any location can have access to public television and radio.
“As an immediate educational response to COVID-19, I support a partnership between Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) and the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) to devote a 24/7 educational digital television and radio channel that would include daily instruction by a rotation of Mississippi’s very best K-12 teachers by grade, and every basic educational subject,” Gibson wrote. “I’ve already personally confirmed this is possible with the leadership of both MPB and MDE.”
He added that students and parents could tune in with a set daily routine of instruction. “For those distance learning through the local schools, assignments and homework would be turned in and graded by a child’s local teachers, so students would continue getting direct input from the teachers and local school districts who know the student’s personal needs. Those on quarantine or choosing to home school their children would have a daily routine of consistent instruction, as well as providing new opportunities to reinforce studies for the children attending in person.”
Sounds like a good plan. Working out the details and technicalities may be more complicated than Gipson suggests, but it’s surely an idea worth pursuing. MPB’s overall mission is supposed to be education, and over the years it has provided some educational programs for both children and adults, but not to the scope that Gipson is proposing.
Mississippi has always struggled with providing equal education opportunities to all its residents. There are both excellent school districts in the state and failing districts. As Gipson points out, a major problem with distance learning is the lack of broad band internet accessibility. Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana were reported in a recent newspaper article as three of the states with the lowest levels of high-speed internet access in the nation.
Educators, to their credit, are trying to work around that problem. Some are equipping school buses with WiFi and taking the signal to the students at strategic locations. Meanwhile efforts are under way to expand high speed internet to rural areas that don’t have it, but that’s a long range project.
Let’s hope kids can safely return to traditional classrooms sooner rather than later, but Gipson’s idea of putting some excellent teachers on public broadcasting may still be a good supplement. One ingredient that is necessary in making any child’s education successful is parental support. That’s probably more necessary in the remote learning environment than in a traditional classroom.