I have been spending the past week working in a friend’s home office with her and got to witness up close the travails of home-schooling a pre-teen – for all the stakeholders.
For the parent, it means keeping an eye and ear constantly on the child. If they happen to have more than one child, it’s double chaos. For the whole education system, it’s about a new orientation that has disrupted the relationship between teacher and student. At every turn, the students – especially the 12- to 14-year-olds who are not facing the heat of the Board exams yet – have found that their ease with digital devices is giving them an upper hand to challenge the teacher.
The educators have been thrust into a swift-moving current of change with hardly any preparation, and often find that their training as teachers is inadequate.
I witnessed one well-meaning PE session where an enthusiastic teacher beamed himself into laptops, asking students to follow his calisthenics but was obeyed only by one student while the rest of the class quietly moved on to a multi-screen mode and watched something else or even switched off their video cams, pleading poor network. One of the most popular apps online is not aimed at students but at teachers – it promises to teach them how to master the art engaging the Google classroom.
Pushy parents who sit in on their children’s lessons are the other bane. They want exclusive attention for their children and often shout for it, forcing the teacher to stop addressing the class as a unit and either reprimand the parent or work around the disturbance.
We have so far been wringing our hands over the digital divide which is keeping millions of less-privileged children and youth out of the education system. Indeed, the United Nations estimated in August 2020 that the pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents.
Despite the continuing problem of access to digital systems, what is of more serious concern now is how we can prevent this learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe. Will we find our 10- to 13-year-olds growing into digitally savvy but semi-literate adults in the years ahead? They are at that difficult age where they know enough to escape from a digital classroom but do not have the discipline yet to absorb knowledge. The lack of a formal classroom structure is telling on their social skills already and fraying the ties of respect which helped them to open their minds to the teacher’s knowledge.
When in doubt, go old-fashioned. Instilling a respect for the teacher through one’s parental attitude and also conveying to the child your absolute seriousness about their education are great starting points. When it’s school time at home, do switch off your Netflix and your food processor. It may sound irrelevant but do get out of your ‘jammies’ and wear a clean shirt/dress so that even if you are just popping into your child’s online classroom screen for 10 seconds as you reach for a book, the effect is professional. Do not interrupt the teacher because it’s a classroom and not the PTA. While it is impractical to sit and monitor your child’s schooling everyday, do network with other parents and with the teachers offline.
We need to focus on building a school ecosystem at home. Who knows when schools will reopen – or even if the system will ever go back to the old bricks-and-mortar format after this horrific year?