As schools all around Australia enter into Term 2 of the school year, there are mixed reports on the consequential impact of ‘online learning’ on our children. Whilst keeping kids at home, for the most part, is subject to family circumstances, the fear factor in communities has resulted in the majority of Australia’s 4 million students learning from home. This has brought with it a vast array of issues, that parents are struggling to juggle.
Technical issues including websites crashing and network outages, adaptability issues, computer literacy, self-motivation and time management are just some of the many struggles with online learning. For Queensland, the start of Term 2 on April 20th has been nothing short of disappointing for most parents and students alike. Education department director-general Tony Cook has since said in a statement "Our servers received more than 1.8 million hits in less than half an hour as Queensland families started using the Department's new learning-at-home model". Unfortunately, the fast escalation of the Coronavirus pandemic has led to schools, telecommunication and software providers being forced to act fast and find quick solutions that may not be the most optimal. Many parents believe that Labor has failed to prepare adequately, which is having far-reaching implications on families and mostly, their children.
Separate to these issues, Australian parents are having to step up and for the first time try their luck at playing the role of ‘teacher’, which experts are warning could result in a severe spike in anxiety levels of children. University of Newcastle education lecturer David Roy, said the disruption to their daily routine could make kids anxious. "They're also picking up the feelings of their families," Dr Roy said. A key challenge here is that kids have to mentally adjust from seeing their home as an unequivocal safe place, to a place with a dual purpose - home and school.
Parents can expect to see a shift in behaviour and subsequent behaviour issues with kids, whether anxiety, anger, protesting, or simply acting out of character. Having regular family discussions about the current situation is one key way to keep anxiety levels at bay and reassure your children that the current state of flux is temporary.
Schools around Australia are open. For children of essential workers, or those unable to stay at home, schools remain a safe place for children to continue their education. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth has made it clear that it is safe for children to attend school. "We've had a very clear message that this is a virus, for whatever reason, is a virus more readily transmitted between adults than it does from child to child or from child to adult," he said. "That is now just a fact and that is a fact that we should be developing policy on that and the policy is that schools should reopen and that children should be in the classroom."
Whilst medical experts support the need for face-to-face learning, they advise to err on the side of caution and plan accordingly. Social distancing needs to be maintained; 1.5 metres distance between students, cleaning all toilets between lunch breaks and frequent cleaning of all playground and classroom equipment. This will keep it safe for those students attending school which lets not forget - keeps teachers employed, allows parents to continue working and contributes towards stimulating the economy, even if only in a small way.
There is no question that online learning is not an equivalent educational resource to schools. It lacks reliability, is less motivating, is isolating, requires less interaction and engagement, and may not teach their standard curriculum to an equivalent standard. However, it is a short-term solution enabling our kids to keep learning and continue to meet their educational needs.
We can spend our days complaining about the associated issues and complexities of this new style of learning, or we can embrace it, accept that it’s not perfect, and find a way to make it work until this pandemic passes and life resumes back to normal. The choice is yours