• Mark Gash

Lock-Down Learning - what are we missing?

So, the UK and pretty much the whole world is in lock-down because of the COVID-19 coronavirus that’s impacting every aspect of our lives. We’re all working from home or furloughed at home and our kids are supposedly being educated at home. How’s that working out for everybody? “Not great!” I hear you cry. Let me guess, it’s the kids, right? You can’t work with them around and you’re concerned that they aren’t learning anything of value, despite all the online activities and youtube lessons that their teachers keep emailing through or pinging on the school learning platform. 

Whilst employees are just being forced to adapt and ride out the storm in the hopes that they’ll eventually make it back to the comfort of the office or camaraderie of the shop floor, there’s a real chance that this forced homeschooling experiment could damage our children's’ education. Yet thousands of children are successfully homeschooled in the UK each year, so what’s the difference if we just up that number to 10 million? 
 For starters, homeschooling isn’t easy. It’s not a case of sitting your kids down with an iPad and getting them to complete some online activities whilst you put the washing on and mow the lawn. There’s a whole social side to it that parents of school-attending children never see; clubs, camps, support groups and networks all exist to provide an equal, if not greater, socially interactive experience for the home-educated. But there’s another, often overlooked element (advantage?) to homeschooling too - the children get their own teaching assistant, usually in the form of a parent. This person knows the child and understands their needs so that they can map out a learning path suited to the abilities of their student.

“Yeah but that’s what teachers do isn’t it?” shouts the man at the back. Absolutely. Teachers at school care about their pupils. They develop relationships with them, learn their strengths and weaknesses and cater to their needs in a supportive environment. Can you imagine a school with no teachers? It would just be a building with iPads where students turn up, read some information, answer some online questions and go home. No nurturing, no encouragement, no teaching. And if there’s no teaching, then there’s no real learning. And that’s the problem with our current state of lock-down home education. If parents haven’t been furloughed and are expected to continue to work, they can’t also be expected to fill the role of teacher at home. 
 “So what are the teachers doing?” asks the woman over there on the left. Well, the short answer would be, “The best they can with the resources available.” Many schools have learning platforms, possibly Moodle or Firefly, but how many teachers are proficient at using them? The problem here is that there are a myriad of apps and subscription services to distribute classroom activities and homework but it’s the human element that’s missing from these technologies. Of course, teachers are an innovative bunch and have taken to pre-recording or hosting live lessons on video services such as Zoom or Youtube. But these are stop-gap measures, not sustainable learning strategies.  
 So in a world where we can’t leave our homes but where we still need teachers to educate our children, how do we emulate the social interaction side of school? With talk of COVID-19 or similar corona pandemics likely to strike again, what solutions are available for the long-term, which provide the human element of teaching that so many e-learning products neglect? 
 “We don’t know.” the room answers with a collective shrug. Somebody should look into this…

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