To all of you who are currently reading this article from the screen on your device: you are lucky. If you are on the Artefact website, it means that you have a PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone with Internet access that enables you to look for the content of your interest.
Many children, who need those appliances to attend their online classes, do not have them, and with that said, they are not able to continue their education in an era of online teaching.
The first lockdown was challenging for everyone, and many changes had to be made to adjust to the ‘new normal’. One of them was moving all types of offline teaching online.
Nurseries, primary and secondary schools, all forms of higher education, and even evening language schools have had to re-organise their teaching methods to make sure they are still delivering lessons on the same level as before and that all the additional study materials are clear and accessible for their students.
Everyone has been affected by these changes, but it’s the children who are the most vulnerable in this situation. They are not as self-sufficient as teenagers and adults; they need a teacher and supervision to make sure that they are learning new things properly, so that they make progress at a relevant pace and that no one is left behind the group.
When all teaching moved online in March, many parents were put in a difficult position. If they were key workers, their working hours expanded, and they were spending less time at home than before. Not to mention increased stress levels and anxiety associated with bringing the virus to their household and eventually infecting their family members.
Parents, who got an opportunity to work remotely also needed some time to adjust to a new working pattern and to efficiently divide their ‘out of office’ time between other household responsibilities. Also, parents who heavily relied on after-school activities such as sports clubs, playgroups or babysitters had to devote much more time to their children than before.
In all cases, sometimes there was not enough time during a day to go to work, manage the house chores, and home-school children.
So is home-education THAT bad?
Home-schooling for many can be more effective than attending regular school because, during one-to-one sessions, both the teacher and the student are more focused, and the pace of learning is individually adjusted to the child.
It is beneficial for both the brightest children, who pick up new skills quickly and can progress faster in their education, but also for those who need more time to understand and digest the lesson’s subject- they do not feel the pressure from the group and do not compare themselves with other students.
What it means for parents is that they can get to know their own children better and learn about their studying behaviours which may lead to understanding their needs and personalities better.But this is a utopian scenario, when parents have enough time, skills and resources to give their children home education comparable to the one they would get at traditional school. Although in the majority of cases, parents must divide their time between working remotely, managing the household and homeschooling, while doing only one of these three could be a full-time job already. The pandemic forced them to become teachers to their children, regardless of the circumstances.
According to the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey conducted by the UK’s Office for National Statistics, children found it difficult to continue their education at home because of: lack of motivation, lack of guidance and support, their parents’ or guardians’ subject knowledge being limited, lack of appropriate resources and lack of quiet space for studying. Most of them could be easily resolved if schools were open.
On the other hand, after nurseries and primary schools got closed and everyone was advised to stay at home many parents got an opportunity to spend quality time with their children and develop a strong bond with them. A lot of people who lost their jobs because of going into lockdown decided not to look for another opportunity immediately and fully focus on raising children.
“I did my absolute best to enjoy my time with my son and quickly took advantage of the fact I’d never get this opportunity again,” said Jessica, mum of four-year-old Tommy, who was forced to close her beautician practice in March.
After teaching their children for a few months, some parents started appreciating access to schools and teachers more than ever before: ‘The whole experience has made me appreciate teachers more, they should get a pay rise. They do so much more than teach them,’ said Nadine, mum of a six-year-old, Niall.2020 forced parents around the world to become teachers. Even though home education was never a mass phenomenon, it is steadily growing in popularity. In previous centuries only aristocratic and affluent families had the luxury of affording home schooling, but nowadays it is much more accessible and not as costly as before. Nowadays, multiple resources are available online for free, and many schools are releasing materials for parents to ensure that home-schooled children are not missing out.
Despite the opportunities that home education provides, there were always a lot of controversies around the subject, and its relevance is still being widely discussed. Many argue that homeschooled children lack social interactions, are living in a bubble that does not have much in common with real life and that they will struggle at university since they have never been in the classroom before.
At the same time, these children are equipped with a unique set of skills and knowledge that no other student has because their educational path has been individually adjusted. They also have no willingness to participate in the ‘rat race’ because they were never in competition with anyone but themselves. They have also never experienced bullying, which had a positive impact on their upbringing.
But not all the children see home as a shelter they can always find comfort, love and support in. For many of them, school was the only place where they could use a computer, had access to the Internet and library, not to mention specific workshop spaces and guidance from professional teachers.
For those children coming from poverty, school was an opportunity to escape the reality they are living in. They could get a proper hot meal, do their homework in a quiet place or finish the project using the resources available in the library and the classrooms.
Lockdown and moving to online teaching took away a safe place to study and play, professional support and guidance and eventually access to education from many children whose parents are not able to create those conditions at home.
‘I haven’t seen some of my students since we started online teaching in March. I was aware that their family situations aren’t great, but not to that point. Now I’m not legally allowed to visit them at home to check if there’s anything I can do, there’s no contact with their parents either, I’m really worried about them and what could happen if they don’t learn anything for months. Most likely, they will have to repeat a year,’ said a primary school teacher from Sosnowiec, Poland.
As Dr Joanna Goodman from the University of Hertfordshire points out: ‘’Around the world, schools are responding to this mammoth challenge in various ways and with various degrees of their on-line capabilities. A huge consideration is the availability of technological resources by individual children as well as adequate parental supervision, and the provision of a suitable environment for distance learning in children’s own homes.“While some schools have been able to provide laptops for their students to learn from home, this has not been the case for every child. Additionally, not every household around the world has access to the Internet from home. These inequalities will, without doubt, have an impact on widening even further the gap in educational achievement between the disadvantaged and more privileged young people.”
It is not only the financial situation that makes it impossible for parents to become their children’s teachers. More support should be available for the families who are not able to provide resources for their children, so they could continue studying from home.
It applies to families where parents are physically or mentally disabled, those where parents have limited education or immigrant households where it is a common issue that the child is the best English speaker. How can those children overcome the obstacles if school is not there for them?
Compulsory homeschooling made social inequalities even more visible. Because access to free education had been taken away from children from disadvantaged families, the opportunity gap between them and their more privileged peers is steadily becoming bigger.
With the same school uniforms and attending the same lessons children from both poor and rich families were going through their education process in similar circumstances (at least at school), but this situation has changed completely for those children who don’t have the opportunity to participate in online classes.
If schools got enough support from the government and their local councils, they would be able to provide devices for children to continue their education online.
No-one knows how long it will take to bring all the students back to the classroom and until that happens, we can only wonder what will happen, when the children who received no teaching meet those who continued studying in the same classroom.
Featured Image courtesy of Jessica O’Connell.
Edited by Darnell Christie, Charlotte Gamage and Jussi Grut.