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The Guardian view on home learning: tears before bedtime? | Editorial | Opinion


Another working week is beginning, and while the pandemic has left many without jobs, others are struggling to do two at once. The closure of schools to all but a few pupils has forced parents and other carers to combine their regular jobs with educating their children. Some, at least, are relishing the extra time together. But many feel overwhelmed and inadequate, fearing that they are failing on both scores.

In a survey by the BookTrust charity, more than a fifth of adults said they were doing no home education at all with their primary-school-aged children. Two-thirds of children have not taken part in online lessons, according to a poll by the Sutton Trust and Public First; private school pupils are more than twice as likely as state pupils to receive such lessons each day. The attainment gap, which was already growing, is likely to increase further – as many parents are painfully aware. Though nascent plans could see primary schools reopen in June, much remains unclear and nothing is certain, or even close to it. The impact on many children’s futures is profound, and devastating.

Life is far easier for those with quiet space at home for everyone to work, laptops or tablets for each family member, and generous broadband packages. But even the relatively privileged face new strains. Employees, while grateful to be working for now, may know that their jobs are at imminent risk; freelancers are struggling to find work; others are trying to shore up businesses. Though many play catch-up late at night, some jobs must be done within regular working hours. Furloughed workers may have more time, but are worrying about their futures. The pressures can be all the greater for single parents, those with many children, or those whose children have additional needs. Families have lost access to the support networks on which they relied, such as grandparents and friends.

Parents of primary-age pupils may envy those with teenagers, who require less supervision, while those struggling with GCSE curriculums may wish that building a volcano model still counted as a good morning’s learning. Lockdown has its compensations: small children especially may cherish the additional hours with their carers. But many adolescents will long for space and the company of their peers.

Plenty of schools have done an excellent job of arranging online classes and distributing tasks. Screen time isn’t inherently a bad thing: there is good-quality content from BBC Bitesize, the broadcaster’s online educational resource, and the likes of Joe Wicks, Maddie Moate and Greg Foot on YouTube, as well as the government’s Oak National Academy. But many children will still need help to learn, and parents lack the expertise and experience of teachers. Meanwhile, both children and adults are under unusual strain. Some are bereaved. Routines have vanished. Friends and partners are missed. The uncertainty about the future breeds anxiety.

Children who are vulnerable for economic or other reasons need support, either in the school environment, or through increased help and resources for home learning. The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has promised that laptops, tablets and the means to access the internet will be provided, but has now said the first are expected to arrive in late May, with most delivered in June.

Households that can effectively home-school should be applauded, but for many the current situation is about simply getting by. Sensible schools and teachers have reassured parents that these are unprecedented times, that they are being asked to do the impossible, and that the priority is mental health and stable relationships. Yet some parents report pressure to meet an unrealistic academic workload. Serious planning is needed to help pupils continue their education and overcome the effects of the hiatus when they return to school. For now, the emphasis should be on bolstering families rather than chastising them, accepting that most children will manage and may even thrive given love, understanding and the opportunity to follow their own interests – and that the emphasis must remain on supporting those who will not.



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