“Our most significant opportunities will be found in the times of greatest challenge”.
We are going through an aberrant and colossal educational crisis. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of children to stay away from schools globally. It is an unparalleled chapter in human history where children are restricted to go to schools and playgrounds, the places where they blossomed.
Though the digital revolution in education has enabled uninterrupted learning during this emergency, innumerable daunting challenges have surfaced for schools as students, parents and educators all explore and habituate themselves to ‘remote schooling’ – the ‘new normal’.
We are in an uncharted zone, with limited knowledge and hardly any prior experience available on virtual learning pedagogy. While educators ensure online schooling is manageable, relevant and meaningful, students must get accustomed to their new learning environments quickly. However, the indispensable piece in this remote schooling jigsaw puzzle is – the parents. They need to play a much more active role in the child’s education, to make the academic experience a success.
Major challenges with remote schooling
- Replicating the holistic school environment is difficult at home
Schools are just not physical locations for study. They provide a structured environment created and optimised to be conducive for learning. With students forced towards home learning environments, they lose these supporting structures. They miss interacting with peers and their socializing time which is critical for their overall well-rounded development.
- “How do parents make remote schooling work effectively for their children?” Exasperated parents often wonder about this question as they are found juggling between work and supervising their children. One of the major value propositions of a school is also to engage a child meaningfully for a fixed number of hours, with complete responsibility. Parents are rest assured that their children are in safe hands during school hours and are free to do their tasks, but that’s not true in a remote school setup. It’s extremely difficult for them to balance household responsibilities, work and teaching especially when families are grappling with financial constraints, employment uncertainty, stretched ‘work from home’ schedules etc.
Parents face different sets of issues for different grades. For junior classes, they have to be completely involved and assist the child to take online classes. They feel confused and overwhelmed as elementary students are less independent learners and require hand-holding at each step.
For older kids, parents are tasked with supervising and persuading children to use the devices for education rather than for gaming, social media, watching Netflix and other entertainment. When parents are not around, teenage children will not make the right choices always. The senior grades students and parents also regret that their progress in a milestone year of career is upended in these circumstances.
- The adaptability of students and parents in using technology
Not all parents or students are tech-savvy. They need to acquire digital skills to navigate complex online learning resources and become comfortable using virtual learning platforms.
The interface of the technology should be easy to use or else simple tasks like locating the required resources for an assignment or submitting homework etc can get complicated. Students miss using the library for additional study references, though they have online material to refer to however the ease and joy of reading physical books is different.
- Infrastructure readiness
Not everyone has access to technology – internet connectivity, good bandwidth and device availability are various dependencies for remote schooling to function. We are excessively reliant on technology for education and to ensure every student can attend online classes is a difficult proposition.
Many families may not have enough devices for all children. So, every child’s remote learning experience will differ, based on parameters like location, financial status, social divides, access to technology, availability of resources and the amount of parental support provided.
- Lack of Personal Connect
Another striking challenge in an online learning environment is lack of face-to-face interactions between the student, the teacher and peers.
Though there can be some degree of personal communication through one-to-one sessions, these conversations cannot be as effective as those in a traditional classroom. In a web-based distance schooling, children may feel frustrated and stressed, so counselling might be required to overcome mental health problems.
- Concentration issues
Keeping children focused on schoolwork is something both parents and educators need to work on. No matter how detailed a lesson plan is or how well-equipped an educator is if students aren’t focused – the whole purpose of remote schooling is defeated.
While digital distraction is one of the evils that have arisen through the switch to remote schooling, there is another “silent enemy” present online which can cause harm. Inappropriate content and their ease of access is a very big threat for children across ages. Constant monitoring and supervision by parents can also get annoying, especially with older children. Parents hovering like a helicopter during online classes may also result in distraction.
Due to anxiety in parents about child’s security, unnecessary arguments between parents and students occur.
So, there will be several such impediments or technical glitches in the learning path but one needs to be committed to growth. It would not be fair to emphasize obstacles alone and not discuss solutions, particularly when we know that e-learning is the way forward in the near future.
First and foremost, educators and parents must accept that a virtual classroom cannot be identical to a physical one and hence, the expectations and efforts should be streamlined, to derive best out of the available options. The constant communication among all the parties is very crucial to overcome these challenges. Parents and students must be willing to accept mistakes and learn from them and be prepared to encounter any situation, smartly and patiently. There is definitely a huge learning curve for everyone to go through before we start seeking perfection.
At schools, students follow a structured time table that includes breaks, time lost in transitions and other social activities. We cannot replicate all these in a remote schooling setup. So, the number of hours for virtual learning must be shorter and should vary grade-wise like a couple of hours for junior school and three to four hours for middle and senior school, to be effective.
Some of the important strategies that can help parents and students are:
- Open communication – Parents must ensure that the child can reach out to talk about his fears, anxiety anytime. As children grow, the supervision should be replaced by appropriate guidance. Unsupervised internet usage must be restricted beyond an extent. It should always be fair and balanced technology usage.
- Cybersecurity – Using filtering tools for the devices, can ensure students stay safe and focused during their remote learning. Schools can also provide these filtering tools which can foster better learning outcomes and safer learning environments. Children must also be educated to understand their self-worth, protect themselves and family, respect others and use digital technologies sensibly.
- Hybrid approach – A viable long-term approach to homeschooling would be to embed projects or case studies, in the conventional lessons for senior children. There should be a proper mix of synchronous and asynchronous tasks.
I would like to sum up by quoting – “Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional”.
Students are definitely learning invaluable life lessons as they adapt in this crisis situation to develop a solution-oriented approach and a never-give-up attitude. Parents and students must evolve each day and make the best of remote schooling – the target should be to maximize the positive aspects and mitigate the involved risks.