I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t think we should close the book on home schooling just yet.
Yes, it was extraordinarily tough. Victorian parents with school-aged children juggled work, parenting, lockdown and teaching for almost half of 2020. It sucked the life out of many of us, and brought some of us to breaking point.
A day in the office (or the spare bedroom) now feels like a holiday. We’re no longer grappling with number lines or ‘chunking’ words, and we can mentally return scaffolding to the construction site, where it belongs.
So on one level, I’m ready to say good-bye to remote learning. On another level, I think we need to pause, reflect, and build on what we learned last year, not just about number lines, but about life.
As an education analyst, my professional and personal worlds collided during remote learning. While not teaching my two young children, I studied the impact of remote learning on children from a range of backgrounds.
The issue of unequal learning outside of the classroom became clear early on. Large gaps already existed between the most and least advantaged students in Australia, and would likely widen due to varying levels of access to parental and digital resources.
Many students have lost months of potential learning. Research from NSW showed that on average, students were three-four months behind in literacy, and two-three months behind in numeracy.
Victorian students were learning remotely for longer – up to a third of the school year – raising the possibility of greater learning gaps than in NSW. We can also expect those gaps to be larger for disadvantaged students,
When Victorian students went back to school in September last year, many schools sensibly focused on students’ transition and wellbeing. Now the hard work of maintaining that focus, while also ramping up in other areas of learning, really begins.
Early evidence suggests remote learning may have widened existing educational gaps between the most and least disadvantaged students already. We can’t let those gaps widen further.
This isn’t about learning being a competitive sport – it’s not – it’s about ensuring all young Australians can access the social, health and economic benefits that a good education can bring.
But there’s another issue I think we need to pay attention to this year, and I suspect it’s not going to be a popular suggestion.
As parents, we need to remain closely involved in our children’s schooling. Yes, remote learning was difficult and frustrating. But COVID-19 showed many of us we can learn together, and from each other, in a way we weren’t doing previously.
In fact, maintaining better connections with parents was the top recommendation to schools by an independent report on Victoria’s first phase of remote learning.
The idea of school and preschools working in partnership with parents has been around for a long time, and while evidence shows it does impact children’s learning outcomes, it can be difficult to support in practice.
But remote learning has thrown up options, and given us a chance to explore them. Schools and educators can build on this experience by strengthening communication with parents, and consider involving them in some learning activities.
Parents could consider setting aside time daily or weekly to support their children’s learning at home through reading, helping them to plan their school projects, and supporting homework.
Employers could consider allowing a portion of carer’s leave for parents to support educational activities at school.
Schools should also be reaching out to less engaged families, now that they have a bit more breathing space. This is really important, because children’s educational opportunities are determined as much by what happens at home as what happens in the classroom.
Time should be carved out to enable school leaders and teachers to make these changes.
These adjustments may not be fun. Understandably, many of us are desperate to resurrect the boundaries between work and home, and home and school, that were knocked down last year.
But once the dust has settled, I hope we’ll realise they’re important changes to make, and that us parents will have the energy to remain a big part of our children’s schooling.