Monday, 30 March 2020

Covid-19: Homeschooling and what it means for education

We are living through what could be described as the biggest global experiment in education.  The new norm is teaching and learning which are not tied to space.  I have been discussing virtual learning and the application of AI in education before, but it has now become a sudden reality and an unintentional consequence of the current pandemic.  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 the adequate parental supervision, and the provision of the suitable environment for distance leaning 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. 

However, I predict that this live experiment in providing education remotely on such a large scale will have some huge long-term benefits, including the rapid development, and implementation, of on-line learning solutions, leading to the expansion of virtual schools and virtual learning environments.   In practice, this has the potential to revolutionise traditional schooling.  Although the social aspect of school education plays a huge part in young people’s development, and learning is essentially a social activity, the potential for future gains cannot be denied.  Greater application of information technology into everyday learning, including virtual schools and AI technology, have the ability to provide a more personalised teaching and learning experience for a truly individualised learning that is well-matched to each student’s individual learning curve.  Thus learning according to age and ability, and modified to meet particular learning needs, could become more of a reality with the greater use of adaptable on-line/virtual learning solutions, including novel ways to tackle homework or to monitor pupils’ progress, or communicating with parents.  Moreover, adaptable on-line learning solutions capable of adjusting instruction accordingly, are conducive to the development of learning mastery, through increased intrinsic motivation, thus leading to greater learning independence.

The modes of curriculum delivery have a direct impact on student assessment, because assessment is an integral part of any curriculum.  This academic year, as the pandemic catastrophe deepens, public examinations, quite rightly, are being suspended.  The overriding factor in decision-making is that the young people due to sit public examinations, starting from early next term, cannot be disadvantaged by the circumstances beyond their control and must be treated fairly.  Although for the assessment professionals and examining bodies this comes as a shock too, the measures to be employed in awarding students’ results will include comprehensive assessment data kept on students by schools.  These data comprise students’ prior attainment, on-going teacher assessment and predicted grades, which, in combination with statistical analyses utilised by the awarding bodies, will determine students’ final results.  Looking ahead, I feel that more benefits may follow with regard to the nature of end assessment/public examinations, leading to a proper reflection on what is important in our assessment systems.  Re-examining situational learning as well as more flexible learning environments –learning not space dependent – should lead to more reflection about what is important in our qualifications and examinations systems and what are the best ways to evaluate young people’s achievements in preparation for their next stages.

Right now, there are some other pressing issues surrounding homeschooling and how to enable young people to make progress with their academic work… Primary school children, understandably, need more direction, encouragement and support with their learning at home.  However, all young people benefit from a set routine – something that schools are great at providing because of the way learning in schools is organised.  Although it would be difficult to emulate rigorous school routines at home, which give young people the security of knowing what to expect next, sticking to some routines is helpful to managing learning and time at home during this crisis.  As all academic learning involves reading, writing and mathematics, these should be seen as the cornerstones of all learning. 

To help with organisation and realistic aims of what is manageable in every household, at least three hours, with short breaks, should be set for the purpose of home learning.  Some parents may have to juggle working from home with looking after their children.  Under the circumstances, it is useful to consider a “week” as seven days, rather than a 5-day working week.  This will provide more flexibility with organising learning for any 5 days of the week.   Depending on the guidance from schools, it may be overwhelming for parents to know where to start.  Where available, guidance from schools should be used in the first instance.  Many quality resources, including curriculum on-line for different key stages in education, provide useful guidance for different ages in education.  Home environments are also conducive to engaging with creative and imaginative work.  A good example of engaging with written and creative work at any age is keeping a daily diary and, as the days in home isolation progress, young people can get more creative and imaginative with describing their feelings, changing moods and using interesting vocabulary in their descriptions.  Younger children can start with single words (nouns) and then adjectives to describe them, leading to some sentences and making illustrations to support their ideas.  Incidental learning at home can provide another dimension to formal academic learning and supplement it through family discussions, private reading, games or interactions with siblings, or friends via video calls; this also adds a social dimension to all the interactions.  Above all, do not succumb to 'death by worksheet' and use playtime or exercise outings with children as opportunities for learning and exploring, and extending different facets of thinking and creativity.  Covid-19 itself can be used as a starting point for learning, for example, with regard to geography, science, mathematics or ethics, where the scarcity of resources can be considered.  Grandparents can be involved with reading stories or singing/performing music via video calling apps.  Successful homeschooling is underpinned with careful planning.  Being able to stick to weekly plans negotiated with children regarding their academic activities and general routines, will assist not only with greater accomplishments, but also with calmer households.

Predicting academic and personal growth of young people by the end of this catastrophe, is difficult.  We are living through the biggest educational experiment of our times, if not ever, and only history will tell…  My personal view is that, if families are serious about the achievement of their children, we may have a reason to celebrate when they eventually return to school.