school

'We've unflinchingly adopted online learning. But we haven't stopped to consider the problems.'

So we know we’re in a waiting period with the pandemic, a ‘liminal zone’ and things will never be the same again. 

But already they’re not the same as they used to be. We’re already applying the lessons we haven’t yet properly learnt. 

Although Victorian schoolkids have barely had any face-to-face classes this year, my daughter’s school has announced that the pre-VCE lessons held this week will be ‘online’. 

That’s right – kids that have been shut up at home for much of the year have been told they don’t need to come to school anymore. The online revolution has started – we knew it would, just not that it would come so quickly when things had just started returning to something like normal. 

Watch: The horoscopes homeschooling their kids. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

Let’s ignore the fact that these kids have barely seen their friends all year, or any adults beside their parents. Let’s ignore the fact that those same parents are screaming mad to get them out of the house so they can concentrate on their own work. 

Secondary school home learning - like it or not; quarantine or not - is here to stay. 

Of course the Year 11 and 12 kids at least had some school to go to – most schools felt some kind of a responsibility to see them through their final years as best they could. 

The younger years (in particular years 8-10, left home for a lot longer) suffered doubly through lack of attending and, presumably, lack of prioritising. 

My son’s school – a prestigious select-entry one in Melbourne – largely shut down for the whole online learning experience. Many teachers simply didn’t bother to make an appearance online at all, and if they did, it often lasted only a few minutes before the kids were shunted off to pursue some mind-numbingly tedious task. 

The whole year has been a complete write-off and my son, unsurprisingly, has lost any interest in education he ever had. If his teachers can’t be bothered, neither can he.

As for adult education, my own field, I shudder for its future. Already some institutions are embracing the online experience with alarming zeal. At one of the institutions at which I work, classes are compulsorily recorded (despite the lack of training in how to even teach online). 

A union representative I spoke to mentioned that some places are already using recorded classes for retrospective evaluation of teacher skill (this has traditionally occurred only when teachers are informed in advance). And heaven only knows what happens to the recordings, supposedly stored in the nebulous ‘cloud’.

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Some universities are already using Semester 1 recordings in Semester 2 in lieu of the live experience of lectures, a system which could no doubt continue for years. Lecturers have obligingly recorded themselves out of a livelihood. 

Listen to This Glorious Mess, where we discuss whether it's time to end home learning. Post continues below.

We haven’t even had time yet to assess just what a minefield this whole year has been.

The problems some schoolkids have experienced with home-learning haven’t yet even been uncovered, and already schools are wondering how to advantage themselves with this system.

Presumably they could record one teacher to take every single class and the kids never need interact with another human being again. 

Teachers, lecturers and tutors face either teaching into cyberspace, with no appreciative audience asking intelligent questions and keeping them on their toes, or, in so-called ‘synchronous classes’, face a slew of black screens hiding the obvious fact that no-one with their camera turned off is paying the tiniest bit of attention. 

It’s a desperate situation, appropriate to a pandemic when anything goes but definitely not suited when better options are available. 

It scares me as a parent and educator that schools and universities are already embracing the pandemic pedagogy when we don’t even know what the consequences might be. 

My daughter evidently thrived in an online environment and, surprisingly, it seemed to work well for my adult evening courses with a glass of wine in hand.

My bright son fell apart, and no one even realises as he’s too smart to really let it show. 

A lot of the Masters students I teach did the same, requiring an inordinate amount of hand-holding and reassurance to get through the course. 

Doctors and mental health experts have been busy, but it’s the students we haven’t really noticed that worry me most. 

The pandemic isn’t over and probably won’t be for a long time. But let’s consider carefully what the possible consequences of quarantine learning are before we start implementing radical change that overhauls the education we’ve been delivering in person, with the accompanying social benefits.

Kids in particular need the company of other kids and people outside their family. Let’s face it, most of us do. 

Sitting by the screen may work if COVID-19 is going to kill you outside, but let’s take teaching back where it belongs while we still can.

Feature Image: Getty.