No alternative, but remote learning comes with risks

Ian Bushnell 16 April 2020 20
Home learning

Home learning may exacerbate the advantages the wealthy and capable already have. Photo: File.

There is another big curve the ACT Government has to deal with besides COVID-19, although it’s a direct consequence of the virus that’s shutting down our economy and lifestyle.

It’s the steep learning curve our public schools and teachers are climbing to keep up a quality education to children stuck at home or, if their parents are essential workers or there are other reasons why home can’t become a classroom, to those re-directed to the still to be determined learning hubs.

Despite all the reassurances that schools were safe, parents have voted with their feet, forcing education departments to come up with an alternative. Only 2.5 per cent of ACT public school students turned up last week, according to Education Minister Yvette Berry, who admitted the move to remote schooling next term was a learning opportunity for everyone.

Indeed, the research on digital learning is far from conclusive about its benefits and disadvantages, but this is the hand we have been dealt.

Most of the big private schools were already heading down this path, confident that its well-heeled, well-equipped and tech-savvy clientele was capable of making the adjustment.

While most of Canberra could also be cast in this privileged role, the public education system nonetheless faces bigger challenges than its private cousins.

It caters for the broad population, including the not so well-off and the outright disadvantaged, and plays a vital role in providing equality of opportunity and binding the community in general together.

Equity is at the heart of the ACT Government’s education philosophy, yet in the remote learning environment it is not just access to technology that is an issue but the potential for the disorganised, dislocated and distracted to be rendered invisible away from the watchful eye of the classroom teacher.

The government is ensuring that any family in need of devices and internet access will have it. What it can’t fix will be individual family living circumstances, fractured relationships, and ambivalent or time-poor carers.

For many children, school provides structure, safety and solidarity that for whatever reasons may be missing elsewhere, and their teachers are mentors and role models as much as anything.

Ms Berry says support will be available for those who need it, including school psychologists, but one cannot help wondering if the brave new world of remote learning will only exacerbate the advantages that the wealthy, the confident and already capable will have.

In some ways, it may well suit the quiet, introspective and socially awkward, but at the cost of other aspects of their education.

And a teacher in the classroom can observe the whole group, identifying their different personalities and individual needs to ensure none are overlooked.

It’s not as if they won’t be communicating – phone, email, chat rooms, video, Zoom – and teachers will still be central to the process.

But it won’t be the same oversight, physical and emotional interaction or hands-on teaching that is at the core of real communication and education, and what defines us as human beings.

Then there will be a debate about the flexible school day instead of the 9:00 am to 3:00 pm schedule. Some private schools are insisting students dress in uniform as usual and stick to the timetable to maintain routine and structure.

There is no doubt the directorate and its teachers are committed to delivering a quality education and do not want any child to be left behind.

But inevitably that will happen. Learning gaps will appear, and for some parents the choice next year will be whether their child should move up or repeat the year, particularly for the young.

The well-known Matthew effect describes how small differences in the early years become large ones later in a child’s education and parents may not want to take the chance.

Low-tech, hands-on education philosophies such as Montessori and Steiner will face their own particular challenges.

For all that, we should be grateful that in this time of coronavirus, there is an alternative learning model, that technology and the internet can actually deliver remote schooling, that so much information can be at our fingertips.

Whether that amounts to the acquisition of knowledge for all is another matter.

The curve will be steep, and the endeavour will be a massive social experiment from which we, as the Minister has said, will learn much. No doubt the lessons will be applied to communities in actual remote situations.

But this much we do know: teachers and the face-to-face learning experience they provide are irreplaceable.


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20 Responses to No alternative, but remote learning comes with risks
Phil Hopkins Phil Hopkins 5:09 am 14 Apr 20

Nice to see that parents actually can see the curriculum is very clearly overcrowded and teachers work miracles.

Rauny Worm Rauny Worm 7:29 pm 13 Apr 20

It is so tough in highschool..with boys..but we are all learning, so patience and a bit of common sense is best..an over-aged education system in a world without a clear path..

Liu Rui Liu Rui 6:33 pm 13 Apr 20

Don’t stress. Take your time. Handle and tame disruptions is an essential lesson.

Grace Charlotte Grace Charlotte 2:47 pm 13 Apr 20

It is almost impossible to have kids repeat a year, the education department doesn’t allow it even when kids have serve learning needs or a diagnosis..

Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 1:49 pm 13 Apr 20

This is not an experiment. Its learning online. Taught by teachers, online.

    Rauny Worm Rauny Worm 7:31 pm 13 Apr 20

    Robyn Holder ..in a system that is so overdue for renewal ..a world way ahead of the curriculum. No authoritarian approach will convince anyone.

Lori J Tas Lori J Tas 10:31 am 13 Apr 20

I'm hoping Education Departments are far less negative about primary and junior highschool students being taken out of school for mentally enchiching travel after all this is over.

Previously it was supposedly 'too disruptive, they'll fall behind in the curriculum' they won't be able to claim that now.

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 1:46 pm 13 Apr 20

    Of course they will. Taking kids out if school for weeks or months missing big parts of the curriculum could be disastrous for the rest of their schooling. If parents were actually making sure kids worked while away and taught them it might work but few do. Online classes are still being led by teachers not parents.

Michelle Mills Michelle Mills 8:50 am 13 Apr 20

ACT schools should consult Finnegan School for Distance Education in Queanbeyan. Well organised, supportive online learning that until now the ACT was uninterested in providing.

Dragan Gluhović Dragan Gluhović 8:42 am 13 Apr 20

Don't like it, I think it's not encouraging at all. Big failure 👎👎👎👎

Sophie Louise Sophie Louise 8:22 am 13 Apr 20

100% agree the volume of work is too much and so is the expectation.

We started official home school last week the struggle was real, the volume of work high and if we didn't get it done I received an email to say xyz outstanding. The school says to do your best, don't replicate the classroom but the pressure is real.

    Kriso Hadskini Kriso Hadskini 9:26 am 13 Apr 20

    Sophie Louise Exactly!

    Sarah Beatty Sarah Beatty 8:45 pm 13 Apr 20

    Sophie Louise my 13 year old has expressed that she feels the work load they have been given is far more than normal? Is this to impress parents with content? My child is feeling very over whelmed with what has been presented on paper/online as a requirement to fulfil. Think there may be very high expectations, from both parents and students. I’m also performing a full time role in my job from home. Not sure how to be successful in both.

Kriso Hadskini Kriso Hadskini 7:24 am 13 Apr 20

It sucks for yr 7 kids. All the pressure of high school work with none of the benefits. If this drags on too long I will be withdrawing my child, to re enroll next year because without all the extra curriculars and social outlets for young teens it doesn't work

...as casual teacher I wont be working again for a long time anyway and I really dislike the intense amount of content that schools think the students are capable of when under so much emotional stress. I thought school would be an outlet, but its just an obligation.

    Karen Hughes Karen Hughes 8:12 am 13 Apr 20

    Kriso Hadskini 100% agree.

    Amanda Caldwell Amanda Caldwell 9:11 am 13 Apr 20

    Kriso Hadskini you have enunciated well how I felt at the end of our children’s high school years. Schools have become the guardians of our community in recent decades, taking the place of the church. But with no extra resourcing of course. Families are stressed. Teachers are overburdened, the assignment work at home seems useless - why is there not time in the classroom to do this work? Time for a big rethink, IMO. While we’re at it, let’s look at later starting times for adolescents.

    Joy Carrodus Joy Carrodus 9:43 am 13 Apr 20

    Kriso Hadskini totally agree

    Pamela Tomlinson Pamela Tomlinson 10:23 am 13 Apr 20

    I’ve got one on year 7 and another in year 11, both facing new schooling and only had a term to adjust. I have a lot of faith in their teachers, but it’s not going to be easy.

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 1:51 pm 13 Apr 20

    Kriso Hadskini so it's better not to be connected at all? Btw, it is not legal to withdraw your child without proper exemption. Schooling is compulsory till age 17.

    Kriso Hadskini Kriso Hadskini 3:36 pm 13 Apr 20

    Robyn Holder I can withdraw to homeschool, its rarely an issue when the parent is a teacher with active qualifications. Policing other peoples children is a bit Mrs Kravitz ish for me. I am not an idiot.

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