During this seemingly endless pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about its effects on healthcare and disease prevention, and for good reason. However, in this article I would like to address an issue which was discussed less, although it is not less important – the impact of the pandemic on the education system, and what we as parents can do about it.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit us with school closures, most students have been required to attend school remotely. Consequently, most learning all over the world has passed from the classroom and into an online medium of one kind or another. At first, this did not seem like such a huge issue for children and parents alike. On the one hand, we all thought that this was a short-term solution – a year ago, no one could imagine that the pandemic would take this long to pass, or that governments and education specialists would fail to come up with a better solution in the long run. On the other hand, online learning was already considered one of the best mediums for education – fast, efficient, cheap and cool. Even as far back as 2010, research by the U.S. Department of Education showed that “students who took all or part of their course online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.”
But what has the last year actually shown us? Well, it turns out that when undertaken on a global scale, the online education system is being challenged, almost to a breaking point, by the following issues:
- A lack of infrastructure. While for some of us it seems like we are living in the era of high-speed internet, laptops and smartphones, the reality is that most people on the planet still have very limited access to these tools. In some families, children had to share the same computer or smartphone with their siblings, taking turns to attend online classes. In others, parents could not afford even a single device. As technology constantly evolves and becomes more affordable, this problem will slowly go away, but it is still very real today.
- Online teaching methods are insufficiently adapted to the needs of primary and secondary (middle) school students. Before the pandemic, online education was mainly designed for high school kids and college students. However, in most countries, the overnight switch to remote education happened for all students, regardless of age, including those in first class or even preschool and kindergarten. Needless to say, the teaching methods and strategies that apply to older students, have absolutely no chance of working for younger ones. As a result, parents have reported a general lack of interest towards online classes from their younger children. While it is true that primary and secondary school students get bored even when attending class physically, this behaviour seems to worsen further in an online setting.
- Most trespasses are being blamed on computer glitches and connection problems. Failure to show up for class, failure to do homework, not meeting deadlines, poor test results, general slacking – these classic problems can now be explained with fresh new excuses, from students and teachers alike.
- Cheating at tests and exams has become a lot easier. With Google at their fingertips and no one there to watch them, resourceful students can become true cheating machines.
- By far, not all of teachers are prepared or able to work online. Teaching online is a truly challenging and arduous endeavour, not least because of all the issues listed above. Some teachers are not that good with technology, while others refuse to use it altogether. This is clearly illustrated by the fact that demand for online education professionals is extremely high – Jooble currently has 300 thousand job listings for “online teacher” and almost 500 thousand for “online English teacher.”
Now to the point of my article – as parents, what are we to do with all these issues? How can we help our children navigate these muddy waters, work through this crisis, and come out smarter and better educated on the other side? Here are some education and learning methods and tools worth considering, for the well-being and performance of your child:
- While school is still online, make sure that you participate in the process, as often as you can. You need to become the stand-in teacher for your own children, because their real teacher cannot be there physically. This will greatly improve discipline and attendance.
- Try enrolling your child in a “learn to learn” training. A recent study by Bernaki et al. has found that a brief online training for digital skills greatly improves the chances of students to succeed academically. This way, you will ensure that your kid really has all the tools and abilities to study online, instead of just looking at a computer screen all day long.
- For older students, find alternative online learning resources. Maybe the teacher of a certain subject is not very good at online education. Maybe your children do not resonate well with the school material. Or maybe you just feel that they are already at another level and need more advanced material, otherwise they get bored. Websites like Kullabs are loaded with lessons and material for different ages and classes to help you with this challenge. These extra-curricular courses will be helpful even after school goes back to normal.
- For younger students - gamify their learning. A 2018 study by Chen et al. has shown that gamifying online courses increases the academic performance of students. This is especially true for younger students. However, creating and educational game design can be a challenge. You will need to work closely with the teacher and to think how you can make things fun and interactive on your side.
I hope that these ideas will be helpful and that you will find the best solution for your little student. As parents, we should never rely solely on the schoolteacher to do all the hard work of educating a young person – we need to be there as well, to get involved and do our part.
Regardless of the crazy period that the whole world is currently going through, undertaking these efforts and walking the extra mile to ensure that your child gets not only the best education, but precisely the one most adapted to his or her needs, will always be worth it.