Scientists Li and Shinji use data from the US and calculate percentages (without calculators) to conclude that COVID-19 is potentially 27 times more deadly than the common flu (photo by Kenji Sugimoto)
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, only 0.5% of Australian children were being home-schooled as an alternative to mainstream schooling. Today, when Victorian schools commence Term 2, all but a handful of students will be required to stay home and learn remotely.
As families adjusted to school holidays iso-style, many parents of school-aged children would have been contemplating (dreading?) what the new term would bring and how they will manage (survive?) the new education regime. Among them are Staci and Kenji, who will be juggling working from home while their three children are learning remotely.
Staci, Payroll Officer at CatholicCare, was initially reticent about home schooling, claiming neither the patience nor the creativity. Fortunately for Staci, they have a teacher in the house, with husband Kenji currently completing a Master of Teaching course as part of Teach for Australia’s Leadership Development Program. Kenji has been teaching Year 10 and 11 Maths and Physics since Term 1 2019, and while he admits that his course has taught him a lot that will come in useful at home in the coming weeks, he is quick to point out that parents needn’t be too anxious.
‘Technically speaking we're not home-schooling,’ explains Kenji. ‘It's remote-learning, so the bulk of the teaching is still from their school teachers, so I'm not worried.’
‘Our role as parents is to ensure they are on task, provide them support where necessary, whilst at the same time giving them enough opportunity to struggle as they build their resilience. Knowing what they're learning is also helpful in starting conversations and activities that relate to real life.’
‘As a teacher, I find the prospect of discovering new ways to teach very exciting. The use of technology will play a huge part in this, whether it be video conferencing, "gamefying" the learning, or online assessments; it is new to many teachers, let alone a newbie teacher like me. There will be challenges, of course: motivating students, maintaining assessment integrity, demonstrating through virtual means (a real challenge when teaching physics!), how to facilitate collaborative learning ... these will need to be worked out as we go, but there's plenty of research and resources available for teachers to access.’
While Kenji is excited about the opportunities that the new teaching methods will bring, he does worry about the impacts on vulnerable children.
‘Teach for Australia Associates such as myself teach in disadvantaged schools, with students and families from many backgrounds and circumstances,’ says Kenji. ‘My mentor has advised us that, where possible, we should try and keep regular contact with our students as much as possible as teachers are often the only connection that a vulnerable child might have outside of their immediate family.’
It is a concern shared by CatholicCare, particularly for refugee and asylum seeker families who may find it difficult to support their children’s learning, and at a time when our Homework Groups have been suspended due to physical distancing measures.
As school communities across Victoria enter the unknown of Term 2, it may take several weeks before we begin to understand the impact of remote learning for families. Kenji has prepared a strategy of ‘flexibility, patience, and seeing the positives’ but is philosophical about what lies ahead.
‘It's ok to be bad at homeschooling! I'm a teacher and I don't even know what I'm supposed to be doing. It's uncharted territory for all of us: for teachers, parents and children alike, and no one has the right answer. Look at the bright side; you get to spend more time with your children, to get to know them better, to get to know how they learn. It's a great opportunity for them to learn about what you do, too. I'm hopeful that, at the end of it all, we'll all come out much closer, stronger and happier.’
Clockwise from top left: Li uses graphs to illustrate who takes the most snack timeouts in the family; Kenji leads fun learning activities for the children; Milli practices her arithmetic (photos by Kenji Sugimoto)
Kenji’s tips for learning at home
- Maintain expectations. COVID-19 is not an excuse for kids to stop learning so the schoolwork must be done!
- Know your child and their needs. What are their strengths and weakness? How do they like to learn? Through reading? Through being explained? Watching a Youtube video? (Teachers use Youtube ALL THE TIME) Through doing activities?
- Get in touch with their teachers, and if needed (in subject areas your child might need help in), ask them if you can come up with a learning plan together.
- Encourage your child, and praise them on their growth, not just on what they can do now ("Hey Milli, yesterday you didn't want to ride down this hill, but now you did, well done!"). Growth mindset is so much more important than talent. Foster a culture of life-long learning in the house.
- Foster their resilience. Let them struggle, let them fail, don't jump in immediately to help, give them time.
- Ask them to teach you. How to paint, how to solve an equation, how to dance, how to use an app, anything! Kids love it when they think they know more than adults (and in many cases they do know more!)
- Start small and easy in areas where they really struggle; give them a taste for success before moving up to a higher challenge.
- (Probably most important!) Look after your own wellbeing. Be lazy sometimes, self-indulge. Unhappy teacher/parent/carer means unhappy student/kids.