As many students end their sojourn in “learning from home” and return to “in person learning” for the first time in months, adults around the world are breathing a sigh of relief, but perhaps not so many children as we might think.
For some children, learning from home was a positive experience, and as educators, parents and community leaders, we must ask ourselves why this might be, why we didn’t help the kids who needed help to be successful for in person learning before the pandemic, and what we are going to do for them now.
The pandemic exacerbated already complex problems.
As we know the pandemic
was hard on disastrous for everyone – students, teachers, school support workers and other professionals. We know too that students learning from home was an immense pressure on parents. And let’s be honest – it was mostly women. The statistics about how many women have left the workforce, and can’t make plans to return because of the continued instability resulting from the pandemic, are mind boggling.
Although teachers did the impossible and heroic, it is clear that this pandemic, and the switch to at home learning, was disastrous for many young people around the world. Many of us have heard of, or personally known, students who spent the last year food insecure because they didn’t have access to school meals, students who suffered emotionally, and even physically from social isolation, kids who just couldn’t make learning on line work for them.
What About the Kids That Did Better Learning from Home
For many students and their families, learning from home was a positive change.
When I talk to parents (thanks to my large network of scientifically accurate survey on Facebook) many of them share that for their children, at home learning was a positive change. Many families found they preferred to skip the chaos of getting ready in the morning, and the long commute to school and work.
Online classes gave a different sense of independence, offered opportunities to accelerate studies, and for some students extended the choice of classes available. The switch created new opportunities for families to spend time together, and grow closer as a unit. Ultimately, for some students and their families many of the positives at least balanced the negatives of this major change in learning.
For many other students, not having to go to school in person meant relief from chronic bullies, difficult teachers, and pressure to conform.
Learning from home reduced or removed struggles around social anxiety, ability to concentrate, and agonizing requirements to sit still. It seems many students who may have been floundering before the pandemic were able to find success with learning from home.
Why didn’t we help the children who were struggling with in person learning before the pandemic?
When I was teaching, I agonized over my inability to do much to give these children the support they needed. Many children changed schools, and some families even made the difficult decision to take their children out of school entirely. I remember feeling so deeply pained for these impossible decisions.
Now we have seen how learning from home, with the right supports for the educator, can be successful for many students. This is an important moment for educators, parents and community leaders to ask ourselves why we were willing to live with so many children suffering at school before the pandemic, rather than take
radical any actions to help them.
We should consider two elements are at play:
The first one is simply that the education system has a great deal of inertia, and is very difficult to change. We can see that now, as even after a year of hundreds of articles about how the pandemic represents an opportunity to radically re-think education practices, we are simply pivoting back to exactly what we did before. We are comforted that all those kids who did not do well with at-home learning are finally getting what they need. Unfortunately, this means we are continuing to turn a blind eye to the children for whom in-person learning was little more than a lesson in suffering and endurance.
The second element at play is that the hegemony that in-person is best for all students is very strong. It makes us incapable of asking difficult questions, and confronting even more difficult answers, about how schooling is experienced by the children we work with.Tweet
We shrug and tell ourselves school can be hard, children can be cruel, what can we do. Ultimately, as educators, as parents, and as a society, we accept that certain children will suffer, that’s just the nature of the game. And we don’t even consider, well not seriously at least, what kind of radical actions we should be taking to ensure no children suffer – at home or at school.
We must make a collective commitment.
I believe we must make a collective commitment to do better for those kids we made invisible. And so, as we send our kids off with the mantra “in-person is best”, I’d invite all of us to ask ourselves, who’s voices are we silencing? I do believe that ultimately in-person is better for most children, and our society as a whole.