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So many children globally are entering their second month of learning from home as governments around the world continue to keep schools closed and make sure children are at home. After the initial shock for parents, students and staff, we are experiencing the new normal. Most families have their routines for spending more time at home and seeing their children attend school from the comfort and safety of their homes. Around the dining table, at the kitchen counter, desks in their bedroom and even sitting on balconies. Children have adapted and claimed their own parts of the home to continue their studies.
We all know this is not ideal and it is not forever, we can also help to rationalise these difficulties, as we know, it is for our children’s, and others, safety, and will support breaking the chain of the coronavirus. Emotions are charged and often it can be difficult for the whole family being together for such a prolonged period of time. The media doesn’t help and we can’t escape from national and international stories that really don’t help or support anyone; the focus tends to be on the negatives, except of course the heart-warming story of Captain Tom reaching his 100th birthday.
We accept that children can’t socialise as they would normally, or get the human side of education from being physically inside a school. That does not mean home-learning is all bad. Yes, internet connection can be a problem, yes, screen time may be a concern, and yes, access to devices can be an issue. Yet, there are positives that have become apparent and these are actually supporting your child’s development, socially and educationally.
Many children are getting better sleep at night and not having to get up so early. There is more time for breakfast and children are able to start their learning day more refreshed and alert. For many, working in the comfort of their own home is a definite advantage and they are able to focus more without others around to distract them. They can get a drink and snack, go to the bathroom and still be engaged in what they are doing. Not all work is screen based and many children are enjoying the discovery of everyday objects becoming learning resources. With some, having parents or grandparents around offers another element of enjoyment to share their learning.
We have assumed for a long time that just because children have access to devices and seem to be on them often, that they know exactly what they are doing. Being forced to use technology for more school related tasks has developed their work base skills. Tech is not just for gaming and socialising but is also a powerful tool for productivity. Children have been learning how to utilise their devices, phones, tablets and laptops. Software and apps that were seen as just for school because they were only used in school are now being mastered across many subjects, this has also given students cross-curricular awareness that they may not have had in school so often. New technology is being introduced and used. The use of tech for productivity will stay with them as they progress through school and university. Research will no longer be simply google, cut and paste. Teachers have been pushed to go beyond simple tasks as they re-design lesson content and assignments.
So many children rely on others to support their learning, as a young child, this is natural but as they grow older all children need to develop their own independence and be able to work without reliance on others. Being stuck indoors, having to work through problems by themselves is wonderful at developing this essential skill. Students aren’t just coping, they are flourishing, they are devising their own strategies to develop and support their own learning. They can’t just put up their hand and wait for an answer, they can’t look at their friend sitting next to them to see what they have done. They need to work on their own, yes, help is available, but the feedback I am hearing from teachers is that students are working more independently and reaching higher levels of achievement because of it.
Linked to independent learning, children are becoming much more resilient and adapting well to the movement control. Learning at home has become the new normal and children, just like adults need routine. To take away from children something they have never questioned, such as the need to go to school, can be very stressful. Yet our children have adapted well to their new restricted environments. It is not negatively impacting their learning. Had we suggested a few years ago, we try an experiment where all children study at home, many people would have commented that it would harm their education. We have seen that in the short term, this is not the case. Work set is not just to fill time, new topics and concepts are being taught, and effectively. Teachers are still just as caring and observant to their progress, support is still available and children have responded well. Socialising is just as important as the educational content for a child’s development, and again, children are using social media to do just that, be social, in lessons and outside of them.
Having to work from home started as a novelty that quickly wore off, as realisation developed that this would not be over so soon; many found ways to deal with the situation. Just as resilience has been seen, linked to this is the positivity the children have been showing, not only to their studies, but also in relation to their home-lives. In recent surveys, not just from my own school, others as well, nationally and internationally, children are showing lower stress levels as this period goes on. They have adapted and are more accepting of the situation than adults. Perhaps the extra sleep, the no rush to leave early in the morning, the home environment etc. are all supportive of their improved wellbeing. Children are experiencing much more family time than usual and seeing more of their parents and relatives than they normally would. A strengthening of the family bond is taking place as we get to know and learn to live with each other. This is having a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing, which in turn supports their attainment and attitude to their studies.
Whilst there are positive and negative aspects of dealing with being stuck at home, it is temporary, we will be regaining normality as we move ahead. Schools are the right place for children to be, to further their education and emotional and social wellbeing. But when we look back on this strange couple of months in our lives, we should remember, it has given, not just taken away. The positives children have experienced will not disappear, they will take this new found independence, resilience and skillset with them on the next part of their educational journey and beyond. We have given our children a boost in life skills that we would not have imagined possible before.
(Ian Gross is the Principal at Kinabalu International School, Sabah, Malaysia and is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education through Bath University, UK)
To find out more about Kinabalu International School, kindly visit their website at www.kis.edu.my, contact them at 088-224-526 or visit them at Jalan Kinabalu International School, Off Jalan Khidmat, Bukit Padang, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.