June 2, 2020
News Opinion

PAUL HOPKINS: Life in the time of coronavirus: More to home-schooling than the three Rs

So, the lockdown continues … with scientists now cautioning against the re-opening of schools after findings suggest children could be as infectious as adults.

Studies, by the team of leading German virologist Christian Drosten — and teams at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US and the Shenzhen Centre for Disease Control and Prevention — have found that, even though children tend to have far milder symptoms, those infected appeared to have the same levels of the coronavirus in their bodies as adults.

As the lockdown continues, the parents’ dubious expectations about homeschooling has, perhaps, been replaced by the harsh reality that being a teacher is, well, a tough call. And it requires a degree of preparation and focus that many parents simply don’t have.

To be blunt, having the kids under your feet 24/7 is not good for all concerned  —  what with that adage of what is seldom is wonderful. With such enforced-upon-us attempts at ‘homeschooling’, parents have largely misunderstood the concept, for trying to replicate school at home when you’re not trained and you don’t always have the materials is something of a mission impossible.

Most children (teens too) aren’t self-regulated enough to work for a sustained period of time without constant supervision. And that’s not possible for many parents trying to balance work and childcare.

“It became apparent soon after March 12 that each student went home to unique learning environments with different access to resources,” says my nephew David Hopkins, who is Acting Deputy Principal of Coláiste na hInse in Bettystown.

But, look, as a parent don’t beat yourself up (and, certainly, don’t be beating the child) over homeschooling; there’s a lot more to education than the Three Rs. So maybe you aren’t an expert on algebra or physics, but you still have so much to teach your children, especially when they now have more time on their hands.

Again, David Hopkins says: “What we’ve attempted to do is reduce new curricular learning to one hour, for every three on pupils’ timetables and support them in realising that their days are filled with ‘other’ learning. Students are encouraged to track the progress they’re making in, for example, the kitchen, with their sports’ skills, video editing or IT aptitude.”

What Coláiste na hInse is seeing is that some of the best learning is happening outside of school-books, with students telling their teachers, in their weekly reports, about newly learned software skills —  in some cases students are teaching their elders! —  or training regimes they built and followed, or, in one case, about a digital archive of young people’s thoughts about the pandemic and how it’s changed their lives.

You can teach your children about other everyday matters: sewing, for example, or basic cooking or getting them to fold laundry, wash dishes, and make their own beds  —  for once! There are also the more aesthetic aspects of learning, like  the wonderful wide world of books and the knowledge that lies between their covers, or music, or debate or, on those allowed-for walks, the wonders of nature, which has never seemed more engaging now that we have eased off on our carbon footprint.

Says David Hopkins: “Ultimately, after carrying out a survey of over 700 members of our school community, we [developed] guidelines to how students and teachers, and parents, should work together and try to formally capture the non-curricular learning that students were experiencing. Is it a perfect solution? No. But has it engaged many more students than before when we tried to continue with a full curriculum approach? Absolutely.”

The truth is, children are born learning; it’s a survival skill that comes naturally to them. If families can use this time of coronavirus as a chance to engage their children, young and old, in genuine learning for life, then that, I would argue, could be transformational for the development of all concerned.

As I’ve said, genuine learning can go beyond the traditional educational subjects. And, if families are able to engage their children in learning about life in its broader remit, that is a gift of great value.

Life in the time of coronavirus is a time that children are always going to remember, a time of forever memories.

So ask yourself, what are those memories you want your children to have?

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