Home schooling, virtual learning, blended learning… what are we actually doing?

The reality of the past few months is that we were all propelled into a new world and forced to react and act all at the same time. Governments made decisions about schools and schooling with assumptions that many schools were already operating in the 21st century, so would be ready for what we have been saying for many years, …’the unknown.’ But the reality was that in our educational space, we needed very strong and calm leaders who were going to take school leadership to the next level by changing the one ‘modus operandi’ we have all known since our very own experiences at school.

As schools closed across the globe, we spoke of virtual learning, and as this started unfolding, we realised that depending on where the school was, what resources it had, the demographics of the stakeholders, this virtual learning was definitely not going to be a similar experience for all students forced to stay at home, and definitely not all age groups . Our reality was that we were on the cusp of entering true 21st century style learning where we were using the 21st century skills on a daily basis, or we could have been a disaster waiting to happen.

SEN educators were forced to definitely think out of the box about supporting those students remotely at home who struggle to concentrate in class, never mind on their own in front of a screen. Schools had to have solid plans to improve on and yet consider the fact that there are still many children who do not have gadgets at home, have to share them, and might just not have a space to actually work constructively. In some developing countries, lessons were conducted over the radio and on TV.

As we reacted as educators, we did not really consider our own well being and that of our teachers who were also in a state of shock, wherever they were, and how this change would also affect them; how they work, discover their flexibility, creativity, strengths and confidence, using IT to teach on a daily basis and how they were going to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Overnight, home, work and school became one bog blended blur.

Most parents interpreted this whole process as ‘home schooling’, and were petrified that they were not prepared, were they expected to teach the children or just to set up a space for them to communicate with their teachers. They now had their children home 24/7, no real breaks and had to be both ‘good cop and bad cop’, just to try and keep the peace in the house. They were now parents, teachers, principal, playground monitors, cafeteria staff, extra curricula supervisors and much more. Worries about delivering work for some from the non existent home-office, keeping kids on the straight and narrow, remembering to remove your pyjama tops before a Zoom call and carrying on like a ‘normal ‘human being seemed to get more and more remote with each passing day. Yet we all had to continue in our new norm and do the best we could with what we had.

Pamoja, an online learning platform in partnership with the IB has been offering IBDP courses online for several years now. One thing that was obvious from the onset was that not all students in the IBDP were eligible candidates for an independent online course, so schools had to create eligibility plans so that those students who studied a course through Pamoja would be successful. This has definitely worked in most cases, but the reality of it is that not all students and teachers actually enjoy this virtual learning and are able to stay focused, creative, engaged and excited for the duration.

Most schools have had to use blended learning and the diverse tools and times available to enable contact time ( with time differences to be considered for international schools), independent learning and discovery, as well as some interaction by students in smaller groups. Applications such as Kahoot and others have probably played a more prominent role than in the past. The actual classroom this time has been the gadget being used and monitoring continues to be sketchy.

A mother from my previous school reached out to me last week to say she needed to talk urgently. We arranged a Zoom meeting with her and her 3 children aged between 12 and 17 years old, and they all confused to being frustrated and bored. What started out as maybe an interesting adventure was now monotonous and the children were missing socialising with their friends and that human interaction. I asked about the lessons, and the students said they were ok, but they still missed their friends. I realised that this was surely more about the ‘cabin fever’ rather than the quality of lessons offered. They were going through the slump like the rest of us and were tired. They wanted their routine back, and this new life was creating frustration and anger. I was honoured that she felt that I could change the world from my little corner in Surrey, but I did remind them all that they were doing great and had responded to the unknown very well and that there will still be changes and challenges in the next year and probably more. I did emphasize that none of us have experienced this before and we are all doing the best we can, but it was important to take care of each other, ensure that everyone is responsible for each other’s wellness and that there will be good and bad days. I ended by telling them that they needed to remember that the whole world is going through the same thing and it is an unknown enemy that we are fighting and change was inevitable, and will continue to be so for many years to come. We are making history!

For some strange reason, they all seemed reassured and actually waved goodbye enthusiastically at the end of the call.

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