The MH Online seminar for week 5 of the series1 examined the reported experiences of children who suddenly find that their parents have become their teachers, and their teachers have become faces on a screen during the isolation measures taken to counter the impact of COVID-19.
Home School from the child’s view
Introduced by Professor Judy Robertson, Holly Linklater brought some interview comments from children to get us quickly oriented with their perspective. These voices talked about the experience of using the online platform (Zoom). Children seem to be missing their friends although some of the activities seem to be useful. Face to face contact is a barrier for some, because some schools/authorities do not allow children to use video during online sessions.
It’s bad in a bad way, and good in a good way
Backchannel conversation brought stories from other delegates’ children which included a positive response from children to video their teachers had made - seeing their faces and recognising they were all in lockdown at their home helped the children to understand better.
Checking in every day is important to many, and being able to sustain their community: children seem to miss badly the familiarity of the school environment, a space in which they can have agency and that sense of belonging. Some are having their children sit on Zoom with friends and work together, making it feel a bit more like school.
Parents in the conversation suggested:
… the teachers are working miracles setting interesting, differentiated work that can be done without their direct input!
My own observations of primary and secondary teachers2 has been that they are working very hard for the children to offer engaging and interesting things to do, at the same time as making that rhythm of school life seem ever present, as a reassuring cadence of continuity.
Real concern has been voiced, that whilst some children have been able to access school life and community in a very real way using the technology they have available have been thriving, there are others who have not.
My child is able to FaceTime her friends and they are having some group chats which is fab but I really worry for the children who don’t have access to IT, in terms of their learning and their mental health.
The key message from the children has been that contact is very important for them, both with their friends and their teachers.
(Digital) Katie Farrell was invited to present some data (in graphical form) relating to happiness of twitter users, showing the peak of happiness in the past year as being Christmas Day 2019, a huge dip as the COVID pandemic hit, and very encouragingly, a steady recovery toward normal levels of happiness, as determined by automatic textual analysis of tweets. A proper feel-good message just when we needed it! It looks like Katie will have a regular slot in these sessions, and that is indeed something to look forward to.
The impact of isolation on parents
A report was given by Dr Hannah McNeilly on a research project that analysed parent perspectives in the early stages of the lockdown. Initial thoughts from the research suggest that parents are finding it hard to make decisions under extreme uncertainty, at the same time as having additional responsibility, including an expectation that they are confident in teaching their children. The uncertainty comes in part from the different choices made on policy by different governments. Is it safe to go out or not? Other impacts reported were less expected:
the main impact of the virus has been that I am here with the whole family, including my ex-husband-to-be.
Holly revealed that it was these stresses on the parents that led to the creation of her “Home School with Holly”. Parents who are teachers are feeling the pressures, too:
my child said they had the worst home school in the world.
Q & A
Questions and answers were brief but the back channel had been lively, with great resources being shared, including Scientist next door, which is
a small group of scientists aiming to bring together communities during the lockdown and homeschooling. We are here to share with children our passion for science, hoping more of you will find it as exciting!
Another hour well spent in developing greater understanding of the new world unfolding before us, in its messy, unpredictable way, and from which we all have an opportunity to learn new things about ourselves and what we do.