The return to online learning has been met with mixed feelings–particularly in my household. As parents, children and instructors pivoted to resume online learning, I was left to wonder and worry about the long-term impacts of the ongoing stay-at-home order on the mental health of all those involved, and in particular, my children. In considering the methods of learning that are happening in this moment, I begin to wonder how long we will be managing this aspect of the pandemic–the social and academic fall-out associated with the chronic changes and general lack of predictability.
Here is the scenario in our household, currently. As a result of the first lock-down, my youngest, then in Senior Kindergarten, missed around 4 months of in-class instruction. The result of this is that she did not acquire some foundational pieces in terms of literacy and numeracy. The resultant gaps then became pronounced as she moved forward into Grade 1. While it was my understanding that no child was not to be put forward into the next grade because of the pandemic–what may have been missed was the beginning of the snowball–the cumulative effects of children being put forward to the next level, without all of the information and tools that they would need to navigate learning as the instruction became incrementally more complex.
This awareness was thrust into my life in late Fall, 2020–my daughter’s Grade 1 teacher had called me on two occasions to voice concerns over gaps that she was perceiving in my daughter’s performance–most notably in numeracy and literacy. Could I spend time with her at night to review concepts and help? While I certainly did try to help, I could see what had the teacher concerned but also could see a bigger picture–if I could see the correlation between time missed in SK and her problems in Grade 1, why couldn’t the school system see it? Why wasn’t this a predictable outcome? My daughter had become afraid of learning–she was becoming increasingly aware of what she didn’t know. When we worked together, I could see her guess at an answer and then gaze anxiously into my face to see if she had guessed correctly. This broke my heart. None of this was her fault. None of this was the teacher’s fault either. I also, uncharacteristically, gave myself a break–in that moment, I was working two jobs and every single day seemed to be an endless movement from one task to another. Each day, I moved as one in a dream and managed the chronic guilt that came from understanding that there was really never enough time, never enough of me to shore up all aspects of my life. I ended up engaging a tutor–my limited financial means did protest, however, as parents, we find ways to do what is needed to provide support to our little people as they grow. This has helped my daughter significantly–I have watched her confidence return and she is quickly getting the tools that she will need to continue to move forward. This was the easy fix. The other aspects of the global pandemic, however, remain harder to quantify and consequently, harder to overcome.
My question is this: If we all understand that life in a Pandemic is brutally difficult and adjustments are being made in the workplace to accommodate the “new normal”, what about the school systems? At what point do the Ministry benchmarks against which children are being measured also get adjusted? How can children be expected to just know what hasn’t been taught or isn’t as readily absorbed online? Certainly, teachers have their hands full with teaching in the blended model (when schools are open), attempting to engage meaningfully with students both face to face as well as online. There is no way that I can see that one instructor, in these circumstances, could possibly allocate the time needed to get kids caught up on what has been missed. Why aren’t the milestones that indicate preparedness to advance being adjusted to reflect the “unprecedented” conditions in which our children are “learning”?
Understanding that we are all struggling with the mental health impacts of the ongoing uncertainty, isolation, why are children not allowed to be affected by what is happening around them? Children are expected to just keep going–they have relatively little, if any, input on the decisions that are being made around them, albeit with the best of intentions. When is enough, enough? Are they even allowed to break? Isolation is hard, even when you understand the reasons why, but what if you are 6? And you miss playing with your friends–not in cohorts, but in the grandest sense of free spirited running, tumbling and just being together? How many times do we, as parents, chastise our young for too much screen-time, only now to demand that they focus on the screen and absorb the information that is being put across? At what point is just logging on for one more day, enough?
Do they get credit, in this moment, for participation?