Sabrina Almeida

The closure of schools and shift to online instruction on an account of the pandemic brought the problems with virtual education front and centre. While evaluating whether online-only schooling is good for students (and their parents) however, it is important to remember that teachers were also unprepared and lacked the necessary resources at this time.

Conversations with students and parents about their experiences with virtual schooling revealed some of the unseen but serious challenges, especially, for the little ones. Several kindergarten and grade one students found it difficult to make the sudden shift to online learning. With parents working from home and unable to provide the attention, computer-savvy grandparents were called to the rescue. One grandmother travelled from Mississauga to neighbouring Milton every day to help her seven year-old grandson with e-learning. With this option only being available if grandparents lived in the home or nearby, and if they weren’t working, many families struggled to keep up.

Families with two or more children found it especially hard and irrespective of whether parents were working or not. For one, each child had to have access to a computer or tablet. Many also had to upgrade internet services (an added expense) to cope with the increased demand of work and study.

One stay-at-home mum was unable to provide both her daughters with the one-on-one assistance they needed to make the transition to online learning. Putting them in separate rooms to minimize distractions meant her attention was divided.

Children whose parents were employed in essential services and had to be at their workplace were left to their own devices to cope.

Videos uploaded to school portals (at short notice no doubt) were unable to cater to varying student abilities. This is something education boards will have to think about while planning online courses.  A parent in the Durham region, for example, abandoned the school videos which her eight-year-old found boring. She was able to find other teaching materials which she claims were more engaging and effective. But not all parents have the resources, time or inclination to do this!!!

Some older students too had a rough time. An eighth grader who was poor in math struggled even more with online instruction. The teacher, understandably, lacked the resources to help students like him. Resources aside, not all educators are comfortable with or inclined towards conducting classes online either.  This highlights the critical need for teacher training with regard to virtual education. With some teachers struggling with new technology, this still may not be suited to all.

Other challenges included students being unable able to manage even reduced workloads without the structured timings of school.

Internet coverage is also not equal everywhere, so providing and accessing online education can be a huge problem both for students and teachers.

And how does one deal with student absenteeism or those that need additional assistance?

Medical research also shows that the social isolation that came with the closure of schools and lockdown negatively impacted children’s mental well-being. Many missed the interaction they had with their peers and teachers and were depressed.

School boards in Ontario and the rest of Canada must keep all this in mind as they plan their approach for the new academic year.

While a combination of in-class and online instruction might work best, the expectation of a new wave of cases in fall might take away the option of going into school. This means that educators must have a solid plan for enriching and engaging virtual schooling. At least now they’ve had many months to prepare!

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