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Home schoolig and remote learning: which consequences for the Covid generation?

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Who or what determines the choices for learning from home and what impact will it have on education and employment of the Covid generation?

A student of St Andrews university attends testing of a lateral flow antigen test facility, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease, in St Andrews, Scotland, Britain, November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

The Covid-19 pandemic has flipped the general practices of education on their heads – ushering in a new technological format of remote learning whilst simultaneously reviving the dated concept of home schooling. Enactments of compulsory attendance regulations in the 19th and 20th centuries saw the decline of education at home – fused with increasing desire for formal and institutional teaching. The ravages of this global pandemic have dispelled with such concepts of legality and want.  International communities pursued life behind their front doors. Schools and university campuses alike laying bare. The intellectual progression of those too young to contextualize it has been thrust upon the shoulders of parents – themselves combatting the economic and social effects of lockdown. Concurrently, college and university studies shifted from chalk and blackboards to pixelated screens, with the long-term academic and employability impact remaining unknown.

The harrowing infectious and debilitating nature of Covid-19 leaves little room for debate regarding the safety of ourselves and our children. Schools – especially university campuses – are inherently social spaces now screaming with high infection rates. Yet was the infection of the young ever of paramount importance? Yes and no. We know that the physical effects of the virus are widely minimal in young people – but the cost of transmitting to the vulnerable is profound. Such was the case that the task of academically guiding students fell away from the teachers and into the hands of parents and laptop screens. The question then arose: how do we do this? What do we teach? Who makes such choices? All valuable and relevant concerns. Parents with younger children have had to find that often impossible balance between educating and entertaining – setting them work and allowing for play – a difficult concept in a world in lockdown. Early stages of development are often the most important and achieving positive gains can be onerous when teaching experience is limited. In this instance, parents have had to do the best they could with what they had. Unfortunately, with little capabilities to monitor primary level education during the pandemic, schools will have little choice but to start from where they left off before the crisis.

Secondary and higher education paint a different picture: a technological one. Students and teachers globally have taken to their computer screens, their pre-recorded lectures and online classrooms – academically alone yet surrounded by family in kitchens and bedrooms. Not the ideal study environment. Didactically, curriculums remain unchanged. The pitfalls of remote learning arise in social contact: isolation from peers and the absence of hands-on guidance from teachers. The quality of the experience matters, not simply the fact it is provided. The emotional ramifications of this forced academic and social solitude can be profound.

Homeschooling and remote learning have become essential practices that are both inconvenient and demanding, but which allow for some security: visual communication, continual schooling and an effective distraction from the wider realities of the pandemic. But what about long-term effects? There are two possible stances. A global pandemic is an abhorrent reality: normality is disrupted with little foresight of its return. However, international technological capabilities have most definitely eased the pain – contemporarily and into the future. As such, the implementation of remote learning could well have eased the academic and employability effects on the young – in comparison to zero educational advances. Curricula survive and classes persist – albeit in an unconventional manner. The counterargument arises from an emotional context. Can the Covid generation cope with incessant classroom isolation? Does online teaching effectively prepare students for life? Like students themselves, the processes must mature; only then can we truly know the answer.

This article is also published in the November/December issue of eastwest.

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