Posted on 18/04/2021 by Dan Grace
Face to face learning should not be permanently replaced by online teaching
It’s approaching a year since schools closed from the coronavirus pandemic and despite a fleeting period back in the classroom, we find ourselves in the same position. Only this time, it appears that light is at the end of the tunnel and with vaccines being rolled out across the country we are hopeful that schools across England will open from March 8th.
No-one could have expected the challenges that we would all have to face nor adjust to over the past year however, it is remarkable how quickly British education transitioned the entire school system to a remote learning method. The conversation of schools remaining open or closed has been a hot topic which has divided our country and I wish to explore the world of home-schooling a little further and find out for myself if is it true that face to face learning should never again be replaced with remote learning unless it is absolutely necessary.
I had the privilege of speaking to both primary and secondary school students, teachers and parents across England and Wales to find out their opinion on the above. As a whole the outcome was rather unanimous and I wasn’t surprised by the feedback I received. Online learning is a great tool to navigate the young generation through the lockdowns and in some cases, it was a few hours of escapism from what was happening outside across the world however, it is a short-term solution and not a long-term fix. There is significate evidence that the closing of schools has had a calamitous impact on our nation’s children from both a psychological and physiological perspective.
The feedback and insight I accumulated from speaking to both primary and secondary school students was alerting as well as saddening. The common denominator amongst our school students is that since schools closed there has been a rapid increase in mental health cases. Anxiety, depression and self-harm are at frightening levels across the year groups and the majority of students are desperate to get back to school for both their education and the social aspect.
Whilst schooling is fundamental, a child’s development and learning involves far more than acquiring inert knowledge from the school curriculum. Being integrated into school life exposes children to an abundance of experiences and opportunities which enables them to grow and learn in their identity, relationships, emotional understanding and overall well-being. School provides children with a rich and complex learning environment which as much as teachers try to maintain, is not transferable over an online lesson.
Another challenge that we all have had to face and overcome is that of working from home. Not only are there a number of people inside the house all day every day trying to work, everyone is having to access the internet. The reoccurring issues with WIFI in the home have left many children unable to participate in live lessons online. The poor connection results in delayed and jolty classes, the teacher and students are unable to verbally communicate with each other and this then leads to frustration and the feeling of isolation. In a normal classroom setting the communication between teacher and students is uninterrupted, the students are enthralled in their class from start to finish, they actively participate and the teacher can constantly assess the progress of each and every student. What we are currently facing is that a student can simply leave the lesson with the click of a button, they can avoid appearing on the camera so it is incredibly difficult for the teacher to see what the student is actually doing and they can avoid any classroom participation.
This leads me onto my next point that with online schooling there has been a significate impact on socioeconomic divides. The educational inequalities where families may struggle to provide adequate online access or private space to engage children in a meaningful way has been severely highlighted. Despite the governments best efforts at distributing over one million devices to schools, colleges and councils to help disadvantaged families, Natasha Ravenscroft who is a secondary teacher in Manchester confirmed that many of her students still haven’t received any devices so are unable to participate in the live lessons online. The quality of a child’s education should not be determined by their financial nor economic status however, it is apparent that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children’s education is only getting bigger. This is having a catastrophic impact on the society that we are trying to build.
There is no denying that it is heart-breaking that in some homes across the UK, children do not have the resources to complete their school work despite their and their parent’s best efforts. The pressure of home-schooling is placing a huge strain on parents/carers and is resulting in a potential hostile and stressful home environment. Whether a parent is working from home, caring for other children or have other commitments, a lot of parents have felt they are now acting as a full-time teacher alongside their other responsibilities.
It isn’t just students who are eager to return to school, every teacher I spoke to believes in the importance of returning to the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so. Inside their classroom a teacher can observe their students and monitor them closely, they can adapt their teaching styles and tailor it to individual needs, they can spread their time out accordingly to suit different academic levels and they can build a safe and nurturing relationship with each student. On the other side of this, online teaching presents many obstacles. Not only is the relationship strained with their students, they no longer have that daily interaction with them, safe-guarding cases have risen affecting both children and parents and teachers feel as though they can’t get the full story through the computer screen. They can’t monitor the students in person and have a face-to-face conversation which shows a lot more than over a camera.
The teachers I spoke to were the first to hold their hands up and say despite their best effort and hard work the classes they are teaching online are not as effective as it would be in the classroom. Class discussions are limited, practical and interactive classes are near impossible, assessing students is much more challenging and the joy which once presented itself in teaching has diminished.
One teacher told me that they feel as if they are being Ofsted inspected daily by having parents listening in on the lesson. This level of pressure is overwhelming and on top of their already stressful role the amount of reports they now have to write has increased. There is evidence that the overall attendance of students has declined and handling this matter remotely is a lot more time consuming than if everyone was at school.
Whilst the above is very much in favour of face to face learning one major positive of online is the development of new ICT skills. Both teachers and students overnight had to navigate through this new digital way of working, uploading work sheets, submitting homework and attending classes. To most students who have access to this new way of learning it has become second nature to them and online learning does allow students to go over lessons / content again to review.
The question on everyone’s mind is how will our children manage when schools are reopened? Will the months of isolation and studying remotely have a more serious effect on them than we originally anticipated? All I can say is that everyone will be in the same boat and I hope with patience, support and guidance our school children will grow in confidence and will overcome what has been an incredibly disruptive and challenging year.
Thank you to all the teachers and teaching staff. In my opinion they are the unsung heroes of this pandemic and I hope in the not too distant future will be back in their classrooms inspiring and developing their students to help them fulfil and exceed their potential. This has been a year we all would like to move on from and put in the past. I really hope that very soon our children will be back in the classroom and we can start this new chapter healthy and safe.