‘I’m ready to crack.’ Parents on three months of remote learning

‘Parents have taken on the roles of teacher, sports coach, friend and childminder’

Schools have been using apps such as Seesaw to interact with children.

Schools have been using apps such as Seesaw to interact with children.

 

“Blended learning” – a mix of being in class and learning remotely – will be a reality in schools in Ireland when they reopen in September, the Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said. But given the experiences of pupils, parents and teachers of mandatory homeschooling during the Covid-19 lockdown, how feasible is it to continue remote learning into the next academic year? We asked parents for their views.

‘I’m not the only one ready to crack’

Claire Cunningham, Galway

I have two children, one primary, one secondary. While the primary-school teacher is very active using apps such as Seesaw to interact with children, the secondary-school teachers seem a lot more lax.

My primary-aged child misses the routine, and is essentially left to her own devices if we are busy at work (typically one parent will work from home and one go to work). If lucky, we’ll complete a portion of the assigned work a couple of days a week.

The secondary-school child knows that teachers have limited power over the internet. He does a bare minimum, an hour or so a day, after much cajoling. He is a capable child who does well at school, but he is not motivated to study on his own initiative.

They will catch up on the learning (it might take a while to break bad habits), but I am worried about their mental states. As parents, we have taken on the roles of teacher, sports coach, friend and childminder while, in our case, having no change in our roles as full-time employees. The pressure is huge. I’m sure I’m not the only one ready to crack.

‘I’m lucky if I get 10 minutes’ schoolwork from him’

Deirdre Bolster, Dublin

I have no idea how they expect blended learning to work. I have a six-year-old in junior infants. I’m lucky if I get 10 minutes’ schoolwork from him. I also have a four-year-old and a nine-month-old. My nine-month-old had Down syndrome, and while he is thankfully healthy, I have to do physio with him and spend longer with him at mealtimes than a typical baby.

I’m due back to work in August, and presume I will be working from home. How on earth I’m supposed to manage homeschooling as well as work and the various appointments my nine-month-old has, I have no idea.

‘At 10am we go to “school” in the caravan’

Sonia Vendrell

I am a single mother of a 10-year-old girl. When schools closed I took our tiny caravan out of the garage and set it up in the garden as our new school. I changed my work schedule to a split shift. I work early in the morning for few hours and in the evening for a few more. At 10am my daughter puts on her jacket and we go to “school” in the caravan until 2pm.

The school has been very good, setting up homeschooling via an interactive app. On Mondays they send the core material for the week, we receive videos from the teacher, we upload work, do presentations, and we have a blog. I am more aware now of the curriculum my daughter is following in school.

Of course, the social aspect is missing. But my daughter and her friends have spent hours on video calls, while playing their favourite videogames, or dancing or singing karaoke together.

For us, homeschooling has been a positive experience.

‘Sending worksheets is not remote learning’

David O’Neill, Cork

I am consistently fascinated to hear Government politicians talking about “remote learning continuing” in the autumn. When did it start? My colleagues in other countries have had formal video lessons for their kids, but in Ireland this is the exception. The teachers in my children’s school have been amazing and accessible, but sending some worksheets to do at home is not remote learning.

My wife and I both work full-time, so even finding 30 minutes to do school work is a challenge. In Ireland, it’s always been the assumption that someone is at home to mind children. If this continues to be the assumption from Government in the autumn, many people will be forced out of the labour force to care for their children.

‘I have chosen to use this time to teach my son life skills’

Nik Shine

I am a single mum working full-time and have a little boy who is eight. It has been extremely difficult balancing work and a child at home. After numerous attempts, given that doing any work during this time has been confirmed by my son’s school as non-compulsory, I have stopped trying and have chosen to use this time to teach my son life skills, like sorting washing, recycling and taking out the bins.

For me, the pandemic has brought back the balance I have longed for, for years. I need only one thing to make it perfect. . . and that is the kids back in school.

‘Blended learning will not work for children with additional needs’

Michelle McEvoy

I have three boys. The youngest two have autism spectrum disorder. They have not engaged with remote learning, despite the wonderful efforts by their teachers. The change in routine has seen them both regress terribly, huge gains have been undone, and socially they are struggling having been isolated from the familiar faces they see each day. Blended learning will not work for the majority of children with additional needs. They need to be back at school. They need consistency.

Paula Ginnell: “The day the schools closed my son cried for the whole day.”
Paula Ginnell: “The day the schools closed my son cried for the whole day.”

‘The day the schools closed my son cried’

Paula Ginnell, Dublin

The day the schools closed my son cried for the whole day, he has cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability. He has regressed so much and has started pinching his face with stress. He has to be coaxed out of the house. I pray he will get back to school in September full time. Remote learning is not working here.

‘I’m worried about my children falling behind’

Marian Canavan

We have a full programme of schoolwork daily for our fifth-class and junior-infant children. I’m self-employed in hospitality, so I’m currently off work but spend hours on the computer before and after homeschooling. It’s a juggle to get it all done.

There is great variety in the junior infant programme, but fifth class is the same routine and the same books, day in, day out. The school built a fantastic website, and both teachers engage with us daily, but there is no face-to-face interaction.

I’m worried about my children falling behind and I carry the burden of their learning on my shoulders. On Sundays I watch videos so I can teach the maths programme. I correct workbooks from answer books sent from the school. We photograph all the other work and send it back through an app. It’s never-ending.

I feel under pressure to complete all the work sent home. I know other parents don’t, and that’s fine, but I want to prioritise their education and give them the best chance in life. We have no idea when this will end. I don’t know how I’m going to manage when my business reopens.

‘Blended learning is not sustainable with the lack of broadband’

Sinead McGrath, Galway

Blended learning is not sustainable with the lack of broadband infrastructure. The only one of my three children who has had any face-to-face interaction with their teacher has not been able to interact with the sessions, as the rest of his class either can’t see him or hear him, or both. Uploading work to Seesaw is also an issue due to connection problems.

‘They say homework is voluntary, but follow up on children who have not done enough’

Susan Murphy, Dublin

If homeschooling continues in September a co-ordinated approach by all schools should apply. The level of homework and the social media used differs not only from school to school, but between classes. Some teachers are providing and marking homework, some are sending videos, some are using textbooks and some are providing handouts via apps, which require a printout or the child to have his/her own iPad/device.

I am a public servant working from home (my spouse also works but I am the homework person), and my kids do well in school, yet it is difficult to find time to manage all the apps and the 20 notifications a day from the school. They say homework is voluntary, but follow up on children who have not done enough.

The children are also comparing with friends so there is peer pressure to complete everything. Schools need to be reminded that not every family has a stay-at-home parent available to “homeschool” all day long.

‘We don’t spend all day doing school work’

Marion Roche

I have homeschooled my eight-year-old granddaughter during lockdown. I don’t feel she has missed out. When you take art, PE, story time and other extra activities from the school day, her educational learning time isn’t that long, so we don’t spend all day doing school work. We have done many other things together and have broadened her learning about everyday life, nature and general knowledge. She misses her friends but FaceTimes them regularly.

We will be very reluctant to send her into a packed school unless we are 100 per cent sure she will be safe. You won’t stop children touching each other. To do so all day long would require the skills of an army colonel, and that’s not the environment we want in our schools.

‘My kids have not had one remote class’

Sarah Walsh, Limerick

I’m a self-employed mother of two. My kids are in third class and senior infants. Irish primary schools are not set up for remote learning. My kids have not had one remote class with their teachers. I understood at the start; we were all struggling to deal with an unprecedented crisis, but three months in, I’m less tolerant.

Children need engagement with their teachers; and not via email. There has been no indication of how blended learning will work. I imagine it will mean more dumping on parents, who are also meant to be helping reopen the economy. Years of underinvestment and the biggest class sizes in Europe are coming home to roost. Our children have been treated appallingly. I won’t forget this when the next election comes around.

‘Their books are in Irish’

Caroline Traynor

My twins are 10 and go to an all-Irish school. I do not speak or read it well. Their books are in Irish, so I can’t help them. I am terrified to be told they will be remote learning in September. They live in a rural setting, ideal in normal times but very lonely now and not good for their mental health. They are missing their school so much.

‘My kid’s teacher has been fantastic’

Gerard Murphy

My kid’s fourth-class teacher has been fantastic. Using Google Classroom, he uploads a PowerPoint every day for each subject. Work is corrected and commented on every day. There are 32 kids in my son’s class. The teacher responds straight away to any questions. He is definitely working hard.

Some parents want Zoom classes, but I do not agree with them, as I don’t know who could be watching my kid, off camera, on one of the other kids’ devices. Also I’m worried about “Zoom bombings” (hackings). My niece’s secondary school stopped Zooms because of a boy flashing himself behind his brother on the screen.

‘Our 14-year-old suffers extreme anxiety’

Róisín

My partner and I are essential workers. Homeschooling our three children aged four, 11 and 14 has been a nightmare. I have had to rely on a neighbour to look after my children. I start school work once I come in from work at 5.30pm.

The 11-year-old has managed without any hand-holding. But our 14-year-old suffers extreme anxiety, which has been made all the more apparent during lockdown. She struggled with the volume of work set. She stayed in bed for six days in one period, only getting up to go to the toilet. Fortunately we are already in the system, and I contacted CAMHS, who have tweaked her medication to help her cope.

I could not help with certain subjects such as music or Irish, so these were left to one side. For the rest, we made a plan, schooling from 6pm until 10pm. I set some small tasks to complete while I was at work. She is now on holidays, which is a great relief.

‘We resorted to hiring a tutor’

Sarah

My eight-year-old daughter’s school refused to continue her resource learning support for dyslexia. The principal emailed to say they were not in a position to do so, and online learning could not replace the classroom. After eight weeks we received one email from the resource teacher with a list of apps to try. A 40-minute Zoom class happened once a week for the class in its entirety. We resorted to hiring a tutor as my husband and I were both working full-time.

Deirdre Keyes: “Special-needs kids are the real victims in this pandemic.”
Deirdre Keyes: “Special-needs kids are the real victims in this pandemic.”

‘Some teachers were fantastic, others did nothing’

Deirdre Keyes

I have three children. My daughter (13) is going into second year. Her motivation has gone down the tubes. Some of her teachers were fantastic and did a mix of Zoom and home learning, and others did little or nothing at all. It made my blood boil, as I know other schools were running all-day classes.

Unless more effort is made, my daughter will be completely disengaged by the time school returns full time.

My son (eight) will be changing schools in September, as he is nearing the end of junior school. He did school work 10am-11am, and watching the Home School Hub on RTÉ, a godsend. His teacher put a lot of planning into her homeschool programme, but it was not the most practical, with lots of websites and pages to be printed.

Our six-year-old son is in the ASD unit. The teacher sends work every day via an app. After several meltdowns trying to encourage work, I parked it as it wasn’t worth the stress. His new routine involves a trip to the beach. This is heaven for him, and it is going to take an army to get him to leave the house to return to school.

I am worried; the regression is real, the aggression is real. Special-needs kids are the real victims in this pandemic.

‘Technology is her best and worst friend’

Maeve Stapleton

Our 14-year-old daughter is self-motivated and has engaged with Zoom classes and schoolwork. She has been content in her learning bubble, but I worry as she is missing out on the social interaction.

Our 12-year-old daughter has high-functioning autism, dyslexia and dyscalculia. She is in sixth class and has been attending an autism unit while being integrated into her mainstream class with an SNA.

Since March 13th she will not engage in any academic activities. I tried a loose routine – a walk, half hour schoolwork, half hour dance. She stubbornly rejected any routine being “imposed”. She no longer enjoys me reading to her as it makes her realise how she is unable read the books her peers are reading. We have tried audiobooks but she can’t concentrate. Technology is her best and worst friend.

Thanks to voice recognition she can message her friends and check spellings, but she is fascinated by videos and gets frustrated trying to decipher the hundreds of messages on her friends’ group chats.

I have resigned myself to “functional learning” as the school have termed it. We play cards, we bake, she is doing five minutes of Duolingo Spanish a day, we go for walks, play tennis, she grooms our dog. We also incorporate some worksheets sent from school.

This “learning” will continue until she starts in mainstream secondary school in September. After six months without structure, we are anticipating a very difficult transition.

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