The Challenges of Remote Learning

The Challenges of Remote Learning, through the eyes of a Head Teacher and a Parent.

by Mr Morrison (Head of the Junior School)

“Remote learning is a massively challenging process for everyone. There are many reasons for this, but my sense is that three central factors underlie the difficulties being faced in most homes around the country and the world:

  • Most parents are not teachers – or, to put it from the child’s perspective, children view their parents as parents, not teachers. As a parent of three daughters myself, I know how difficult this is. Our children regard us as caring figures and providers, particularly in the home, making the process of engaging in their education at home all the more challenging. Which links to the second factor….
  • Children have grown to learn collaboratively and to remove them from that vibrant classroom and exhort them to learn through a screen is to remove the vast majority of their stimulus and their motivation.
  • Every child is different – more of this below.

As I am sure in schools all over the UK, we at George Heriot’s in Edinburgh, have marvelled at the independence, initiative, resilience and adaptability of the young people in our care. Last year’s lockdown was a tremendously steep learning curve for all and we entered this “Lockdown #2” all the wiser and better equipped.

It can be tempting for parents to push for wall-to-wall screen-time, but I would urge you to reflect on the effect this would have on the child. The education system has rightly geared children to learning that is interactive and collaborative. The wonders of MS Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and their like are as yet unable to bring people together physically and so they remain an unfamiliar environment for a child in which to learn, adapt though they might. I know from experience how being on screen all day feels, as do so many of us in our walks of life: frazzled, hollow, drained and exhausted?

I strongly suggest to you that balanced shaping of the remote learning programme ensures that the screen time works in support of the children’s learning activities. Class teachers will know how that works best for their particular group, but we have sought a delicate blend of two or three screen sessions per day, alongside the range of tasks set on our Virtual Learning Environment. Teachers will tend to use the brief class discussions on screen to introduce the learning activities, before letting the children crack on with them independently, perhaps then to submit the work and report back on screen. In this sense, the benefit is more of pastoral in nature than academic.

That third, inescapable and wonderful factor, is that every child is unique and thereby learns in a different way to all other children. Teachers have proven themselves to be miracle workers time and again in my book, but surely this is one that remains beyond them! One child, blessed with technology since before they could walk and surrounded by every device and app known to man, relishes the virtual environment. Another child, through force of circumstance, economic or simply by choice, must share the family’s one computer (no printer, intermittent wi-fi) with their four siblings – oh, and their parents, both fully working. The best we as teachers can seek to do, I believe, is to set a programme of work that sits somewhere in the middle, reassure the children that their best effort will always be good enough and urge them to prioritise the literacy and numeracy activities. This, with suitably pitched extension activities for those who can gobble them up, gives us differentiation in the virtual classroom.

Above all, that we all – pupils, parents and teachers – keep a sense of perspective and protect our mental wellbeing, is vital. Keeping ourselves going, at a time of such global challenge, and keeping ourselves healthy is achievement in itself. The children’s learning will recover; most schools saw evidence of as much early in the autumn. Our unofficial motto at George Heriot’s is ‘Work Hard, Be Kind, Be Happy’. In encouraging the children to keep showing kindness to all around them, we are surely steering them towards a happy path through these dark times.”

You can see the full article in the Spring Edition of the Independent School Parent below: