The Changing Roles of Teachers and Parents in the times of COVID-19
Dr Rosienne Farrugia and Dr Leonard Busuttil
Sat May 23 2020 22:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
Schools as we know them have been closed for over eight weeks in Malta and in many other countries around the globe. Teaching and learning has shifted to online modes so that the use of digital technologies has become an indispensable tool for the education of a whole generation of children and teens. Whilst the benefits of slowing down our lives and spending more time with our families are indisputable for those whose homes are welcoming, nurturing spaces, many parents wonder, sometimes even worry, about the impact of social distancing and isolation on their children’s education.
The changing roles of teachers and parents in children’s education is evident. Whilst a major concern for teacher respondents is to ensure access for all learners through a variety of online approaches that range from synchronous real-time online sessions to the provision of detailed instructions and resources that parents could ideally easily follow, they are also aware that working parents are having to juggle between their own work commitments and family needs as well as helping their own children with school work and homework. Not every family has access to more than one laptop or suitable device and connectivity issues are also a factor that is mentioned. Many teachers are parents themselves who are going through very similar challenges and, thus, they are able to empathise with the difficulties faced in most households as adults and children are doing their utmost to adapt to the new reality that COVID-19 has created. Online teaching is identified as one positive element in terms of its validity to help families set a daily routine in an otherwise fluid, at times chaotic day.
Using asynchronous approaches where a variety of materials and resources such as presentations with voice-over recordings and recorded lessons are uploaded to accommodate family schedules seem to serve as a good alternative to real-time online sessions. The aim is to facilitate the participation of more learners at their own time frame and pace. For parents of young children in kindergarten and primary school, this can help ease the pressure of having to sit with their children during a scheduled slot whilst in the meantime meeting their own work deadlines. Having said this, different approaches and types of interactions can have different effects on the kind of learning that happens. The teacher-student relationship is a motivating factor in student learning and engagement. Although not all teachers feel confident, competent or comfortable with using real-time face-to-face sessions, those who do seem to believe that having online face-to-face interactions on a regular basis helps strengthen the bond they had already created prior to the physical closure of the schools. It also provides a medium for connecting with others and socializing for children during the times of COVID-19, when the only interaction is with members of their immediate family.
This leads to a focus on children’s wellbeing, which is seen to be the overarching concern for both teachers and families. Whereas participation and access to online learning are at the top of the list of priorities for teacher respondents who also mention parents’ concerns regarding their children’s educational progress and attainment, understandably enough, there is also a certain degree of apprehension on the impact of COVID-19 situation on children’s overall development, including their physical health and socio-emotional wellbeing. Educators comment on the lack of human contact, the impersonal ways of interacting from behind a screen without being able to read learners’ emotions through non-verbal gestures due to the switching off of cameras, the disruptive behaviour that sometimes occurs, their frustration with the absence of emotional support for children who need it most, and the repercussions on the quality of learning and the experiences lived when there is little or no social interaction amongst learners. They also mention the fact that some children are falling through the net or disappearing from the school radar, despite numerous efforts from themselves or the school management team to contact these families. According to the respondents, success of the online system is highly dependent on good communication between the school and the home, availability and willingness from both sides to take up the challenge of educating this generation together with a shared understanding that these are unprecedented times and thus call for flexibility, empathy, mutual respect and collaboration. Similarly, teacher respondents highlight concerns expressed by parents about the number of hours spent learning online or doing their schoolwork and homework, sitting down in front of a screen without being able to see or interact with their peers due to privacy issues, the loss of routine and boundaries, the short attention span and lack of focus, and the refusal of some children to cooperate and participate in both real-time sessions as well as other modes of online learning.
On a positive note, the shift to online teaching has ensured a form of continuity of experience between the home and the school, strengthened relationships between educators and families where, according to some educators, teacher effort and fast adaptation to new learning systems are being rewarded with trust, appreciation, parental involvement and student engagement. Good relationships between schools and families have a direct impact on learners’ overall wellbeing as a sense of community is developed. Children and teens feel a sense of belonging when their parents show trust in committed and dedicated teachers and, as a result, are often more willing to actively participate in the teaching and learning processes.
Keeping in mind that the above is only a glimpse into the richness of the data collected through the participation of a considerable number of Maltese educators and that further research involving different stakeholders is currently in progress, many more insights are still to emerge and be discovered. These aim to provide a deeper understanding of the impact of online teaching on the learning, development and wellbeing of our young generations. In the meantime, parents are encouraged to first and foremost understand that this is a transition period for both adults and children and that the latter are experiencing their own frustrations and difficulties with coping with a more restricted and isolated kind of life. Family health and wellbeing remain a priority, which implies a need to strike a balance between work, play and rest for themselves and their family members. Developing a routine and supporting children to develop independent skills and take ownership of their learning whilst also taking an active role in family matters and duties are recommended by teachers of students of all ages. Moreover, being flexible and understanding when things do not go according to plan can alleviate stress and anxiety for both adults and children. Keeping regular contact with teachers and sharing a concern or asking for help or advice when needed is often more productive and beneficial than worrying or just venting out a concern elsewhere. Praising children’s efforts and sharing their work by uploading it for teachers to view, assess and at times share with their peers when possible are also important.
Finally, accepting that this situation is unique in terms of what most of us have experienced so far in our lifetime and understanding that it calls for unparalleled efforts from everyone involved including parents, children and educators will ultimately facilitate smoother transitions as we seek to work collaboratively, support each other and provide the best possible environments for our children to grow, flourish and even thrive, having lived and developed resilience to cope and survive these extraordinary times.