For everyone The myth of days lost: remote learning is not home-schooling

Dangerous concepts have a habit of creeping into our national vernacular when words are mischievously chosen to make that concept sound innocent. For instance, I’ve long contended that one of the most perilous phrases on the education landscape is “education is the answer”. Essentially, proponents trot this out after they’ve created a societal ill that they’d rather not remedy themselves.

For our educators, this manifests as every issue that reeks of hard work being forced upon schools who had no part at all in its creation. Whether the frightful obstacle is student behaviour, technology addiction, teen pregnancy, childhood obesity or drownings, it is suddenly the local school’s job to overcome the  problem.

The result is schools so laden with commitments, programs and guest speakers – and so busy implementing and complying – that they struggle to hold tight to their core commitments around learning and citizen-building. And that is not OK.

Across the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen language used conveniently in a number of ways. Firstly, our media-normalised use of the term “home schooling” to describe what parents have been doing to support their kids’ learning.

Despite the fact that, by definition, home schooling does not involve teachers planning and delivering lessons – whether on-site or through a laptop from their home to yours – the more accurate description of “remote learning” was all but expunged from conversations about how schools should manage lessons during lockdowns.

It’s one more papercut of linguistic disrespect at a time when we’ve leaned on and marveled at the adaptability, ingenuity and stoicism of our education workforce. 

And yet – just to pour some lemon on that cut – we’re within inches of absorbing into public discourse another term so corrosive, discourteous and downright false that it beggars belief. I’m talking about the repeated reference to “days lost” due to lockdowns in terms of the education of our young people. 

We are now hearing buffoons filling both sides of the conversation on talkback radio with commentary about just how many days students from any particular state have “lost” to “home schooling”. 

I can’t allow this to go unchallenged.

You have not lost a day of learning when a teacher or school welfare officer, probably wrangling their own family commitments in the background, has connected with you to check personally on your wellbeing.

To suggest that schooling during lockdown is “home-schooling” disregards the enormous, valuable work every school staff member is providing every day.

You have not lost a day of learning when a teacher has, that day, coached you through a challenging maths concept while everyone else in the Zoom class has skipped off for a break.

You have not lost a day of learning when you’ve eyeballed your classmates and shared a joke, a struggle or a triumph in a class check-in held online.

Granted – you’ve missed a day of learning if engaging at all in these options just wasn’t possible for you or your family. But that day isn’t “lost” and nor is it unrecoverable, with the right support.

When the Christchurch earthquake hit New Zealand in 2011, thousands of students missed several days of contact with school staff and each other without a moment’s warning. Weeks passed and concerns rose.

But was there “loss” in either the short-term performance, such as end of year exams, or in terms of long-term development? Nope, there was barely a measurable blip on the radar.

Why? Because our teachers are experts in gap identification, triaging learning priorities, managing crises, recovery and management of a healthy learning state in their students and in – despite all the bitter distractions – focusing on what really matters when the chips are down.

To suggest that schooling during lockdown is “home-schooling” disregards the enormous, valuable work every school staff member is providing every day.

Those Christchurch kids turned out just fine. And so will our kids – if only we can find the gumption to resist turning into Maude Flanders of The Simpsons fame and shrieking: “Won’t somebody think of the children?” whenever the choice between the risks of remote learning need to be weighed against the risks of catching a deadly virus.

Our kids are learning right now from observing the resilience, rationality and flexibility shown by the adults around them, not least the school staff who have consistently maintained their education throughout this pandemic. Among our media commentators, however, they could do with some better teachers.

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