‘Kids aren’t missing out and they’re not in a war zone’

Earlier this week we asked how you’ve found homeschooling the second time around. Here’s what you told us.

This time around is different. My son has more homework

Cristina Grifoni, Dublin
We have been very lucky all along the pandemic. In the first lockdown my child received homework through an app called Aladdin. The homework was simple, as the school’s main focus was the mental wellbeing of the children and their families. The school was aware that some families might have lost their jobs and might have been in critical situation, so they never really pushed the children to do all the homework. They focused a lot on physical exercises, and they always stressed the importance of being kind to your parents and siblings first of all. I could not have been more proud of their approach.

My child found the homework easy, and he was able to send the pictures to the school by himself, but I enjoyed checking them and talked to him about some aspects of his homework. It was not challenging at all except for Irish, which proved to be more difficult than I previously thought. This time around is different. My son has more homework than last March, but he can do most of it by himself, so he has his own routine and tries to finish everything before 3pm, so he can play Among Us with his friends.

The atmosphere in our house is completely relaxed. For us it’s like being on holidays, as, so far, my wage has not been stopped or reduced even though the preschool where I work has closed down after the Level 5 restrictions. Overall we cannot complain about anything, as we are extremely lucky.

I feel better prepared,but there has been little to no guidance from the Department of Education

Kate Murphy, Dublin
I am a primary-school teacher. I feel better prepared, but only because I learned many lessons the first time around. There has been little to no guidance from the Department of Education; we haven’t been told should we be assessing the students, given guidelines for how and what to teach, what platforms to use.

It has been left up to schools, but principals and management have been so overloaded trying to keep schools running with a severe shortage of subs, and all the Covid safety protocol, that there is little time left to implement staff training and develop real, practical plans that meet all the children’s and families’ needs.

My school has supported me as much as possible, but I don’t feel that any support has come from the top down. Why were the inspectorate – unable to do their normal job of inspecting schools – not trained up to act as mentors for distance learning? Why were netbooks not funded for kids with no access to technology? The department resisted a plan B for so long that their denial of the obvious has made our jobs harder.”

If lockdown goes on much longer, all State exams should be cancelled

A Corrigan, Clare
I have three sons in secondary school, in first year and doing Junior and Leaving Cert. My first-year student is very laid back – a little too laid back. He was used to online teaching from his very dedicated sixth-class teacher; whether he interacted with his teachers is another story.

My Junior Cert student (who has ASD) benefits from a very structured day – he’s attending school rather than online learning. Online learning did not suit him in the last lockdown. If he didn’t understand the assignment or classes – not many classes were online last time – he wouldn’t ask for help. All teachers are online now, which gives him more structure. We would love some clarification on whether the Junior Cert will go ahead, as they haven’t even done their mocks. So he knows he has to keep up the work if there is going to be a predicted-grades system.

My Leaving Cert student and most of his buddies really want predicted grades. He has said then he could just get on with his assignments and work hard for his marks. He is very philosophical but would just like to know one way or another. He knows that predicted grades will most certainly raise third-level points requirements again, and the courses he wants went up substantially last year.

Although we live in a rural village, we are extremely fortunate that we have reliable broadband and separate laptops/PCs to enable all three to benefit from online learning. I know that this isn’t the case for some of my son’s classmates, which is why if lockdown goes on much longer all State exams should be cancelled. It would not be fair on students who haven’t got reliable broadband or, indeed, laptops to use.

Remote learning might work for secondary or older children but not primary kids

Mary Brennan, Dublin
I have three children – in third class, first class and junior infants. We obtained a list of activities that should be completed on Seesaw. It really is like doing a longer version of homework (maths, spellings and sentences etc). There is no direct teaching done via Zoom or anything, so they are not learning anything new. If a parent can’t supervise the homework it won’t get done (fact!). It is very stressful, but we do what we can. I have prioritised my older children rather than trying to do work with my child in junior infants. I don’t like when people talk about remote/online learning as being a great substitute, as it is not! It might work for secondary/older children but not for primary kids.

Our school has been amazing this time. I feel the pressure off me as a parent

Pauline Minsky, Dublin
We had a terrible time homeschooling my (then seven-year-old) son during the first lockdown. My husband and I had a very stressful six weeks with coughs and negative Covid tests. As a consequence of the stress at home, we could not bring ourselves to “force” my son to do something he didn’t want to do. We were offered work via Seesaw and email, with two half-hour Zoom catch-ups a week.

He suffered a lot of anxiety during the first lockdown. A previously very happy boy, loving life at school, his friends and his sport, he became angry and had lots of tantrums. We supported him as best we could. Our school has been amazing this time. Since September they have taken all books home at weekends/breaks in case of another closure.

This morning we began at the normal time, keeping normal school hours. The school day is 8.30am-2.10pm, with three or four 40-minute live online classes, broken up with their own desk work and breaks. Really amazing. I worked alongside him today. All smooth. I feel the pressure off me as a parent.

I don’t consider this to be homeschooling

Gaye Edwards, Wicklow
I have four secondary-school students at home, including one in sixth year. We are in the lucky position that theirs is an iPad school and has been for the last seven years or so. All of the students and teachers have iPads, complete with Microsoft Teams, so they were able to switch seamlessly this week to online learning.

Three members of our household are high risk, and I care for my elderly parents, who would fall into the very-high-risk category. We took the decision last September, when we saw the numbers starting to rise, to approach the school and ask for streamed learning for our children, which the school did for four weeks. This facility was abruptly withdrawn. Reading between the lines, the direction to withdraw appears to have come from the Minister and the Department of Education.

We appealed to the school, our education and training board, our local representatives (including Ministers Stephen Donnelly and Simon Harris), the Cabinet, Minister for Education Norma Foley and various Senators. Our pleas fell on deaf ears; most didn’t even bother to reply.

We continued to keep our children at home all through October, November and most of December. We were waiting for daily case numbers to fall. The teachers sent them work to do each day. We kept to the school timetables. It was challenging, but the children know the importance of keeping the extended family safe. They only went into the school building for the pre-Christmas exams and came home after each paper.

So, as of this morning, streamed learning was resumed. They are so much happier! I have seen some people online remarking on how difficult it is, but our experience has been the exact opposite. Certainly they would prefer to be spending lunch breaks with their friends, but they have the maturity to appreciate that these are exceptional times, and I am filled with admiration for their resilience.

I don’t consider this to be homeschooling. I have friends who homeschool their children, and this is not the same. This is more akin to distance learning. The students have been following the curriculum even when streamed classes were not being provided. I truly believe that we are preparing our children for a post-pandemic world where remote learning and working will be far more commonplace.

They aren’t missing out and they aren’t in a war zone

Mrs Richardson, Dublin
Just for perspective: I missed four years of school in Bosnia during the war. Four whole years with a war happening. I came to Australia at age 13 with no English and no schooling since I was eight. I’m 33 and I have a university degrees and a very good career. The kids will be fine. Every kid in this country is in the same boat. They aren’t missing out, and they aren’t in a war zone. Chill. Teachers are doing their best, and you are doing the best you can.

I have never been as stressed with work, homeschooling, cooking, cleaning

Brian McGrady
Being a single parent in full-time work, I have never been as stressed with work, homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, etc. To be told last year I had to correct my three kids’ work as well has finally made me intolerant to the teacher unions.

Last week I got an average of four hours of sleep at night

Chiara, Dublin
While school is much better prepared, we simply went from “Reopening schools is a priority” to “Schools are closed until January 31st, at least, and we will review the situation then,” and the message for parents was, “Cheer up, schools are ready for it now.”

All the emphasis is on how much better prepared schools are now for remote learning, and how worried and stressed teachers are, while there is no mention whatsoever of the financial and psychological effects of blanket school closure on children and working parents and the unmanageable level of anxiety for parents having to work five jobs (assuming three kids in preschool or primary school), house chores and the actual work that, you know, you get paid for, with close to no sleep and no time-out from frustrated and bored kids.

I am currently homeschooling three children with my husband; one is a toddler who requires uninterrupted attention. We both work in high-responsibility jobs and are not in a position to take leave. Last week I got an average of four hours of sleep at night, as 10pm to 3am was the only time I could sit and work at my desk without anyone coming to me every five minutes. This week it is even worse, with Zoom meetings and calendars from school to mix and match and homework assignments to complete.

The school is much better prepared this time around

Deirdre Murphy
My daughter’s primary school is much better prepared this time around, with a full schedule and structure to the day, running from 9am to 2pm-ish, and with homework to do thereafter. She is much happier with the approach and timetable that has been set out for the coming weeks.

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