I’d never questioned the status quo of the education system before, always seeing learning as synonymous with school. I knew home-schooling existed, but it wasn’t something I’d ever considered for our family because we were ‘mainstream’ and home-schooling was ‘alternative.’ Plus there was no way I could possibly teach my kids. Right?
Cue a national lockdown and an almost overnight shift from education being delivered in schools by teachers to parents educating their children at home. How interesting.
Our family were lucky to find ourselves in a fortunate position going into lockdown. My husband and I were furloughed, so we didn’t have the pressure of working from home with the children around. We were also mid-renovation on our house, so it could become a playground for the kids without worrying about the mess; ‘want to draw on that wall? Sure, go ahead. You got paint on the carpet? Don’t worry about it.’ The final stroke of good luck? We had no internet access for over two months, which gave me the excuse I needed to explore a more natural approach to learning.
As the world slowed down so did family life. Gone were the power struggles and coercion surrounding the school run and after school clubs; ‘get dressed, no we don’t have time for that, we are leaving in five minutes so help me God you better have your shoes on.’
It became clear just how much of my time had been spent in command of these little people, running their schedules with military precision as we moved from one place to the next, one stage of the day to the next; day, after day, after day.
Before lockdown I had started looking at secondary schools for my daughter. I was struggling to find one with the right environment, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was I was looking for. I was leaning towards private school (even though it would put a financial strain on our family) because of a vague idea that private education must surely give our kids better life chances.
This belief was rooted in fear. As, I was beginning to realise, was so much of our parenting; fear our children would be lazy; fear they’d grow up delinquents; fear that if we let them quit swim club they’d never achieve their (our?) dream of becoming athletes. You get the idea.
But during lockdown that fear evaporated. I started to notice how much the children were learning just by, well, living. My daughter developed a love of baking and began to draw a lot more (maths, home economics and art, right?). My son conducted ice experiments, so that was science sorted (I’m still not sure how man Lego men live in our freezer). Fun wasn’t just reserved for the weekends anymore and this slower, more connected living felt good.
Come September, despite my enthusiasm for our current family situation and my misgivings about what school would look like in the ‘new normal’ I dutifully sent my children back to the classroom.
Government rhetoric suggested I would be failing in my moral duty if my children did not return to full time education; they would be lonely, unmotivated, underachievers; flopping about the house like fish out of water and I would be a negligent parent. So, sayonara kiddos, we enjoyed the brief interlude but now it’s back to reality.
I felt the familiar fear begin to creep up on me; the fear of them missing out; the fear of them being left behind; the fear of raising idiots.
All the intuition I’d developed during the lockdown period went out the window as I wondered how they would do in the forthcoming barrage of standardised tests (please don’t let them be idiots).
But whilst schools are open, it’s far from business as usual. Year groups are segregated. Children are being sent home with minor illnesses that would not previously have precluded their attendance. Year groups are closing and some schools are shutting down completely. Many schools are adopting remote based learning models as part of their teaching methods in anticipation of more lockdowns.
Whether we like it or not, education is changing. It seems a foregone conclusion that more home and remote learning will be taking place over the coming months, maybe longer. With the provision for home learning that we’ve now seen is out there, can school really be considered the only viable path to an education?
For some families it is. Many parents will have returned to work and others will need the space to work from home that school affords them. But with schools having to redesign their curriculum anyway, could this be an opportunity for the government to rethink the type of education delivered in schools? It’s no secret that the Scandinavian models of education, with their holistic approach to learning, are some of the most successful in the world.
I don’t have all the answers, far from it. But for our family, suddenly, a home-schooling approach doesn’t seem so ‘out there’ anymore. After all, many lifestyle choices that have previously been considered ‘alternative’ are now rooted firmly in the mainstream; yoga, meditation, vegetarianism. This pandemic has created an extraordinary period of change and I don’t think I’ll be the only one questioning the status quo.