School at home is pointless

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Starting from today, the Israeli ministry of education has come up with a model of long-distance lessons that will start in the morning and last into the afternoon, with obligatory participation for each student from kindergarten and up. There is also supposed to be homework, after-school activities, and parent meetings via Zoom.

Predictably, many parents revolted against such a rigid plan, pointing out that 1. In most families except the more privileged ones, the ratio of children per computer/tablet isn’t 1:1 but more like 1:3; 2. The parents themselves often need the computer for work; 3. The heavy one-on-one tutoring the program assumes will take place is impossible with several children of different ages involved; and 4. Perhaps the most obvious one – it’s not realistic or even desirable to get children to sit in front of screens for 5-6 hours a day and actually retain anything they learn.

To me, the major flaw in this plan is pretty obvious: the ministry of education is essentially attempting to recreate school at home, with a set schedule, plenty of busywork, and a strict division between classes. There’s no doubt at all this is going to fail, and fast.

For someone who had homeschooled for a long time (our older girls are currently enrolled in a small private school that does not, thank goodness, insist on turning our living room into a fully equipped classroom), it was easy enough to fall back on our old homeschooling/unschooling tactics. I can tell you that we never have, and probably never will, start or end lessons at the same time of the day. I am sure countless parents all over the country are now making the same discovery as well.

Furthermore, as my two eldest are close in age, the only subject I have ever taught separately was math, and that with considerable overlaps. Everything else – reading comprehension, writing, science, English, etc, was taught together, but with slightly different expectations. In millions of homes, siblings with 1-2 years of difference are required to stay separate for lessons they could both learn with equal profit.

Third, and this is the key point here, our ministry of education and all the experts that advise it are focused on filling the children’s time – free time is seen as the enemy. It is not – it is an opportunity.

I can assure you that throughout elementary school at least, all the essentials can be safely covered in two hours daily, possibly split between morning and afternoon, and the rest of the time can be divided between free creative play and studying subjects that the children themselves are interested in (self-induced learning that requires very little effort on the parent’s part).

Take screens away (with the exception of some educational YouTube channels) and give children books, craft materials, dress-up play, and a patch of dirt to dig in, and you can accomplish great things.

Yes, I hear you. “Easy for you to say. You live in a house with a large yard and chickens. But most of Israel is urbanized. People are languishing, quarantined in tiny apartments.”

I get it. I do. But sticking children for 5-6 hours a day in front of Zoom still won’t work.

What the ministry of education should try, in my opinion, is a lot more hands-off approach. Give children flexible assignments they can complete at their leisure, and condense what can be condensed into programs siblings of various ages can do together. Then provide suggestions for elective classes/activities for children to do if they so choose – and put more trust in their creativity, flexibility and resilience.

This is an opportunity for all to try a whole new approach, one that may well serve us even after the pandemic is over. It would be a pity to miss it.

Author: Anna

An Orthodox Jewish wife and mother enjoying a simple life with her family and chickens, somewhere in the hills, in Israel.

11 thoughts on “School at home is pointless”

  1. I agree with you completely! You can’t – shouldn’t! – try to duplicate the classroom at home. Do these people have children of their own, for goodness sake?

    Our granddaughter is homeschooling her soon-to-be 6 year old daughter, via some apps and videos provided by the school system. Sweet Girl is learning a lot, and her brother, who will be 4 in June, is sitting right beside her. “Let me try that!” For him, this is all great fun, and he’s enjoying himself, which is how it should be. It’s only the two of them; I don’t know how they’d manage if my granddaughter had more than two, or if their ages farther apart.

    A lot of the busy work kids do in school is to let the teacher know if they’ve absorbed the lessons. If you are homeschooling, you can tell by the look of their faces if the lesson has sunk in, or if they are totally lost. You can teach a child to read and do math by making something from a cookbook. “What do we do next?” and “How much is that?” will stick much better when the lessons are applicable to daily life. And the other part of the busy work is to keep the little cherubs quiet and still. We can have our two or three buzzing around the house, but you can’t do that when you have a class of twenty five or so.

    Good luck to you! Keep us all posted!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Of course, it would never enter the empty heads deciding such things, that some folks have experience with proven results…You are correct in all you say here…we did a similar thing, after first failing to do a classroom type setup in homeschooling…my kids learned early on that yes, a certain amount needed to be finished but HOW that was organized was up to them…they could even work ahead and often did, in order to do the things THEY planned to do afterwards. I would think the teachers might reject such a rigid plan as well…they will be working more than overtime to get such set up…I have not heard all that they are going to do here, but I imagine it to be equally stupid!! My 3 are adults, 2 with kids of their own…and one of them has 2 in college now…my 3 all graduated with high honors in college, my 3rd had a 4.0 gpa. So did our method work? It would seem so…but no one has asked my advice either… I think some of those pinheads that decide such nonsense are really trying to make relationships more difficult between parent and child. In this country they have done a great job dividing the generations I must say. They HAVE succeeded at that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Anna,

    I agree with your comments. We are in isolation here in Australia and I am homeschooling our 3 children, all in primary school. We can complete the lessons in two hours each day, then I add other creative and research/reading tasks. I have had a very hard time finding anything worthwhile on YouTube to watch with the children and would love any recommendations if you have any,

    Thank you, Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s so interesting that Israel is requiring so much virtual school time. Our district (in the US) is providing virtual school but say they can’t require it or even grade the work due to equity issues like the ones you mention above. We are turning it in to the teacher, and she is commenting on it though. All students will progress to the next grade here no matter what. I don’t know what the plan is for next year.

    The work is designed to be done in less than 3 hours, including fun enrichment activities and weekly zoom meetings with the class. They can do it anytime, there aren’t specific times they have to be logged in. This is also all available in a paper packet which they mailed out. I wouldn’t say that the work is particularly challenging, but it has been helpful in providing some structure for our son.

    My sister lives in the same state as us about an hour away and her school district is grading the work but making the year pass/fail. If you fail, they are offering online summer school. So if you can’t do school online now for whatever reason and you fail, you are somehow supposed to magically fix your lack of access problems by the summer.

    My in-laws teach in a different state to ours and their state is grading and planning to fail kids who don’t do the work. They are having a very difficult time helping students remotely. It seems like every school district is doing their own thing here in the US.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m also in the US, but with children in upper secondary school. We have a similar pattern of online zoom meetings (roughly 1 per week per class) that are required and work that can be done whenever and is due on Friday. In our district, the district provides internet connection and a computer if needed. Our children’s school has 23 households that were supplied with internet connections and many, many more that were provided computers.

    For the middle school, it’s similar but grading is pass/fail and basically if you turn things in you get a pass.

    Elementary school is packets or workbooks, weekly class zoom meetings for grades 2-5 (ages 7-10) and online activities and suggested other activities (draw an insect, make an maze, build a blanket “fort”, do 10 jumping jacks, etc.). Nothing is required except the zoom meeting.

    I’m glad that your ministry of education is adopting a more lax approach. I teach at the University level and expecting adults to be on a computer 8 hours a day is absolutely ridiculous! I can’t imagine trying that with children.

    Lea

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The government providing people with computers and internet access is something our government should emulate! We got none of that. Only demands from parents and students to keep up somehow. But luckily they’re backtracking.

      Like

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