Navigating the New Normal of Online Schooling
  Nerissa Hosein
January 2021

It’s the first half of the third term of online schooling and already many of us are feeling the strain of it. When schools abruptly closed in March of last year, many parents breathed a sigh of relief. With the global pandemic creeping silently into our lives, we were glad to have our children at home. Many of us, like me, are still happy and grateful to not have our children out there. It’s just not an option. School may stay online for much of 2021 because that is the only surefire way to have our children safe from this dreadful virus. So online schooling is the only way to give our children the best chance of not catching the virus.

But online schooling, as safe as it is, is not all red roses. It poses a challenge for many of us parents, students and teachers. This is new territory for us all and most of us feel as if we’ve been dropped off in the deep end without any aid. It is a harsh new reality that we all have to deal with and face together. Some parents are feeling the burden more than others and unfortunately so are the young ones.

I’m one of the fortunate ones that work from home and I admit that I struggle with keeping up with my work online, while managing my small son through his subjects. My oldest son sat the SEA exam last year and started his high school learning online. This in itself was a hard process. He was pushed back several months, waiting with anxiety and stress to sit the exam. Thankfully he did well, but there was no celebrating with his peers of seven years. There was no graduating and being able to have that moment that he had dreamt about after years of working towards something. My son is not one to show disappointment, but this was really hard for him. He and his group of friends were always so close and had so many plans for the moment they finished the exam. We knew how devastated he was so his dad and I hosted a Zoom meeting online with other family members and gave him a little home graduation. We got a trophy made for him, surprised him with some decorations and took some lovely pictures of him in his graduation gown. It wasn’t as poignant as the one he would have shared with his friends but he was still able to feel that sense of pride. You could see it on his face that he was happy to have his family on Zoom with him, congratulating him and giving him his moment to shine. He had worked hard in primary school so to have his moment go unnoticed was something, as his parents, we did not want Covid to take from him.

The writer’s son at his Zoom home graduation. Photo by Nerissa Hosein.

Then, we had barely a week to prepare before he was online in a new school environment. High school came with different challenges from primary school as every subject teacher had a different classroom and different links to join classes, so the first couple of weeks were filled with hiccups as we tried to get everything organized and for my son to adapt to this strange new type of learning. It is a new challenge for us all. My young son, who started standard one virtually in September, is adapting slowly to learning from videos and voice notes, rather than face to face interactions and the simple yet effective explanations from miss. As great as my son’s teacher has been through this, young minds are still struggling to adapt to this medium. We are encouraged as parents not to do the work for them, but you must be able to explain to the child a new lesson if he does not understand it from the aides sent to him. Parents must tread the line carefully between parent and teacher and try not to assist too much yet ensure that the child understands the subjects properly. It is a very fine line indeed.

I’m struggling to find enough time during the day to do my online work and make sure that my sons complete their assignments and homework. There are days that I get up and start my online work as early as 6:00 a.m. just to make sure that I get the urgent things out of the way so I can spend the 7:00-9:00 a.m. bracket with my sons, making sure that they are ready for their sign on and roll call and settle in for their first subjects. My apartment is modest so making sure that each child has his own personal space plus my workspace has also been a challenge, but we have dealt with it as best as we could. Again, I know I’m still fortunate to be able to work from home.

I can only imagine the parents that have full time jobs, then have to battle traffic to come home and then go through the school process with their children. It is absolutely daunting and tiresome for these parents. Many children are falling through the cracks because they do not have the help or proper supervision during the day and by the time their parents come home, they are tired and drained, unable to be of much help to them. Add this to the other problems that many children are facing such as lack of proper internet, no devices, and in some of the worst-case scenarios, no electricity, and one can appreciate why online schooling is proving to be almost impossible to some. But we must keep trying as it is the only way to move forward.

Teachers are also navigating this new world and are burnt out from being online all day and having little or no time to themselves. After the online day is finished, they are working into the wee hours of the night correcting assignments and setting up for the next day of school. Let’s not forget, teachers are also parents who at the end of their workday, have to aid their children with their assignments and homework.

To compound the issue of learning challenges, and parental and child burnouts, we are also faced with the ramifications of having children who have had little or no interaction with the outside world for almost a year. Health issues are also a factor as lack of physical activity and eye strain from staring at a screen five to six hours a day are taking a toll. This may sound trivial but to these young ones it is not. School provides basic social interaction. It gives children a place to go to let out their frustrations, grow with friends and learn in a comfortable, fun environment. All this has been taken away. At first most children would have been happy to have the extended break, but now, more than nine months in, they miss their friends and they long for the social interaction that school provides. My eight year old feels very lonely now and as much as we adults try to play and communicate with him, he is missing his peers. This emotional strain can trickle into his work if we do not pay attention and try to help him through it. With limited abilities to go out in public, there is not much interaction we can allow these children and that in itself is crippling.

No one said this would be easy. We are all charting through new territory and we will make mistakes. We are only human. But it is the new normal. At this point our school system is not equipped to handle social distancing in most of our schools. And just try telling a seven or eight year old that they have to keep on a mask all day or they cannot touch each other. It is simply not possible. So for now and the rest of the foreseeable future, online schooling is the only way to keep our children educated and safe. All we can do is take it one day at a time. Remember that we are all in this together, and that just as we as parents are stressed and frustrated so too are the children and teachers. It makes no sense to be angry about it. Children have lost the most in this situation: A time they will never get back to grow and experience things. We as their parents have to make sure this virus doesn’t take away their happiness. All we can do is try our best, hold our children close and pray that one day soon things will be better.

Main photograph for article sourced from Bigstock

By: Nerissa Hosein | FEATURES | January 2021

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