Reflecting on the last 365 days of lockdown in South Africa and the rest of the world, it’s clear that education has undergone immense changes that will forever alter the way that our children learn.
In our internet-connected age, adults have learned that they can work from anywhere in the world and that they don’t always need to be in the office. This thought process has now begun trickling into the decision-making process when it comes to our children’s education.
Ultimately we have learned that Learning really can happen from anywhere.
The pandemic broke the rules on what school looks like, where and when learning occurs, and who is performing the role as teacher or facilitator. A wave of parents and caregivers have elected to homeschool because of the pandemic—and they are part of a new group that isn’t going back to traditional schooling. The crisis gave rise to a diverse swath of families that are using tech to customize their kids’ learning, and they might even change what “going to school” means in the post-pandemic world.
It is becoming more apparent that the school system — a network of adult-led public and private school buildings where children and youth spend most of their days for most months of the year — is flailing.
Progressive families from various racial and economic backgrounds are becoming more critical of traditional schools. Some of these families share concerns about how issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and other identities, are dealt with in schools. They also identify a broad range of other concerns about schooling, such as:
- Increased academic pressures at younger and younger ages
- The sedentary nature of schooling
- The lack of focus on teaching social and emotional skills
- Outdated teaching practices that are not aligned with what research tells us about how children learn.
- Standardized testing
- Lack of self-directed, child-led, and interest-based learning
- Lack of flexibility for the individual ways in which children learn and develop
- The physical and emotional safety of children
- The number of hours spent in school
- The load of homework students are expected to do
- Insufficient preparation for the tech jobs of the future
- Bullying and negative social influences
While homeschooling is legal in South Africa, it has never been considered the norm, but for parents unhappy with Covid-era education, or the above-mentioned factors, homeschooling could seem like a respite from public and private schools and an opportunity to reclaim a part in their kids’ learning. Ali-Coleman, a longtime homeschooling parent and a researcher who studies African American homeschool students points out that “the pandemic was the catalyst that pushed parents to seriously consider what they really wanted their kids’ educations to look like, the roles they wanted to play as parents, and the options they had outside the default educational institutions.”
If Covid-19 was the publicist for homeschooling, then the internet is the connecting force that binds long-time homeschoolers and the new crop of wired, inspired parents. Technology has not only aided a more diverse set of parents start to homeschool—it has given parents a curricular blank canvas, free from the parameters of institutionalized education. “There is absolutely no one way that people are homeschooling,” Ali-Coleman says. “And what parents are finding is this level of flexibility that doesn’t exist within these traditional school settings.”
As the unknowns around the pandemic play out and as technology evolves, there is no doubt that our education landscape will experience further major changes down the line.
What then is the role of education in the model of the future?
Is it to make sure kids pass tests built for a society of the past? Or is it to cultivate a generation of critical thinkers, innovators, and justice-minded self-starters who are prepared for what is looking to be a trying future?
This is the conversation we should be seriously, collectively, strategically, and proactively having. It seems more and more clear that despite the hard work of so many committed educators, the traditional system of students spending 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, sitting in classrooms, learning from lectures, textbooks, and worksheets, in 50-minute subject-area blocks, largely unconcerned with issues of social or climate justice, with loads of homework to be completed in the few hours they spend at home, isn’t desirable, functional, or sustainable.
Families shouldn’t have to choose between a system that isn’t working or opting out of schooling altogether. With this new system of ‘School from Home’ becoming more and more acceptable and desired, we could build something new, different, sustainable, and altogether better for our children.