Students at all NSW government schools are currently learning from home in line with NSW Health advice. The use of online and hard copy work varies depending on which method the school prefers.
Year 12 students and those sitting HSC exams following the Greater Sydney guidelines, including regional LGAs with a stay-at-home rule, are not permitted to attend school for more than one session (two hours) per day, and not five days a week.
An Education Department spokesperson said schools are using various ways to stay in touch during the lockdown period, including morning meetings online, online year group meetings, and individual staff taking responsibility to contact families with more than one child at school.
So what does this mean for students and parents?
One Mullum mum of students aged 11 and 14 says her children are accessing classwork online and some zoom. ‘Both are usually good students but it’s difficult to tell how they are going in learning. The 14-year-old is in high school and we have had two recent emails from two separate teachers about how well he has done in those subjects. As far as the other subjects are concerned I wouldn’t know. The 11-year-old has had no feedback at all. I just assume that they are doing ok, but I am about to email their teacher just to check.’
A mother of an HSC student said her son is a fairly good student, but motivation is sometimes an issue under normal circumstances. ‘The lockdown has brought everything to a standstill. Motivation has gone way down.
‘He had just started his HSC trials, then there was a week of nothing, then they changed to assessments following their trial timetable. His HSC trial exams became assessments which I think he preferred, but he is feeling fairly negative generally about it all. He is studying music so I don’t think he will get to do his final performances which is really disappointing, especially as he has been taking piano and singing lessons for them. Also, he won’t get to perform in front of family and friends so we won’t get to see his hard work.
‘I don’t think he believes he will get back to school again apart from his HSC exams.’
A mother of both a five and seven-year-old said she is currently accessing classwork via the SeeSaw app, and is given a weekly printout to follow if they want it. ‘We are attempting to get the basics done each day – a little bit of literacy and numeracy. Sometimes it’s hard and as the days and weeks go on, they are really missing the school learning environment and social interactions. They have a class zoom once a week for about half an hour.’
This mum said she feels learning should only be for a couple of weeks at most. ‘They need the structure, stability and the social care. Home is for feeling safe and relaxing, as are parents. Blending parenting into teaching and home into school is not ideal. They wouldn’t cope and I wouldn’t if this were to last for months. I am almost at the point of just letting it go. It is not worth arguing with my kids. They need to feel safe and happy during a pandemic, not stressed. And this is from a family with kids that love and thrive with learning in the classroom.
‘I am trying to work from home and it is honestly impossible unless I let them have unsupervised screen time. This is not ideal obviously.
‘My 5-year-old said to me last week, “they just keep saying one more week, but then it’s another week and another week”. Parents are having to manage the stress of lockdown and to, of course, support our kids.’
The Mullum mum says her children much prefer going to school but they seem to enjoy the extra opportunities for screen time. ‘The 11-year-old’s class has just introduced 10 minutes of break out groups within the daily zoom for socialising. My offspring are also old enough to chat to their friends online. The younger one has 30 minutes of zoom per day, that’s when all of the day’s work, which is emailed to them, is explained. The older one just gets all their work online with three or so zoom sessions per week.’
This parent said her kids are generally enthusiastic with good academic outcomes but she doesn’t know how kids who struggle would go. ‘I was surprised by such a small amount of contact, I thought that online classes would be similar to school, with the teacher taking the classes, perhaps for not as long. I’m not a teacher so I don’t really know their rationale for so little contact, but I think more contact and actual “teaching” of the material would be a very reasonable thing to expect.’
An Education Department spokesperson said that schools are still open for students who cannot learn from home because their parents are essential workers or for other reasons.
‘For online students schools are able to record attendance through their online links with students, monitor their progress through their online work and return of hard copy work, and maintain contact with families by phone and online to check on students’ wellbeing.
The Mullum mum said that if the situation were to last for months she thinks she would have to get a bit more creative with getting the work done. ‘It’s a bit boring for them to have to just do worksheet type learning all of the time. As well, more feedback to parents and perhaps offers of support to parents would be appreciated. I would cope very well because I am not able to work, but for the first week of lockdown I could still work, and homeschooling, as well as working, was close to impossible to do to a reasonable standard.’
She also said that her children were still wanting extra screen time on top of their school work. ‘After learning on screen, yes they still want more, they can turn into screen-zombies pretty easily if I don’t crow-bar them off and get them outside.’
The mother of a 9-year-old said that the homeschooling by the local school’s method here does not work for her child. ‘I ended up sending her to school as a child of an essential worker this week. I keep her home on the days that I can organise other tutors. She’s home today with a piano zoom lesson and a maths zoom lesson, but the worksheets she was given by school just end up torn up in frustration.
‘She needs personal contact with a mentor of some sort, So the private maths tutor outside of school has given her enthusiasm, even her drama class this afternoon will be on zoom!
‘This is how the schools need to run it if it’s going to work – simply talking to the kids for a one-hour zoom meet in the morning and telling them to go and find their school work becomes a social thing – great. But there’s no guidance with the work.
‘When she was enrolled in a Melbourne school the teacher would talk the kids through the lesson and work as someone there through the day. They would have breaks of course but she was there virtually in person to talk to and ask questions.’
The mother of the HSC student said she doesn’t think he is enjoying lockdown. ‘He is really missing his friends. He missed out on his 18th birthday party when the new restrictions came in. He has had quite a lot of online contact with friends with FaceTime and gaming. Thankfully we have a good NBN connection and enough computers for us both to work from home and I don’t think he will ever get sick of screen time. I have him help out in the garden every day to get him outside away from the screen.’
‘I think the lockdown will have a negative impact on his final marks due to the lack of focus and motivation. I think it is a sad end to their schooling. I’m really hoping they can still have a graduation and prom.’
The Education Department says any parents with concerns about screen time are encouraged to contact their school, which will be able to give advice about appropriate device use and alternatives, in line with the Department’s advice about screen time.