Ryder Mills, 5, is in kindergarten at St Paul’s Primary School, Gateshead, and like tens of thousands of kids across the country he’s now learning from home due to the pandemic. Mr Mills says the school is doing a good job keeping parents updated on the virus and explaining the online learning programs available, but he and his wife still have many unanswered questions and worries.
“Neither of us are teachers so it’s very difficult to know how much work he should be doing each day and how structured each day should be,” he said. “How long should he stay on a device doing school work? Should we be doing arts and craft? We also worry he won’t take as much in at home with all the distractions as he would at school.”
Mr Mills said the learning advice provided by the school so far was general in nature and not specific to Ryder. “We are hoping this will change as things settle down and we get the opportunity to talk to his teacher regularly,” Mr Mills said.
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle director of Catholic Schools, Gerard Mowbray, said it was reasonable for parents to be concerned about their child’s educational growth at this time but there was “absolutely no need to be alarmed”.
“The Catholic Schools Office has been actively working on transitioning from a school-based learning environment to a home-based one for the past five weeks” he said. “This process will have well and truly been completed by the start of Term 2 and will involve a combination of online and distance learning and the provision of hard copies of learning material appropriate to the age of the learner.”
Mr Mowbray conceded this is likely the greatest challenge the Australian education system has ever faced but he is confident this Diocese is creating a positive and exciting new learning environment. “There will be bumps along the way and parents do need to recognise children will adjust at different speeds,” he said. “But I want to assure parents we aren’t going to leave you and your children to your own devices. Staff will be checking in with their pupils often to monitor progress and development.”
Leigh Mills, Ryder’s mother, said she was particularly concerned about loss of social interaction and isolation. “We really worry about the lack of socialisation with classmates and the teacher. I hope to set up regular play dates and activities on Zoom,” she said.
Mr Mowbray said the Zoom and Teams meeting apps were a great way for students and staff to remain connected via the virtual world. “ASPIRE, our drama and music performing arts program, recently had 130 young people rehearsing together online,” he said.
Despite the best efforts of teachers and schools, though, some students will find it difficult to adapt. University of Newcastle education lecturer David Roy, who works with home-schooled kids every day, said children will be aware the world is facing a challenge unlike any in the past century.
"They will both be anxious but also desperate to be part of a safe unit," Dr Roy said in an interview with ABC Online. "We've got to say, 'Are the kids safe?', then we can engage in learning. But if they're not safe, if they're not emotionally safe, then it's much harder for any teaching to happen." Mr Mowbray agreed and said children’s well-being is “critically more important” than education at this point in time. “We’re living in very challenging times and we will settle into a new learning regime over time,” he said. “For now, parents can sit tight and know that their schools will contact them about a new form of learning in Term 2.”