Only half of public school teachers believe Australia’s current remote learning arrangements are sufficient and just a third have confidence in the online assessment model, according to preliminary findings of a survey of 10,000 teachers.
As a national debate about the resumption of normal schooling continues, the survey provides a rare insight into the deep anxieties felt by frontline teachers.
“Nearly 80 per cent felt unsafe working on the school site,” said Sydney University Associate Professor Rachel Wilson, who conducted the survey.
“And quite a lot of them are reporting that they feel anxious about their own health.”
The survey also found only 35 per cent of teachers felt students had adequate resources at home — including having a freely available adult on hand to assist, along with technology or even a desk.
Dr Wilson said it was tough for teachers to know how those students were doing, and therefore how wide the equity gap was.
“It’s a bit of a black hole,” she said.
“We don’t know what’s going on.
“I think the teachers have worked very, very hard in more disadvantaged schools in order to get the system up and moving.”
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‘At the start it was horrible’
Susie Cornish was initially worried about the lack of contact her 10-year-old son, Rupert Kerr, had with his teacher after his Melbourne state school switched to remote learning.
“The first day he didn’t see his teacher, so that was a great concern for me as much as Rupert,” she said.
“The face-to-face contact has improved as each day goes by, but at the start it was horrible.
“I was stressed, envisaging self-directed learning was going to be the ongoing norm with remote learning.”
Ms Cornish said the situation was as challenging for her son, who is in year five, as it was for her.
“Day one I sat with him in his room all day, and by the end of the day I was exhausted and about to pen a letter to Canberra to increase teachers’ salaries immediately.”
The remote learning experience varies greatly across schools and sectors.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
Melanie Marino’s 10-year-old son Will is in year four at an independent school in Melbourne, which thoroughly briefed parents on what to expect before the term commenced.
“The school’s been excellent,” Ms Marino said.
“I feel very well supported, from Will’s teacher right through to the principal. I even had a call from the IT department, just checking everything was going smoothly.”
She concedes homeschooling isn’t without its headaches though, and points to a problem common to parents across the spectrum of school streams — balancing their own workload with that of their children.
“Will actually loves school and he loves learning and I can see he’s not getting the education he obviously would if he was in a classroom environment,” Ms Marino said.
“It’s been an interesting journey. It definitely has its challenges when you’re trying to combine work as well as homeschooling.”
Socialisation via video
Will’s school has video check-ins three times a day, allowing children crucial opportunities to socialise.
“They need that constant kind of check-in to be able to connect with their mates as well. I know that Will really enjoys that side of it,” Ms Marino said
This is something Ms Cornish said Rupert initially missed out on, until his school introduced video chats.
“He was over the moon, so happy to see them and he’s had a couple of one-on-ones with his teacher, so that’s been great,” Ms Cornish said.
She said that along with the video calls, the entire experience improved markedly as Victoria entered its second week of remote learning.
“It’s been fantastic from his school,” she said.
“His teacher every morning puts together a daily task sheet with clearly defined learning areas.
“It’s all laid out, not with any timeframe so he’s able to decide, with my help, which to do first.”
The classroom class divide
The educational divide is not as simple as public versus private. Experts see more of a gap between rich and poor.
Education expert Leila Morsy, from Flinders University’s Prideaux Centre, said families with concentrated disadvantage were likely to suffer more than their more-advantaged peers.
She warned of a “chasm in future prospects” if learning continued remotely.
“Other states and territories should follow South Australia to reopen schools on Monday,” Dr Morsy said.
“If we do not, Australians will be paying the price for generations to come.”
It remains unclear how long the remote-learning model will stay in place, but according to the survey, teachers are most concerned about students without adequate internet, and those experiencing violence in the family home.
Dr Wilson said some students were delivering or posting stationery to students to help prevent them falling behind.
“We found that about one-third of the public school teachers are actually providing pen-and-paper packages as a backup for a lot of students, where there may be difficulties with wi-fi and connectivity,” Dr Wilson said.
The survey was carried out in New South Wales, where face-to-face teaching will resume one day a week in week three of term two.
Dr Wilson’s survey also found some positives, with 90 per cent of teachers happy to have developed their digital skills.
“They’re also hopeful the experience here is going to shift the esteem the teachers are held in in the broader community,” Dr Wilson said.
“Because there have been real issues for teacher esteem in the past few years.”
Topics: epidemics-and-pandemics, health, diseases-and-disorders, covid-19, primary-schools, schools, independent-schools, secondary-schools, private-schools, education, public-schools, parenting, family-and-children, community-and-society, melbourne-3000, vic, australia
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