Sir Ken speaks to Natalie, a mother of four children of ranging ages, 21 (a college student), 16 (a high school student), 11 and 6, from Salt Lake, Utah, USA. She has a full-time job and is also studying part-time herself. Natalie’s early experience of learning from home was overwhelming, not least of all because she received over 70 school-related emails in one week alone; even her kindergartner has five different websites where her learning is taking place.

One of the first hurdles Natalie and her family faced was simply figuring out how to facilitate their children’s learning practically, as the family did not have enough computers for each child to have their own. This is a limitation many families around the world have been facing. Luckily, the children’s school rented out their laptops to make sure that all of their children were able to access education in this new format.

"There’s so much room for error in the current set up"

The main challenge the family are currently facing is the expectations of the work the children are being set. Natalie remarked that her children are struggling to understand their school’s demands and requirements, particularly due to a lack of co-ordination and consistency between teachers – each teacher has been sending different instructions and using different websites and platforms. To top it off, this lack of clarity has led to poor grades for their work, which they have found incredibly disheartening in the circumstances. Natalie has found the teachers to be lenient and understanding when she has contacted them about specific grades, but she acknowledges that it is simply unrealistic for her to email every teacher about each piece of work. She comments ‘there’s so much room for error in the current set up’ as so many assignments are set using written guidelines only.

Remote learning has been particularly difficult for Natalie’s kindergartner, who due to her age is not able to navigate multiple websites on her own or understand the assignments she has been set without close parental supervision. This has proven tricky for Natalie, causing her to both lose out on time for herself and struggle to juggle her other responsibilities. This also means that Natalie’s youngest is spending a lot of time in front of a screen, which is affecting her behaviour, and is causing her to not only develop negative associations with being on the laptop, but also with learning in general.

"I’m really curious about how much my children are getting out of this type of online schooling"

On the other hand, Natalie’s 11 year old is coping the best with lockdown and this ‘new normal.’ Natalie thinks this is largely the result of a more positive approach set up by her teachers, who have co-created a system that allows the students to have daily video calls with their teachers and classmates, allowing vital social connection as well as the opportunity to clarify any aspects of their assignments. Minimising confusion and providing a consistent routine has helped her daughter and is a system Natalie feels is easily replicable.

Despite their challenges with remote learning, the family have made a real effort to go outside every day, for hikes and to play games, to encourage outdoor activity to break away from screens. Natalie has always actively minimised her children’s screen time in the past so the requirement for constant screen time in these circumstances is troubling to her.

“I’m really curious about how much my children are getting out of this type of online schooling,” says Natalie, querying their engagement and retention. As Sir Ken points out: “there are fantastic benefits online, but it is by no means the whole answer.’ This was true in education pre-pandemic and is even more so now. Finding ways of encouraging learning without relying solely on access to technology would be incredibly beneficial to this family, as well as to many others.

Education and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson is speaking with families, education leaders and parenting experts as part of his global call out for stories, questions, concerns and insights into what education looks like during the pandemic. This series brings us together to share what has been working well when supporting and overseeing our children’s learning during this difficult time, and provides a platform for sharing helpful resources and tips to  make things a little easier. If you haven’t watched the other episodes in this series, you can here.