Parents and traditional education were the biggest losers during the 2020 pandemic. Parents were faced with the impossible task of having to juggle three distinct roles – parent, teacher and employer or employee – all from the (dis)comfort of their homes. It is no wonder that birth rates are down and divorce rates up as relationships were put to the ultimate test in what eventually became a pressure cooker environment with little escape.
Single people had never been more grateful to be child-free
Single people looked on in amusement as friends narrated horror stories of their mediocre attempts at educating their children. Some parents confessed that they would not, under any circumstances, be interested in home-schooling their children ever again. While other parents took the lockdown experience as an opportunity to reflect on the question:
Does formal education deliver value for money?
To answer this question, parents need to consider three factors:
- Understand your children’s education needs
- Determine how well schools meet these needs
- Explore alternative and new modes of education
#1 Education needs
Parents ought to have an honest assessment of their children’s intellectual abilities when trying to determine how best to educate them as this could save money and stress. This is a better approach than choosing a school based on bragging rights (“My kid goes to Eton or Phillips Academy or Waterford UWC”) or convenience (“The school is 10 minutes’ drive from our house”).
Very rarely do you hear parents say: “My kid wants to become […] and therefore this is the best option”
Lockdown helped parents to become better acquainted with their offspring and know where they fall on the intellectual spectrum. On one end of the spectrum are the highly intelligent children who can do the seemingly impossible like Elon Musk who was the inspiration for the Avengers character, Tony Stark (aka Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist). Some geniuses are autodidacts and capable of teaching themselves. On the other end of the spectrum are the children we politely call ‘slow’. The Joey Tribianis of this world who compensate for their low IQ with a wonderful personality and great sense of humour. It will come as a relief to most parents to learn that the majority of children lie in between these extremes.
#2 Do schools meet your needs?
The pandemic provided parents with a rare opportunity to assess exactly what they were paying for and determine if they were getting bang for their buck.
The formal schooling system delivers value in different ways:
- It provides a learning environment for children who are taught by qualified teachers in a structured and standardised manner
- It allows parents to focus on their role as parents. Many parents were ill-prepared to take on the role of substitute teacher and this created tension in the home where families were already stressed out about being together 24/7
- It gives children an environment to find their identity, become more independent and make friends. In fact, the number one complaint from children during lockdown was how much they missed playing with their friends
However, we need to acknowledge that traditional schools do not work for all parents and children and that is why home schooling exists. The term “home-schooling” is a school-at-home approach in which parents or tutors replicate the instructional process of schools. Long before COVID-19, home-schooling was growing in popularity with parents who no longer had faith in an “unnatural system created during the industrialization era.”
According to Education Corner, there are at least three benefits of home-schooling for parents:
- The teaching method can be tailored to suit the individual child and has a flexible schedule that allows parents to do things like go on vacation at any time of the year
- Home-schooling can be more focused and help students develop any special talents they possess, such as athletics, music or the arts
- Home-schooling shelters children from teacher neglect, bullying, school shootings and other negative experiences that could trigger mental health issues
The main disadvantage of home-schooling is that it suffers from ‘bad PR’
In the US, home-schooling was a tool used by religious cults to keep children away from outsiders. In India, where home-schooling is technically legal, students face challenges finding jobs if their resume does not state which school they had attended.
However, there is growing cultural acceptance of this mode of education especially in the US as it has produced some very successful people. Famous people who have been home-schooled include: Thomas Edison, who was considered a difficult child at school and went on to become one of America’s greatest inventors; Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, who was paralyzed from the waist down; mystery writer, Agatha Christie, who taught herself how to read at the age of five; and, tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams whose father used grit and determination to take them from Compton and into the history books.
The looming economic recession and job lay-offs will force some parents to stay at home. Home-schooling could be a way to cut back on family expenses if the responsibilities fell to the stay-at-home parent who can then develop new skills. This can be supported by the gig economy where parents can tap into expert tuition from retired teachers and other tutors, when required.
Bottom line: home-schooling allows parents to pick and choose what works for them and their children when it comes to education
#3 Alternative modes of education
In future, parents will have the option of choosing modes of education that take the best from both the traditional education system and home-schooling. We can expect the number of ‘alternate teaching methods’ to grow from the five that are widely recognised today:
- Montessori has been around for a long time and is based on the belief that children were born with absorbent minds and are fully capable of self-directed learning
- Steiner/ Waldorf focuses on creative expression, social and spiritual values
- Harkness is where children sit around an oval table and form opinions by having discussions with teachers and classmates about all subjects
- places an emphasis on parents taking an active role in their child’s early education with classrooms designed to look and feel like home and a flexible curriculum
- in Sudbury schools, students have complete control over what and how they learn
Parents could also start thinking about how advances in technology will disrupt the education sector. According to Emerj Artificial Intelligence Research, there are three ways in which AI impacts the education sector:
- Smart Content – Technology that condenses study material into digestible content which is delivered in a more engaging and fun way using rich media (videos and audio), gamification and simulations
- Intelligent Tutoring Systems – Personalised electronic tutoring customised to the learning styles and preferences of the pupil
- Virtual Facilitators and Learning Environments – Virtual human guides and facilitators for use in a variety of educational and therapeutic environments
We all know that the best products are the ones that solve real problems, which is why the decision-making process on the best education option ought to start with what the child needs, wants to become and can handle. Fortunately, the majority of children do not know what they want to become until later in life which is why the current schooling system still works.
But the outliers, who fall at opposite ends of the spectrum, are the ones who need a different approach and parents will do their children a disservice if they ignore these considerations. The biggest disruption to education will be a change in mindset about the concept of how children learn. Advances in AI have the potential to provide a tailor-made experience that truly meet the customer’s needs.
© 2020 Muloongo Muchelemba. All Rights Reserved
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