• Sue Yian Quek

Shifting to Online Learning Can Be Stressful. Here's What Truly Matters.

Stress levels are high. We’re all trying to give children the best education experience possible however, unwittingly, these efforts are stressing out a lot of parents – which is not our intention at all. We apologise for being over–zealous.

WhatsApp Group chats, blogs, articles, zoom conversations - it seems that parents are feeling the pressure – to sit with their children, to print, download, upload, video their projects, document their projects.

What we have realised after our one-month trial with online education, is that we cannot make online education the same as daily school. And we cannot replace school with a diluted, online form of school. Therefore, we spent some time to regroup, and rethink our approach.

It’s not possible to deliver high quality instructions in the same way as we can face to face with the students – at least not in some subjects. Not all students have the same access to technology, some families have more children therefore taking the whole processing to almost unbearable levels. We also needed to be aware of social and emotional wellbeing as well as academic content.

Our first conclusion was that it was not necessary to simulate school and teach everything that is supposed to be taught in school. Therefore, in our first term online, we are allowing student choice. The core curriculum is non – negotiable. We are sorry about that parents, but everything else is a choice. If the child can pick what he wants to learn and decide what he wants to get, or achieve out of it. This should theoretically reduce stress.

Secondly, we realised that there’s an opportunity to teach something different - global and digital competencies are increasingly important capabilities for the 21st century. Our children will grow up and live in two different worlds – 1)The global world and 2)The digital world. And since we are on lockdown we can take some of the academic stress away by building up our children’s ability to live in both worlds.

1) Living in the Global World

There was one parent we saw on Facebook that almost cried because the teacher set an art activity. Yes art. Her anxiety levels were already so high that the thought of finding leaves and crayons and glue and branches were too much to bear. Therefore, by listening to what parents needed, we realised that we needed to dial down the curriculum, and help parents with discovering offline, engrossing activities that do not make parents' anxiety levels rise – which is already so high after being cooped up for weeks.

Academic excellence is important to us, but so is building a whole person and we would encourage you to just stop with the online school work if it gets too much. Teach life skills – you are after all living it – ironing, cooking, washing your car, looking after a pet, sewing etc. Take a breather. Nobody is judging and this learning is of lifetime value to the child. We’re all parents, working from home, doing the best we can.

To support our children’s ability to live in the global world, more than just life skills, we have a non–negotiable online subject called Global Citizenship. We look at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) goals and big issues like climate change, bush fires, haze and refugee issues. Debates on global citizenship are easily brought online as it involves little “work” from parents – as the students debate in Google Hangouts. We also help expand thoughts and discussions with our regular online school assemblies – lead by our secondary students – on global issues.

Global competency is about understanding how to connect with others, and how to carry oneself in the new world. We stress so much on character building and this continues online as well. Now more than ever we need to stress empathy and kindness. The rising xenophobia especially against refugees in Malaysia is alarming. The, “Us vs them” mentally that was always present is now re-surging with such malicious vengeance – it’s depressing.

We understand the fear, COVID-19 has made job security a big concern but at the same time, we’d argue there’s a need to understand that fear doesn’t have to make a person nationalistic and racist. There’s no need to discriminate with “the others” as we’re all human. And being accorded human rights doesn’t depend on whether a person has a passport or not. Hopefully with the right messaging and the right conversations we can help our children to grow up, and be able to shift society away from nationalism and racism.

Our students are isolated at home so connecting them to global issues, engaging in meaningful conversation, open to contradicting viewpoints does seem very attractive and feasible to us. In time we could even augment our learning experiences through collaborative discussions with peer learners around the globe.

2) Learning to Live in the Digital World.

We scrambled early on with online etiquette and to instil in our children that the zero tolerance on bullying still applies online.

Growing competence in a digital world is a little harder for us to implement. Our hardware and including the teachers working from home is a little dated and slow. However, we are slowly moving towards this with robotics and more tech subjects and trying to find the funding for new hardware. Figuring this out online is our new challenge for this term.

But that is the maker's side of digital competence. What we can do now, is to learn the difference between fake news, propaganda and hoaxes. Discuss about the manufacture of consent, grooming, online safety, and online etiquette – not just with fellow students but with everyone. It’s easy to be nasty when you don’t see someone face to face. Then there’s the use of common sense and avoiding rubbish Instagram challenges that can hurt oneself and others. So more than just having technology skills, it’s about having a whole set of knowledge, skills, socio-emotional capabilities, and wisdom necessary for living, learning, and working in the digital world.

Like all schools, we have the responsibility to prepare children to be digitally competent. We need to help our students learn to live, learn, work, and socialize in the digital world. And to enter this digital world with all the competence, wisdom, kindness, resilience and courage that hopefully our school has instilled in our children.

Therefore, if the academic competence part of education is stressing you out, don’t worry, take a backseat. Teach them life skills, let them engage in global discussions and teach them how to navigate the digital world. All of which are just as important as having a string of As – or dare we say – even more so.




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