Updated: May 10, 2020
Questions abound, as to whether class rooms will become a thing of the past, in the wake of online education. With the corona virus taking over the world, schools have had to adapt quickly. Teachers used to teaching in analogue settings have been forced to be flexible fast, paring their time tested lessons down the basics to adapt to unusual circumstances - a lack of materials at home, perhaps, or parents who are understandably busy with WFH to spare more than an hour or so to oversee their child’s work.
And while parents, children and teachers alike are all catching up and using online platforms to a commendable degree of success, there are aspects of being in a school, in a classroom, that online education does not yet emulate.
Now, to give you some context, I teach art to primary school kids. I’ve only been teaching for about 3 years, so I’m not an expert in education by any stretch, so what follows is only an opinion based on my own experiences and observations of my artroom.
1. The physical space and human contact : This is especially important when it comes to the little kids. Those high-fives for a job well done, the hugs you get when they enter your class, the reassuring arm around their shoulder when they’re upset about something - that's a big part of teaching these tiny creatures who crave your validation so much.
Contact between the kids is so important too - how they help each other, hug each other, whisper secrets - it’s all a part of being in a school.
And what about the lively class discussions where they’re falling over each other in their eagerness to speak, where they have to be reminded over and over to shuuuuush while their friend (or the beleaguered teacher) is making a point? These are really my favourite parts of the class, and it's hard to get that same infectious energy to tranlate online. I will say, though, that the mute button on a Zoom call is a god-send.
2. Diversity : I strongly believe, in a world where children's playmates are so carefully curated by the adults in their world, schools play an important role in bringing kids from different cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds together. This ensures that kids firstly, see that there are different ways of being brought up, and can hopefully make them understand that this is what makes the world better. They can turn around and question their parents' ideas and stereotypes about different communities, build their own opinions based on their own youthful, unbiased relationships. Our world is growing more and more fragmented, people are looking more and more at 'others' with suspicion - in this scenario we must look to our schools as important spaces for nurturing diversity.
3. Learning how to share a space and materials, with other kids : Working at home, within their own space, with complete ownership over materials, children never have to negotiate the dicey situations of sharing, asking for, and receiving things with grace. So many of the arguments the kids have in my art room are about not wanting to share materials or space on our communal tables. By putting them in a situation where they learn that they only way they’ll get anything done is by taking turns or waiting in line, we’re inculcating traits that have lost relevance by being uttered too often- that yes, patience is a virtue, and yes sharing most certainly is caring.
4. Space away from their parents : While I write down instruction for art lessons for the kids, I have also been writing ones to their adults - insisting that they DO NOT draw for their children, critique their work, offer too many suggestions or in general, be too involved. This is so important and is such a problem when it comes to the arts,where children can encumbered by adults’ ideas of perfection. Being in a classroom, where they’re away from their parents for a while, allows them some space to build their own personalities as artists, express their own thoughts and make their own mistakes free of any comments. Giant disclaimer here - this is not to say that parents are the devil, most of them are extremely supportive and eager to encourage their kids, in my experience, but which one of us hasn’t enjoyed some time away on our own, to just be?
While we can and we must harness the power of the internet and use the mind-bending resources it has to offer in our teaching, these are tools, mediums and methods. School is about so much more than just academics - it’s an emotion, it’s a community, and a building ground for young personalities - but is there a way in which the two can come together? Is there a way to develop e-educational modules that emulate the warmth of analogue learning? That is a question I am, and I will keep asking myself everytime I sit down to plan my lessons. Maybe there is a solution, and maybe there isn't, but as we move deeper into an uncertain world with an unreadable future, the search for one must continue.