One of the most important lessons we learned from the disruptions last year and at the beginning of this year, was the vital role school plays in our lives. A great benefit of schooling is to reduce inequities in home resources, skills, and opportunities. Parents can be, but are not always, great teachers of school-related topics. A great teacher has deep pedagogical content knowledge, skills in motivation and engagement, and skills in dealing with boredom and distractions. Some parents may have wanted to expel their students from the home school! But most parents, even those who are teachers themselves, became more appreciative of the skills of teachers and the crucial role of schools.
Understandably, there are worries about the loss of learning time during the lockdowns. First, does it matter that students were not in the physical place called school? Australia and New Zealand have among the longest school days and school years in the OECD. If we take out one term of 10 weeks, we still have more in-school time compared to Finland, Korea, and Sweden, which all outscore us in international tests.
When the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011 severely disrupted access to schools there was a call for special dispensations for upper high school examinations. But, in fact, the performance of Christchurch students went up not down. Why? Because teachers tailored learning more to what students could NOT do, whereas often school is about what teachers think students need, even if students can already do the tasks. It is not the time in class, but what we do in the time we have, that matters.
Students who come from well-resourced families will usually fare better but very few parents have the skills to teach all their children at every level in every subject.
The home factors that really matter include parental involvement, quality family communication and, most of all, parental expectations. The climate of the home for learning matters: high expectations and high levels of communication. Allow for errors and mistakes as opportunities to learn. Try not to become learning police. This is the time to support and encourage, working alongside your children as learning partners and keeping their spirits high.
We must never forget Paul’s message to the Corinthians; “Now faith, hope and love remain – these three things – and the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13. We all must have faith, hope and love, but love is the greatest gift of all for where there is love, there is also faith and hope.
Professor John Hattie is a widely respected Australian educational leader and author. His message to parents is, “Let us not get stressed about it. When we get back to the old normal the recovery will be reasonably quick. You have to be amazed by what teachers have done.”