Dr Renuka Ramroop is a research associate at the University of Limpopo. Her research focus is on Natural Learning and the impact this approach has on children and society. She writes this article in her own private capacity.
The Covid-19 pandemic has placed the whole world on pause - a rather stressful pause. With many countries in lockdown status, children have been without school for a long period of time.
During this period, some schools opted to conduct online schooling. Most children get their work from the schools, and the parents are expected to help the children complete their work at home.
From the numerous articles on social media, it seems that many families are experiencing a significant amount of stress in trying to help their children complete their school tasks.
The parents have become the representative of the school in the house (beyond that of the ‘homework master’) and are taking strain with this role and the responsibilities it brings.
This has created a lot of confusion as many people are under the false impression that lockdown learning is home education.
This is, however, a rather distorted view of home education and how families who choose this approach cope with it.
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Therefore, it is imperative that this public misconception of home education is addressed.
There is a huge distinction between home education and lockdown learning.
First and foremost, lockdown learning has been imposed by the government during an unprecedented pandemic.
It is a highly stressful time for people all over the world and for children whose routines have been dramatically altered.
Home education, on the other hand, is a well-thought-out decision made by families who are in general very concerned about the well-being of their child in a mass schooling situation and choose to take on the full responsibility for their child’s learning and development.
It is a choice they themselves make and is not imposed by an outside person or government.
Home education families, therefore, ensure that they are very well equipped to manage the process.
If they choose to follow a curriculum, there is often a lot of time and research that goes into choosing a curriculum that suits the child as well as one that aligns with the family’s values.
It is not a scramble for information, or a parent desperately trying to figure out what is required from a worksheet or textbook.
Nor is it an attempt to find random online educational programmes to keep the child busy.
Some home education families develop a daily rhythm where children work through their curriculum at their own pace and may work with tutors.
Others choose not follow a set curriculum and adopt a more eclectic approach or follow the Natural Learning approach, where homes become rich learning environments with a wide variety of resources that support and provide the child with opportunities to freely explore and engage in activities of their choice.
Many research studies have repeatedly shown that most home educated children are highly independent learners.
They show competence and autonomy when working through their curricula, sourcing tutors and/or online programmes and accessing other creative ways to pursue and develop their own interests.
However, parents do help with information, guidance or tutoring as and when the need arises.
In a Natural Learning home, the child is considered the director of his own education, and the parent is the avid supporter of the child in the learning process.
Put simply, during lockdown, parents of school-going children are forced to teach their children at home.
Parents who home educate, do so out of a well-informed choice and are generally happy to be at home to nurture their child’s learning trajectory.
Parents in lockdown learning know that it is temporary and at some point they will be able to heave a huge sigh of relief and send their children back to school.
Parents who home educate know that they will be partners to their children’s learning trajectory for many years and take their role as possible tutor or driver and all the other roles parents play, in their stride.
This does not mean that home education is stress-free.
Of course, like with all decisions in life, there can be moments of stress and difficulties.
But it cannot be compared to the same difficulties experienced by parents during lockdown learning.
Moreover, most articles on lockdown learning have been from the parent’s perspective in terms of how stressful and difficult it has been for them to wrestle their child into doing school work.
What about the child’s perspective during this lockdown?
Their lives have also changed dramatically. Their routines are disrupted, and now they are expected to learn in a way that is strange to them.
Perhaps they are enjoying their downtime, finding their own joy in a day to day rhythm.
After all, children at school are generally tightly scheduled by the schooling system where the child’s every need is strictly regulated.
Research has shown that most children in tightly regulated learning environments have their innate drive for learning severely compromised.
Children who are home educated are generally intrinsically motivated, are able to work towards their own goals, and are easily able to impose the discipline needed to achieve their goals completely by themselves.
In other words, they are able to self-regulate their learning, are generally in tune with their needs and are happy to spend many hours working on their area of interest with very little to no adult intervention.
On the other hand, since children in schools work toward imposed exams, tests and other immediate goals of the day, they are reliant on an authority figure to help regulate their learning.
The above discussion explains a few differences between lockdown learning and home education and shows how very rich and rewarding home education is for the families who choose this approach to life and learning.
For those who are now enjoying having the child at home and would like to continue after lockdown, the world of home education is wide and wonderful to explore, and the internet is crammed with all sorts of information and the various approaches one can adopt.
There are also lots of support networks that can help you and your family in exploring this journey.
How have you been coping with keeping your children on board with learning during lockdown?
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