The current crisis situation and the different reactions of the schools pose a great challenge to families: Parents slip into the role of teachers, although they have to pursue other obligations at the same time. In the process, many realize that the current learning setting no longer meets the requirements of a highly volatile world. We need to fundamentally rebuild our learning culture.
There is currently a lively exchange among teachers. From one moment to the next, schools and their administrators have been confronted with digitization and its collaboration tools. And as diverse as the children, young people and their needs are, so too are the different strategies for how schools want to continue to fulfill their educational and also selection mandate.
The different approaches
There are cantons that require their schools to continue teaching according to a timetable. Here, teachers use Microsoft Teams as a platform, for example, where assignments are distributed to students who all work through the topics at the same time in front of their screens. If someone is missing, it is immediately noticed in the live video feed.
On the other hand, there are schools that currently interpret their mission as follows: They simply want to support families as best they can and provide tips on how to set up a workstation, for example, so that they can concentrate better, as well as a rhythmized daily structure for late sleepers or early risers, which the children can then fill with content themselves. The respective class teachers offer material that the students can work on but do not have to. Everything is designed to be voluntary and supportive. The teachers are available for questions and an exchange with the class is set up, where the students can articulate their current needs.
There is also a middle ground: schools that post weekly plans and tasks that are to be worked on and handed in. Teachers are available and supportive, but there is still an attempt to keep the class moving at the pace of the intended material delivery. Sometimes there is a video exchange via Zoom.
How are the families doing with this?
At the center of all these efforts are the parents and their children, who are now supposed to learn at home. An exchange with numerous families has revealed that the differences are massive. One mother, for example, complains that she is currently heavily overloaded. In addition to her own obligations in the home office, she now has to look after her son, who has been given a volume of tasks to work on in fourth grade that keeps him busy for 5 hours a day. While the boy is incredibly conscientious and eager to meet expectations, she finds herself appropriately challenged in the process, having to explain and support over and over again.
Still others are constantly calling the teacher and complaining that their children have too little to do… More material is needed.
And then there are those families who cannot be reached at all at the moment. They shut themselves off from the demands of school by simply ignoring the teachers’ phone calls and letting written contact come to nothing.
One thing is clear: The current situation opens up the social divide more than ever: Those who are digitally (in)literate become immediately apparent and the limits of digital collaboration become readily apparent. In the digital space, our classic leadership structures are failing. While we can all the better check who has now completed a task, we are dependent on the cooperation of the parents. The disciplinary issue outsources to them. And many parents have neither the capacity nor the will to take on this task. They are now directly confronted with the question of how learning could actually be organized in a goal-oriented way.
Learning in the digital age
In the article “What is digital literacy and how do you acquire it?“, I have already written extensively about the range of skills we need today and the framework conditions that would be conducive to acquiring them.
Due to the instability of the current crisis situation, society and especially the school system are challenged to rethink their role as a socialization system, the structures and processes and to adapt to the changing times. I am convinced of this.
Synchronous learning according to a timetable is failing miserably right now. Those learners whose parents now organize their learning for them and fill the complete teacher role at home can succeed in this: A full-time job. The purpose of these efforts, in turn, is merely to maintain the current structures. Material is crammed and forgotten again. Somehow the learners become only partially competent. What is learned must be enriched with experiences so that situations in life can be solved or mastered.
The latter is, after all, the core of our learning: we want to be able to solve problems, and for this the following competencies are purposeful: critical thinking and problem solving, communication, cooperation, creativity and innovation. This so-called 4K spectrum of competencies unfolds by allowing learners to tackle their own projects. Then they learn out of intrinsic motivation. It is defined by the fact that someone sets their own tasks of their own accord and pursues them. With children, this is called “free play,” and innovation managers at numerous companies are also trying to get adults to take responsibility for themselves again. An externally imposed work order can never meet people’s individual needs. Especially not now.
Situations like this can arise all the more when they are left to their own devices due to the absence of external school control.
For example, my five-year-old son currently prefers to work in the garden. He cuts back the hedges and is supported by his three-year-old sister. When he negotiates a wage of eight francs for this, his sister asks him if he gives her any of it. He says no, and she quits her job, which consists of carrying the cut branches to the green container. Eventually, the wages are divided. Cooperation, negotiation, and value of work is experienced.
Still other children help out around the house, cooking and learning the basics of proportionality, math in practical application through play.
And young people can go into the network for their learning. Co-creative problem-solving skills are well acquired in Minecraft, Roblox, World of Warcraft, etc… The latter is even said to have the largest wiki in the world. The fact that young people learn to write, speak English, etc. in the process is a wonderful side effect.
We should now trust in the natural need of people to experience self-efficacy and to contribute to society. There will always be learning in the process.
However, when one has experienced years of external control, it becomes more difficult to get back into intrinsic doing. People may then need a break first.
Enough activism – Arrive in the moment
You may have thought to yourself, “Not another offer!” – Currently, any channels are literally saturated with advice, guidance and offers of all kinds….
Allow yourself and your children this time out, get into conversation with them. At the moment, we are constantly being swarmed by negative reports in the media and the images from apocalyptic series and films such as Black Mirror or Contagion, which we have internalized to this scenario. In addition, many people have existential fears. These are transferred to the children and young people. Get into relationship with your children now. Play together and be cordial to each other. There is a unique opportunity to simply get to where it counts now: With interpersonal relationships.
And if there is a need and willingness to get back into action, the Toolbox for Self-Directed Learning, which you’ll find linked above, is a good place to start.