FEATURE

Learning during the Pandemic

Author

Sudha Kumar
Sydney

The year 2020, a historic one, is almost at its end. What started with ravaging bushfires across Australia soon moved into a global pandemic. Humanity was caught off guard like never before. It affected every aspect of life as we know it.

It was even more so for those who were at the crossroads of life. Five- year olds waiting to start big school, thirteen – year olds waiting to start High School, eighteen – year olds waiting to finish their Secondary School (HSC) and embark on to a beautiful life; and University students raring to go out into the big wide world. Humanity, over the centuries, designed and structured formal education as one where imparting knowledge and attaining skills occur over an extended period of few years, in the presence and guidance of a qualified and trained adult – a teacher. Through this period their learning is assessed and evaluated. This has been tried, tested and standardised, and even though arguably is not ideal, it has been practised, followed and accepted across the world.

And then came along the micro bug ‘coronavirus’ which threw a ‘spanner in the works’, to say the least.

As the world went into lockdown earlier this year, learning moved online, with minimal preparation on all fronts. Schooling, especially in primary and middle years, was affected the most. Young minds that needed adult guidance continued to need it. What was normally fulfilled at home by parents, and at school by teachers, was now a big void, to be filled by parents alone. It was a very big ask. Parents, undeniably, always want the best for their children. But that didn’t mean they had the tools to impart formal learning across a range of subject areas.

The pandemic put parents in charge of ensuring their children’s learning, while teachers were still imparting learning, albeit, remotely. It was a whole new game with too much at stake. There was little choice for anyone – the bug was in charge. Everyone just accepted the situation and quietly decided to do their best. Australia as a country was largely in a good position (in terms of infections and deaths) with only an eight- week period of lockdown and online learning for schools. This period also turned out to be a huge learning for everyone involved. It gave us an opportunity to re-evaluate our mind sets, our actions, our aims and our ultimate purpose. Perhaps we even had the opportunity to redefine life itself. People reconnected with family and neighbours, nature and self. They made life changing decisions.

Formal school education on its part went through a re-evaluation as well. The most affected were students from kindergarten to year nine, the most formative years in a human life span where imbibition occurs by leaps and bounds. The younger students needed adult presence and the human connect more than ever. The older students discovered that they could learn independently which was a welcome revelation. The eight week period was a realisation for parent and the educator communities about the impact and power of patient guidance in nurturing the development of a young mind.

Teachers jumped on the tech-bandwagon like never before with every intention of succeeding and with minimal resistance. Parents developed a bit more understanding as they had no choice but to stand in the teacher’s shoes and help their children learn. Adolescent students, the toughest and most challenging to deal with, woke up to the value of adults in their lives. But in spite of everyone doing their best, remote learning was left wanting. That human connect which came with the intonation, the smile, the frown, the greeting, the encouraging word, the pat on the back, the stern look, the sparkle in the eye, the toothy grin, was irreplaceable. School is a place to learn alright, but there was so much joy and enrichment in learning with others. Learning was more than just acquiring information.

Humankind has had no lesson like the pandemic. What we do with that learning is really up to us.

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