Parents can’t work and teach, it’s that simple
The COVID-19 virus is steadily making its disrupting march around the globe.
And while in the Lucky Country we're better off than most, it is luck that we're only just clinging onto.
The highly fractured nature of our education system in Australia means there is already a huge gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged. But now you have to ask yourself, are we on the verge of writing off an entire year of education for many, if not all, of our kids? Will we have a generation of kids with an asterisk against their name that reads: *'Educated in the year of the pandemic.
Working from home, once a luxury for those who worked for progressive companies, is now a necessity for many. And while Governments across the country are scrambling to upskill teachers, there seems to be little acknowledgment from our education departments of what should really be very obvious; teaching is a skill and one that requires a full-time presence.
Even with a pared-down curriculum curated by an educator, it is simply unrealistic to expect parents to educate their kids while also managing to keep their jobs - a threat, by the way, that is even more pronounced at the moment than ever.
Teaching is not simply a matter of time, it is also about skills … and maybe in some cases patience. While some states are on holidays, in NSW school is still running - albeit at a distance for 93 per cent of students.
But are all those students actually getting the same education? The answer to this has always, shamefully, been no, but it is even more pronounced now. Add to this the low-level, constant buzz of anxiety and even the best-equipped households are running on empty.
Working parents are already great jugglers, but they're not circus acrobats.
At a time when we're talking about lifting teaching standards, we are also expecting parents to step into the role as teachers, all while the teachers themselves are trying to manage their new world that involves working from home for some while managing their own children) or teaching a dwindling physical class while also offering remote options.
Most governments are now preparing for this to last at least into Term 3, worst case we are looking at it lasting into 2021. What is education going to look like over this time? If we are lucky and this situation stabilises we might see a slow trickle back into our schools of students whose parents are struggling to make it work. Perhaps even a roster system so some children can attend at least two to three days a week. Or a curriculum that is pared down even further to focus just on literacy and numeracy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further laid bare the differences in our education system. Depending on their school, there are students who are able to engage with their teacher in real time through a laptop lens, while others that have to settle for take-home paper packs. And of course there are the kids who are completely disengaged and need school as their leveller. Working parents might be viewing school as a sanctuary right now, but we cannot forget that for some kids it is literally their safe place.
It seems many independent schools have all the resources in the world to move seamlessly into remote teaching, while public schools are left to do a last-minute ring-a-round of parents to find out who has internet access.
If we thought the digital divide was bad before, we are now facing a chasm.
We keep hearing politicians talking about how we are successfully moving to online learning. This is simply not the case and we need to stop pretending that it is. This is not homeschooling, this is not even distance learning. We need politicians to be honest about how this is realistically going to work - because most working parents will tell you, this is not what success looks like.
Clare Masters is the National Education and Social Affairs Editor.