School girl doing online learning

Tech & Media

It’s Time We Admit That Academics Aren’t a Priority Right Now

Jan 20, 2021

Earlier this week I walked into my bedroom and found my first grader snuggled in my bed, the family iPad playing a My Little Pony episode. It was a Wednesday afternoon, the middle of a school day, but she wasn’t sick — she was emotionally exhausted.

“Gigi, why are you in my bed?” I asked, my tone intentionally soft and non-accusatory.

“I don’t want to do more online school,” she mumbled.

"As much as we’d love to be hands-on while our kids attend online school, we have to work during the day, leaving their education on the back burner."

I didn’t have time for a pep talk, I was in the middle of my own corporate work day, and needed to attend a Zoom team meeting in 10 minutes. I pushed her bangs out of her face, kissed her forehead and brought her a glass of water. I told her that she could take the rest of the day off, but she’d need to rejoin her class online the next day. I didn’t have time to email her teacher to let her know, I had to run back to my “office” in the middle of our dining room.

Laura Mullin's dining room table has been repurposed into a home office, a virtual classroom, a podcast studio, a music school, a sewing factory and a catch-all for household crap. Read her POV here.

Like many parents, my husband and I are currently balancing full-time work-from-home jobs while our kids attempt online school. Our daughters have endured a full year of interruptions to their education: first the Ontario teachers’ strike, then the first lockdown, followed by the latest stay-at-home order. As much as we’d love to be hands-on while our kids attend online school, we have to work during the day, leaving their education on the back burner.

"The pandemic is creating an academic divide that can have dire consequences on our children’s future unless we find an alternative to our pre-pandemic expectations."

By now, most parents are concerned with how the pandemic will impact their children’s academic futures. While some kids are sailing by unscathed, they’re the rarity, not the norm. I don't think most kids can endure the kind of dips in education that ours have had without falling behind. I know I’ve noticed my kids adjust with varying levels of difficulty, and I’ve tried to support them as best as I can without making them feel like they need to “catch up.”

It’s not the idea of kids falling behind academically that concerns me, it’s the lack of adjusted expectations.

It would appear that teachers are still writing report cards, and parents are still pressured to make online school work, even if it creates a dizzying amount of stress and anxiety inside the home. And what about the children who cannot participate in online school, who do not have parents that are able to help them, or may not even have the appropriate device or internet access? The pandemic is creating an academic divide that can have dire consequences on our children’s future unless we find an alternative to our pre-pandemic expectations.

As a parent I’d love to see a shift in the way that we evaluate children academically. What exactly does that look like, practically? I’m not an education expert, and won’t claim to have all the answers to this question. However, I’d love to see an institutional change in how we evaluate students (let’s not do report cards this year). Perhaps there needs to be changes to curriculum, so that students aren’t hopelessly behind. Families and teachers may also need to sit down and have a conversation about whether some students may need to simply repeat a grade — there should be no shame in deciding that a child will be better served by staying behind.

Paula Schuck has a daughter with FASD and has opted to do in-person learning. She understands the challenges with COVID, but wants to know where her daughter's support is? Read her story here.

For parents, I think we all just need to decide what works for us. What looks like success in one home will not feel successful in another. For now, it works to have my children engaged in online learning, until they reach their limit. Sometimes we get creative and find something different to do, like when one of my kids sorted her coins and decided to wash them with baking soda and water. Other times it means going on a neighbourhood walk with the dog, or simply curling up in bed and watching TV.

At the end of the school year I won’t care about my children’s grades, or whether they achieved an arbitrary academic milestone. I’ll want them to feel like they were heard, comforted and valued this year. It’s time we all shifted our academic priorities for our kids, it’s the least that they deserve.

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Article Author Brianna Bell
Brianna Bell

Read more from Brianna here.

Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based in Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including Scary Mommy, The Penny Hoarder, and The Globe and Mail.

Brianna's budget-savvy ways have attracted media attention and led to newspaper coverage in The Globe and Mail and The Guelph Mercury.

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