by Dorothee Prange, Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum/ Switzerland
In this article I summarize the experiences that the Pedagogical Section has made in the last weeks around the topic 'School at Home', supplemented by thoughts about the different topics school, parents, pupils, future and experiences.
On the design of school
This topic is covered by several articles on our website in the blog, 'School in times of Corona'. There you will find several pieces and accounts of colleagues teaching their students, and other articles that encourage topics such as creativity, help for online teaching and more.
In other contributions the teachers‘ meetings are mentioned. What ways are there for colleagues to work together in these times? From the attitude, "It's not possible to hold an educational meeting online“, to, “We'll try it and see if we succeed. It‘s important!“ Certainly, there are many organisational tasks to be discussed; I think this can often be done well in an online meeting.
Here is an experience from China: "We started to get busy since last week - every day we spent more than two hours online meeting with all colleagues working through our Teachers' Manual. It was a big change with this manual and together with five colleagues we initiated a clear picture of a new development. We felt we the need to work more deely on the teachers' study and educational transformation as well as parenting education. We have been working hard with around 30 teachers reading ‘Balance in Teaching‘ online over the past five weeks. It was very nourishing and encouraging."
Situation of the parents
Suddenly, parents are faced with the fact that their children - whether young, or somewhat older - are at home all day long. Tasks are sent home from school, and questions can be asked online. The little ones have to be guided by their parents, as kindergarten children cannot read the tasks. Older children are helped by their parents, and many things can be done independently.
But the parents also have their own work ... It is not easy to organize this and if the apartment is small and cramped, it can easily become stressful. I have heard of parents who set up a study course at home, in the flat, so that their children can work for longer periods of time. Others try cooking and baking with the children. It is reported that many more vegetables are being bought than usual and flour is often missing from the shelves ... Parents discover new abilities in their children, children discover new things in their parents. In addition to homework for the pupils, some schools offer parents support for managing at home. In doing so, a wide variety of ideas are developed.
Here are some examples from a colleague in Chengdu and Beijing: "We held several online talks about supporting parents and supportive parenting and had some interesting question and answer sessions. We offered a range of perspectives to parents to help us all to understand the situation, to gain knowledge of the virus and we responded to questions regarding hygiene and psychological problems. Other more concrete questions were tackled: How to deal with internet? How to tell stories? How to read, or read together? How to calm children down when they saw lots of death or heard things that were sad or ugly? We got some very positive feedback. The school and teachers kept in communication with the parents. People helped each other not only with information and methods, but also regarding materials."
"From 31st March, I initiated a 10-minute morning talk to our community focusing on the art of parenting or ‘life artist’. I have completed my first week with the theme, "Why do we choose to be parents?", and today another colleague started his one-week-online morning talk on ‘The art of accompanying a child's growth’. This is what we think we can do to share and provide some insights from Anthroposophy to support the community. It turned out to be very positive with over 3900 ‘hits’, or visits, to date."
Situation of the pupils
Besides learning for school, there was time for other things. In some places, there were possibilities to stay outside. There were reports of children playing happily in the garden, of contented kindergarten children under the care of their parents. Other people reported how young people want to see faces other than just those of their relatives and also of how some children miss contact with their friends and how this difficult and stressful situation is being experienced by them.
Here is an impression from a mother in Asia: "My daughter has found her own life rhythm. She longs for school, certainly, but she can still enjoy her time studying, cycling, walking the dog with me, flying her kite, or going to the flea market with the grandparents. It is not bad for her."
And what are the experiences with learning? Again, they are quite different. One reads about students who finish their tasks quickly and have a lot of time for other things. Others have been given tasks that give them opportunties for expressing initiative and flexibility. The students develop interest and a lot of independent searching and learning. But some students also find it difficult without the support of the shared classroom space and the structure provided by the teacher.
The re-opening of the schools is still mostly in the planning phase. What will the concrete situation look like when the first meetings take place again at school? So far it looks like it will be a joyful encounter without physical contact. Will that be possible, the colleagues of the younger pupils ask themselves? My class is full of children; do I now have to teach in two halves? How will the children get to school? Many questions need to be addressed and solved.
Here are some thoughts before the re-opening of schools in China written by a kindergarten teacher in Chengdu: "We are all very well and are busy preparing to start school again. There are many regulations required by the government in the school's anti-epidemic measures. For example, after the school re-opens, gatherings of people will not be allowed. Every child must enter the classroom directly through a specified passage at the school-gate, and there must be at least one metre between each person. There will be no singing, no playing of flutes, and we can’t eat together, while teachers and children must wear masks all day. When we think about this, for the children and teachers, it will be a very difficult task. The children may become tense and unhealthy. If there are so many concerns and regulations, I think it might be better to let the children continue to play at home."
And now it gets exciting. How can these experiences be evaluated in such a way that they bring about positive changes in the schools, in everyday school life? Have there been positive experiences? How do we evaluate digital teaching? What did the pupils miss out on? What significance do we give to our school life? In Germany, the National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina issued ad hoc guidance covering different areas of life (1). For the education sector it reported that the crisis has led to a massive decline in care, teaching and educational performance and to an increase in social inequality. Younger children, in particular, are dependent on personal care in the education system.
One can imagine that this is a challenge for the school movement. Following the 100th anniversary in 2019, the year 2020 will present us with completely new questions. Let's take this difficult period and the experiences of 'school in the time of Corona' as an opportunity to rethink school and teaching. What is important today for tomorrow? How do we have to re-shape school in consultation with parents, pupils and teachers? There are many questions and tasks to be worked on.
We are looking forward to receiving further reports and experiences, also photos!