Anna Dusseau | 25th March 2020
I am, like you, stuck at home. We are doing our best to keep spirits up and minds focused, but it’s not easy. Not when you allow yourself a glimpse of what’s going on across the world. I absolutely understand the struggle for parents to homeschool their children right now, because nobody’s mind is in the right headspace for thinking about algebra. Our usually creative and independent children are spending a lot of time lying on their backs asking questions that we cannot answer and, I notice, the older ones seem tense. No wonder, when the world around them has drastically changed and their parents suddenly seem like different people, working hard to to establish ‘normality’ before catching each other for hushed conversations over coffee cups in the kitchen. They are no fools; we didn’t raise them that way. Nor did you.
And it’s the same picture all over the world. According to the latest figures from The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (above graph) the number of cases is snowballing at an alarming rate, with nearly 500,000 confirmed cases worldwide of which a shocking 21,297 fatalities, a major factor that sets this apart from the common cold or flu. The world is reeling in the chaos of unprecedented economic and social disruption, with governments adopting extreme measures not usually employed during peacetime. From Montreal to Melbourne, the back yard has – if we’re lucky – become the boundaries of our physical world right now; our busy lives reduced to a postage stamp of space to measure out the days in. But in other ways, the world seems now more of a whole than it did before, as we struggle not just as a nation but as a species to overcome this pandemic. Global thinking is bringing about rapid change and, I think we would all agree, the landscape for the world of education and employment is going to look different for all of us when we emerge from this period. Perhaps, rather than urging young people to bury themselves in textbooks which – whether published last year or last century – now seem archaic, we should be allowing them to direct their own studies right now. They are, after all, the ones who will inherit the world that has been reshaped by this crisis.
Below are a few basic ideas for activities you could suggest to get young people of all ages engaged with learning that is relevant to today’s world. Note that these are rough outlines only and provide one example of how thinking could be expressed. Video, art, spreadsheets, dance, Lego structures, home science experiments and more are all valid ways of processing and expressing what’s going on right now. As is curling up on the sofa with a good book.
Level 1: Ages 3-8 Check out the brilliant children’s podcast series Short and Curly which has a recent episode on the Coronavirus (The Week Junior also has a nice podcast roundup) and let your children listen in the car or over breakfast. TASK: draw a picture or make a poster to teach people about what the Coronavirus is and what they can do to best stop the spread of the virus.
Level 2: Ages 8-14 Call or Facetime someone you know who lives in another country, or a different part of the UK, and discuss their experience of the quarantine. You might want to plan a list of questions to ask. TASK: now reply to this person with a detailed letter or email, describing your experience of the new ‘stay at home’ rules and grouping your ideas into paragraph topics.
Level 3: Ages 14-19 Read up on all the latest news reports about the Coronavirus and collate the information in a notebook or Word Document. Now, deepen your search to look at virology research – and other related topics – from online university research papers and other primary sources. TASK: synthesise this information by writing up your findings and consider what conclusions you can draw.
Amidst the disruption of global school closures, UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative is receiving global support. With education experts from across the world looking ahead to envisage an educational landscape for 2050 and beyond, President Sahle-Work Zewde stated that ‘the vision of this foresight exercise is to explore predicted, possible and preferred futures and bring creative rethinking into the present so that we can create roadmaps for the next thirty years.’ I think we might all agree with this sentiment, homeschooled or not. And in spite of the international state of emergency, the extreme restrictions on human freedom and the shocking death toll seen in Italy, Spain and Iran so far, I sometimes feel cautiously optimistic that we might just emerge from this with something positive. The world, after all, isn’t such a big place. And sometimes there is more important learning to be done than schoolwork. The purpose of education should be preparation for life, not a pacifier for the next generation. Let’s all try to agree on that.
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