Anna Dusseau | 1st April 2020
Whatever your experience prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, times have changed and we are now all part of a global think tank. I realised this the other day. In a single morning, we video called our old friends in Capetown, a worldschooling family in Barcelona who we are collaborating with, and joined a Zoom lesson with our local homeschool music group and choir. Sipping hot coffee and pulling faces at the baby, I tried to stand back from the camera and listen to the babble of conversation as they all bobbed excitedly in and out of the screen, switching accents and languages, the living rooms behind awash with sunlight. It’s the same when you turn on the news. Gone is the narrow lens of Brexit – a force which divided people – and in its place we see a global tsunami of voices and opinions, with experts from Delhi to Los Angeles speaking into webcams in kitchens and bedrooms, the murmur of children’s voices and the subdued hum of the street outside a faintly audible and increasingly familiar backdrop to the interview. COVID-19, the killer virus, is strangely uniting us all, bringing with it rapid and much-needed change in the sectors of employment and education. With over 420 million children affected by school closures across 39 countries, we can already see human ingenuity rising to the challenge of rapid socioeconomic evolution, with webcam board meetings, lessons live streamed and thousands of previously privatised resources made publicly available. But where is this all going? And why is the world looking increasingly like one big homeschooling family?
At the start of our own homeschool journey, I remember my surprise at the overwhelming global-mindedness of almost all established home educating families. I mean, we were all over recycling and sustainable energy, but really, who has the time to be planting trees for The Woodland Trust on a Tuesday afternoon and campaigning for lower pollution levels in Varanasi? The answer: homeschoolers. Within a matter of weeks, our mental orbit went from the local school run and cursed PTA cake sale, to linking with families throughout the UK and from all over the world, discussing shared topics of study and joining other families in activities and charity work which spoke to us. It was a crash course for all of us because, you see, my husband and I weren’t homeschooled ourselves. For most of our lives, we had bought into the false economy of an education system where parents must ‘go to work’ (ha ha) and send their children to school in order to learn what they ‘need to know’ and achieve a certificate at the end of the process, thus creating useful members of the workforce. Only many children are failed by this system and – hello – this just isn’t how the world works anymore. Not by a long shot. Quite incredibly, what the international shakedown of the Coronavirus has brought to light is the outdated, industrial nature of most major education systems and the need for change in order to keep up with the creativity and lateral thinking required to face the challenges of today’s world. Because in fact, some of the most interesting and successful people I know, both personally and as public figures, dropped out of school and made their own way. Some of the people who seem the most lost and unable to keep up were, like me, always top of the class. Ever noticed how Hermione only became a really interesting character when she stopped following the rules and focusing on her O.W.L.s? This isn’t a rebellious challenge to the system. It really ought to be a wake-up call.
Clearly, homeschooling isn’t a realistic economic model for global education. People have to go to work, don’t they? Hmmm. Indisputably though, homeschooling acts as an important test bed for post-industrial learning in a world where change is so fast paced that you cannot implant information through the slow gears of the National Curriculum and hope that this will somehow be relevant to the world in 2035. Instead, what we should be doing is creating a generation of children who want to learn, are quick-thinkers and apply information creatively in a global context; values which only a small percentage of school children emerge with due to the crippling and largely irrelevant pressure applied almost from Reception to fit into the narrow and archaic definition of success monopolised by private exam boards. This approach falls far short of what’s required right now. Faced with this global health emergency, we need many, many more Anthony Faucises and Eric Klinenbergs. We need more switched-on international thinkers and less bungling public school boys, demonstrating on a global stage that the education ‘elite’ in the UK – and elsewhere – is a very low standard indeed. Just as the world of work is moving in a direction where we might increasingly ask ourselves ‘does this actually need to be done in person?’ so the world of education should be shifting in a direction where students are asking the essential question: ‘is the school system adequate preparation for the future?’ It’s an interesting question and one which homeschooling families get asked all the time. ‘Aren’t you worried about preparing for exams?’ asks the librarian, rather anxiously given that my eldest is 6. All homeschool kids look blank when faced with this question. You see, it hadn’t occurred to them that education was a vehicle for self-gain or about finding their place a measuring stick.
If you are a temporary visitor to homeschooling, try to embrace this time if you can because it is an incredible moment in history to be a home educating family. New technology is rapidly redefining the way we learn, with 120 million Chinese school children recently accessing lessons via live television broadcasts and international students taking learning into their own hands, using programs such as Audacity and Photostory to create academic content for sharing online. And did you know that the Oxfam has a series of world music lessons with attached resources and videos, available free for families to enjoy? Or perhaps your children would like to encourage their school to join the Berlin Global Classroom project – now on hold until 2021 but very active in online discussions – and devote some of their homeschooling to fund raising and planning for this? Because once we look beyond the hamster wheel of the classroom, the opportunities to think globally and actively engage in the world are endless, with as yet immeasurable benefits to the world we are living in, ranging from decline in polarization and decreased individualism, to improvements in medicare and healthier digital lifestyles. The toxic culture of exam-driven education where children ‘don’t grow into creativity [but rather] out of it’ (Robinson, 2014) is inherently mirrored in the narrow-focused and self-serving political systems that we have seen so spectacularly fail to safeguard the public in this current crisis. There are major lessons here, if school hasn’t totally stamped out our willingness to learn.
The underlying message is clearly not to scrap the school system, but to radically reform it with the sole aim being to produce globally-minded lifelong learners, rather than disengaging and alienating vast numbers of students in a rigid system that neither relates to the modern world nor recognises many important skill sets. So, put aside the phonics book for a moment and let go of the times table class ranking. Think, for a moment, like a homeschooler. What am I good at? What makes me happy? What is happening in the world that I could contribute positively to? Check out the amazing work of international youth movements, such as the Global Youth Action Network, Sawa World and World Youth Alliance, or simply take the time to video chat with friends in another region or country to discuss ideas for interesting learning topics and activities. You too can be part of the global classroom and heading back to school at the end of the current world health emergency doesn’t have to be the end of that. It could be, if we want it to, just the beginning.
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