Home School Survey: Does Age Matter?

There is a considerable difference of opinion when it comes to the perceived success of schools in the transition to home schooling, largely dependent upon what phase a child is in. Older students, already used to independent working, are finding it so much easier. As are their parents...
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

Schools have rightfully won a huge number of plaudits for an incredible job of converting physical schools into virtual ones. That is not the same thing, however, as the statement that parents are happy with the sudden imposition of home schooling, or that all schools are doing a great job.

According to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey, live during the first two weeks of distance education, 76% of UAE parents said their school has made the transition to distance learning well. Less successful in the transition, however, are parents, with only 59% of respondents saying they have coped well. Students are somewhere in the ‘middle’: According to our survey, two-thirds of children have made the transition well, leaving exactly one-third who, according to their mums and dads at least, are struggling.

Furthermore, according to the survey, over one in 5 parents (21%) do not feel that they are given the sufficient guidance to implement each lesson, 30% think, overall, lessons are not pitched appropriately in terms of their level (12% think they are too easy, 18% too hard), and one third of parents (33%) say lessons are not engaging enough to be able to hold their child’s attention.

Each school has clearly had its own interpretation of how to implement and operate distance learning, and therefore talking about the UAE as a singular entity is problematic. We have not had 10 years of KHDA or ADEK inspections to standardise, to some degree, delivery. That said, there are themes we can already see. The year group of the children being discussed matters significantly, for example. It is clear distance learning is proving to be considerably less effective as a solution for younger students than it is for older ones.

This is important as there are far MORE students in lower year groups in the UAE, than there are in senior years. Note: Schools are perceived to be coping pretty well across all age groups. It is their stakeholders - parents and students - that fare less well for Early Years and Primary.

At KG or Foundation Stage, less than half of parents, 47% of respondents to be exact, say they are coping well with the transition to distance learning. This rises, slightly, to 52% for Primary, and dramatically to 80% for Secondary. For post-16 schooling, 93% of parents have no difficulties.

It’s a similar picture for students. 56% of parents with a child in Foundation say their son or daughter is coping well, 60% for Primary, and a healthier 86 percent for Secondary.

At KG and Primary parents are more likely to think lessons are too hard (16% and 22% of respondents respectively), while at Secondary, parents are likely to believe lessons are too easy (15% of respondents). Relatedly, 37% of parents with a child in KG or Primary say lessons are not engaging enough to hold their child’s attention, falling to 23% for Secondary.

One reason for this is HOW students are being taught at each level. Within earlier year groups it is clear that parents are given a much bigger role by their teachers or the school. Lessons are more likely to involve work that parents have to print out and go through with their child, there is more screen time with a greater use of online games and apps, and lesson plans parents themselves have to teach. In direct feedback parents with younger children tell us they are being given too much of the load, too much responsibility, and that they have too little bandwidth with a requirement also to work at the same time.

"We have immensely disliked becoming the children’s teachers, at the cost of our jobs. I understand teachers are doing more than their best and we love our teachers. But they chose teaching as a profession and get paid for it. I didn’t. Yet I feel like I am paying the school for the privilege of being a teacher at home."

"I've enjoyed spending time with my children, but for my FS child I need to sit and guide him through each task. One task was "baking a muffin", another is "nature hunt", another is "making porridge". I would love to do these activities, but knowing that there may be parents working from home these tasks are unreasonable. Kids need human interaction, and it is next to impossible trying to do this with work commitments."

"Balancing work and teaching is next to impossible. Kids need guidance on using Zoom, or logging in or out of Seesaw, scanning QR codes, editing documents, uploading content, understanding the topics, etc. They need continuous support and it is very difficult to do all this and complete work, send emails, attend online meetings, and so on."

Older students in later phases are more independent, AND also more benefit from video one-on-ones, live video lessons and screencasts. These are the approaches to learning that parents of younger children would also like more of to lesson the demands on them.

Common requests from parents are:

- More live classroom work
"Make children feel they are in a classroom"
- More collaboration with their peers
"Kids are not learning empathy. Sports challenges are given but yet it has to be done remotely. For science there are no practicals with other kids in the class. The fun has been drained out of Science."
- More involvement, better and more interactive feedback from teachers
"The lack of communication with the teacher has been extremely frustrating. The marking is like "well done", "great start", etc. What my child's teacher needs to actually tell my child is HOW the work can be improved. Concepts she doesn’t understand need to be explained to her, via a voice note or otherwise. Better if they had a way of communicating in real time, or at least same day/next day feedback."
"No virtual classes mean no checking if the children are comprehending the work!"
- A shorter working day (at earlier years, particularly from students in Indian schools)
"Home schooling is very stressful on the parents especially when it’s kids in FSQ and FS2, where they are just starting to learn to read and write!"
- More flexibility of how and when work gets done. Weekly requirements as opposed to daily ones.
"There are subjects that kids find challenging and and the pacing will be slower than the subjects where they succeed. Not all parents have teacher traits and impatience causes strains between child and parent. The pressure to finish work within the prescribed schedule of each class adds to causing conflict. Take note also that the parents are STILL working at home. The period from 8am-2pm time is when we are required to do so."
- More optional work so children can do more if they want to
- More activities away from a screen
- Less video/screen time for young children
"I don't like 6 hrs of screen time..."

In terms of the actual quality of lessons, parents think their schools are doing well overall. 40% of parents say the quality of online lessons is high, 43% says they are adequate, and 17% say lesson content is poor. Again, in general, the older the age group, the higher schools are rated.

For all secondary, 44% of parents say the quality is high, compared to 36% at primary. Interestingly, parents of children in FS are almost as positive as Secondary parents, with an equal number of respondents saying lesson quality is high, but just 2% more saying lesson quality is poor. Overall however the happiest with quality of the lessons are parents with children in post-16 education where 60% of parents say the quality of education is high.

See also: Has curriculum mattered in the success of distance learning?

Note: The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Online Survey has, so far, had 284 responses from schools across the UAE. It is still open if you wish to share your thoughts. You may find it here.

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