COVID-19 EDUCATION : PLAN 2020 WITH STUDENTS

STUDENTS SHOULD BE PART OF THE LOOP

School leaders, teachers and parents make regular decisions about educational issues. Some policies and processes require lengthy consideration while other procedures are actioned after very short lead times. In most instances, those most impacted by resulting changes are children. Unfortunately, changing priorities and new approaches are little understood by those most affected – the students. Educational partnerships focus on adults talking for students, about students but generally not with students.

That has certainly been the case as COVID-19 confuses the 2020 educational agenda. Within a few short weeks, the school year has been turned upside down. Teachers and parents have been left juggling between the alternatives of school attendance and home schooling for children. One is left wondering whether schools are there for normalised education or simply to provide for students who have to be minded elsewhere so their parents can go to work.

Students are in the middle of this dilemma. They need reassurance and must not be caught in a vacuum of misunderstanding. They need to know they are valued and loved; they must not feel they are a nuisance or a burden to parents and the community.

It is critically important that students should understand what is happening educationally and why changes are taking place. Both parents and teachers need to converse with children about these matters. This must include listening to young people and answering their questions about educational alternatives.

Education has been muddied by everything happening at the moment. Lack of clarity about educational futures was echoed in editorial comment by the Northern Territory News. “The messaging around schools for Term 2 from the federal, state and territory governments is as clear as mud” (8/4/20).

This ‘muddiness’ plays on children, their parents and their teachers. We need to consider what students are going through at this time. They need to be included in all conversations leading to decisions about education during term two. Pros and cons about the two alternatives -school attendance and home schooling – should be canvassed. Parents should be listening to students about their schooling preferences. Family situations and children’s futures are at stake.

For Territory families the situation is compounded by statements from both the Education Minister and Chief Minister. Thursday’s (9/4/2020) issue of the News leads with the headline “School IS compulsory” with Minister Uibo indicating that term two will be as normal across the Territory. The Minister adds, “All children are expected to attend school from day one, Term 2 -Monday, 20 April … you should plan for your child to physically attend school.” (News 9/4/20 p.7) The Minister adds that home schooling exceptions can be made. The Chief MInister’s comment on school attendance is somewhat broader. While suggesting that home schooling is a viable option he stresses that learning must happen and that term one leniencies will not extend into term two. ( “NT schools open … but parents can opt to home school: Chief Minister” NT News online 9/4/2020)

The upcoming holiday week will not be one of rest and relaxation for anyone connected with education. There will be a lot of discussion within households between parents and their children about the best way forward. One can but hope that students, parents and teachers will move into term two with clear understanding and commitment, for muddied educational waters are confusing.

Our first NT Director for Education Dr Jim Eedle said in 1979 that we do well to remember that education is for children. More than ever students need to be part of the planning so that surety replaces uncertainty about their future schooling.

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