Emma Pritchard, Clarence Valley Independent
Sitting dutifully at his computer with a copy of his study guide in his hand, Duncan Gray focuses intently on his work.
The Year 11 student from Maclean High School is among thousands of pupils across the Clarence Valley, and the state, currently participating in online learning following the transformation of homes into makeshift classrooms during lockdown.
While he admits it is “difficult to raise your hand and ask a question” during remote learning, the seventeen-year-old regularly clicks the link and logs into his Google classroom, and completes the tasks required.
And his mum Janet Gray is always close by to offer him additional assistance.
Like many other Clarence Valley mums and dads, she too has become a parent/teacher, supporting and encouraging Duncan and his fifteen-year-old sister Isla as they continue their education from home.
Though she believes online learning is not as beneficial as face-to-face learning, the Maclean mum is proud of how Duncan and Isla are managing the transition, which she describes as a totally different way of learning.
“As a mum, I’m really lucky that my kids are old enough to get themselves organised online to attend their classes, and they’ve been going really well,” she said, adding the support her family is receiving from Maclean High School is “brilliant and fantastic.”
“It is more difficult for them compared to going to school and physically sitting in a classroom.
“The main problems we’ve incurred have been log in problems and internet connections, but Duncan and Isla are doing well.”
When asked how he is adjusting to learning from home, Duncan said one of the biggest challenges he is experiencing is waiting for a response from some of his teachers after he asks a question.
Sometimes, he has to wait until the next class before he receives a reply.
“When you’re in a large group online, it’s harder to ask an individual question because your teacher can’t always get straight back to you,” he said.
“Lots of people want to ask them questions, but they’re doing their best.”
As Duncan acknowledged the added pressure faced by teachers as they too adjust to online learning, his mum has been experiencing similar challenges.
As a dance teacher with more than 30 years experience and upwards of 90 students of all ages currently enrolled in her classes, Mrs Gray has also made the transition from teaching in a studio, to teaching online.
“I do miss the engagement I have with the kids in the studio,” she said.
“But it’s been pretty good to teach a lot of my classes online with Zoom and keeping that connection going between everyone.
“All the kids can see and talk to each other on the screen, although learning choreography online is a nightmare, but we all have fun and we’re all doing our best.
“Also, imagine if this had happened 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have had the technology to continue learning, so we’re lucky to have available resources.
“I’ve had a lot of parents message me to tell me how thankful they are that their kids can still learn and interact, and that’s been lovely, but I just want to be back in my studio with my classes.
“That’s what I miss.”
As online learning is set to progress for the next several weeks, and Mrs Gray continues to juggle her parenting and teaching responsibilities, she is encouraging other parents and students to “just be patient and roll with it.”
“It’s (lockdown) not going to be forever,” she said.
“Just do your best and give it your best shot.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said a suite of resources have been created to help kids learn from home during lockdown.
“We understand how challenging learning from home is for many students, parents and carers, and that’s why the department has implemented a variety of support services including online and hard copy materials,” they said.
“These resources are available at www.education.nsw.gov.au
“If you feel like you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to contact your school for help.”
Recently, the Honourable Sarah Mitchell, Minister for Education, acknowledged the best teaching and learning happens in the classroom, and said the State Government plans to welcome students back to school from October 25 in a Covid-19 safe environment.
“We’re excited to welcome our students back in a safe way,” she said.
Kindergarten and Year 1 students will return to face-to-face learning from October 25. Years 2, 6 and 11 will resume classroom lessons from November 1, while Years 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 will return to the classrooms from November 8. The return of Year 12 students and those sitting HSC exams to on-site activities will continue to be based on the latest NSW Health advice.
This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 8 September 2021.