As authorities confirm a blended learning system for the new school year, parents weigh in on their experience over the past year and concerns for the coming few months.
The new school year is upon us and it has been decided by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to adopt a blended system of both online and in-person schooling.
Essentially, what this means is that schools will function at 50% capacity due to the ongoing pandemic. The other 50% of schooling will be remote learning and although it is done to protect children from the Covid-19 variants, it has left parents feeling different types of emotions about the upcoming school year.
Afshan Syed, mum of four, tells Doha news, “As a mum who has had to teach the kids while paying exorbitant school fees over the past year, I am disappointed.” She feels that normalcy could be attained through proper precautions, hand washing, vaccinated teachers and eligible students. Syed explains her desire for 100% learning with her perspective stemming from the desire to normalise life for children.
While normalcy for school attendance is every parent’s dream, it is unpredictable when schooling will return to what was previously considered normal. However, this could mean that this is the new normal.
This perspective has left mum of two, Maliha Dar, weighing out both the pros and the cons of the blended learning system.
“The wellbeing of the child comes first now, whereas at first it might not have been the case,” the teacher told Doha News.
She explains that mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront because the students’ structure has been affected. Although older students have been affected by the change, they might have more autonomy when it comes to their learning. Blended learning has had a large effect on younger students. As a teacher, Dar recognises that she has become a lot more aware of the mental health of students.
Teachers are now prompted to have calm corners and a place for kids to de-stress, while they are also encouraged to have brain breaks. Well-being has become on the top of her list as a teacher, because as a parent she witnessed how her children were affected during the lockdown.
The idea of brain breaks provides students with a very quick break through the use of a “brain break bucket” during their school day, ranging from mind breaks to sensory activities. This can be done collectively or separately for students by giving them very simple activities such as yoga, deep breathing, and sometimes it is a simple break whenever necessary.
This lets children recognise when they need a brain break without feeling bad about it.
“The whole point is to train kids to be mindful of their own mental health and well-being so they can ask for help and take breaks when they are older,”
Dar mentions that the cons were difficult on both teachers and students.
While the change affected the way students learned, it also meant that teachers are required to put in a lot more work to accommodate students’ needs. One of the biggest problems with blended learning is the infrastructure.
Dar notes that for schools, it has been difficult to create the bond between digital and non-digital learning, leaving a connection that was ultimately missing when it came to education. Some parents also had poor internet service which caused a huge problem with missing out on necessary learning.
From a teaching perspective, the pace of advancement and learning is slower than what it would be in class. Of course, difficulties are to be expected when adjusting school to be both in person and online.
Morjan Rahhal, who is a mum to a daughter in primary school, views blended learning from an individualistic perspective.
“In order for blended learning to be successful, which it can be, the student has to have a basic understanding of being able to grasp concepts,” she explains. Rahhal states that students who initially struggle to grasp basic concepts do struggle with blended learning. This is because these students greatly benefit from in-person interaction with their teacher.
She recognises that for parents who have the time and patience for hands-on learning, blended learning is an excellent option for them. This is because blended learning requires attention, focus, and structure from parents.
However, Rahhal is quick to mention that a large percentage of mums and dads are working parents in Qatar, making it difficult for them to focus and assist their students.
“This has caused some kids to miss their Zoom sessions, with their mum or dad rushing home after work to get them caught up on their schoolwork.” she says.
This could be confusing for some students who are in need of the added support, but are left receiving it in different forms and not in the consistency that they need.
Blended learning has come with its challenges.
Mum of three, Sarah Ali, states that doing her best and recognising it is a temporary period of time has given her peace of mind.
“I tried challenging it and felt helpless. These days, if my son learns something profound, I am content. But if he struggles to learn something, I don’t put pressure on him to learn it right away.”
Echoing the perspective of Dar, Ali is focused more on the wellbeing of her son.
One of Ali’s most important contributions to blended learning is that her expectations have been minimised. “The children will learn at their own pace, even if it is not what we expect. Blended learning is temporary. I tell myself this whenever the thought visits my mind.”