Yesterday morning, parents all over Israel emerged from the Passover holiday to face an entirely new form of bondage.
Distance learning is a fantastic idea in theory. When the schools were first closed in mid-March in response to the coronavirus crisis, I was glad to learn that our three kids’ elementary school would be sending daily tasks. I figured it would be important to keep up with a routine as much as possible, and the tasks from school would help keep the kids busy.
What I didn’t realize was that more than it would keep my kids busy, it would keep me busy.
And as a copy and content writer and translator who has been working from home at my usual capacity for the past month, that is the last thing I need right now.
It now all falls to my husband — a tour guide who has been out of work for a while due to health issues anyway — to deal with the deluge of emails and WhatsApp messages, sort out which of my kids needs to do what and when, access the videos, set up the Zoom meetings, and otherwise become a full-time educational organizer. There’s only one problem: he has chronic eye pain and is unable to read for more than a few minutes at a time.
He spent the entire morning yesterday running back and forth trying to help the kids with their work and to sign in to various Zoom meetings, two of which were delayed or prolonged due to technical issues on the part of the teacher. By 10:00 a.m., he was completely exhausted.
And we are a multiple-device family with enough computers, tablets, and phones to handle the technological onslaught. There are plenty of families with more kids and fewer devices than we have — and the parents may need to use those devices for their own work.
I understand that the Ministry of Education is trying to mitigate the damage of extended periods of no schooling. I appreciate to no end the amount of effort our teachers are putting in to keep our kids educated and connected. But ultimately, the burden falls mostly on our shoulders: us, the parents. Don’t we have enough to deal with already? Trying to scrape together a living if we can, trying to figure out how to make ends meet if we cannot, unable to get help or support from our extended families, worrying about the future, trying to keep our kids calm, fed, entertained, and healthy in all this chaos?
By and large, high school students are independent enough to manage their own tasks, sort through the emails and WhatsApps, and study by themselves. Elementary school students are not, and this model of distance learning relies too much on the intervention and organizational skills of parents who have enough on their plates already. It is also discriminatory at its core. The students who will fall behind will be the underprivileged, those without access to a device, a high-quality Internet connection, and/or an available parent who can help them sort through the chaos.
In an ideal world, each of our kids would be provided a device courtesy of the Ministry of Education. The device would be pre-programmed with age-appropriate apps that would allow students to communicate and interact with their teacher and each other, including secure video and voice messaging for kids who cannot read that well yet. There would be an organized schedule that the teacher could program remotely, which would pull up each task from the relevant app on the device at the appropriate time, and allow the teacher to monitor each student’s progress and provide feedback directly to the student. In other words, in a functional model of distance learning, no middleman would be necessary.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world that is reeling from a once-in-a-hundred-years global pandemic, scrambling to figure out how to protect the population and acquire the necessary medical equipment while mitigating the enormous blow to the economy that all this has caused. The Ministry of Education does not have time or resources to develop a distance learning system that will actually work for all students and parents.
So… how about we just let it go?
Let’s be frank. Elementary school is important for acquiring fundamental learning and social skills and good learning habits. But the vast majority of actual material learned in this period is usually forgotten within a few years and none of us will ever remember or draw on it. What’s more, it is easy for most kids to catch up with whatever skills they may have missed from a few months or years out of school once their brains mature a bit. This happens all the time with children who cope with serious illness or a major upheaval in their lives. It happened to me when I made aliyah — it took five years until I was able to fully participate in class — and it happened to my husband, who missed most of middle school due to illness. We both graduated high school with excellent grades.
My point is, missing a few months of school is not going to create an entire generation of illiterate good-for-nothings.
If a parent is able and willing to engage in distance learning and finds it helpful to their child — great! If not… give us the freedom to decide what’s right for our families.
What do we want our kids to tell their grandchildren in 70 years when they are asked what they remember from this period? “I learned how to add fractions”? “My parents were so harried and irritable, there was a lot of anxiety in the house”? I don’t know about you, but what I want my kids to say is that it was a strange but special time; a time when they felt cocooned in love and safety, when they got to see a lot more of their parents and their mom taught them card games, when they got to watch lots of movies and make lots of popcorn… when they had extra time to bond as a family.
My family is already extremely fortunate in so many ways. We have a strong marriage, resilient and resourceful kids who get along most of the time and are excellent at entertaining themselves, and enough of an income to keep us financially stable — not at all to be taken for granted with over a quarter of Israelis unemployed. I know plenty of other parents who are struggling so much with their mental health, with their marriages, and with their relationships with their kids because of all the stress and uncertainty.
Adding to their burden is the opposite of helpful for the children of Israel. The best thing the our schools can do for us at this point is take the pressure off and give us support as we figure out how to get to the other side of this crisis with our physical and mental health, and that of our children, intact.