Advice for a caring parent – how to ensure that all the hullabaloo surrounding GCSE and A-level does not leave your child short-changed!

There is a lot in the media at present about young people and their education, as society grapples with how to deal with the situation we find ourselves in at present. Since the start of the pandemic – with school closure for half of the year and variation in the quality of education provided by schools – the gap that existed between teenagers from different demographics has widened further.

It is very easy to blame everything on coronavirus, and how terribly unfair the world is. Both of those points are true; however, the way forward as a parent is for one to grab the bull by the horns and try to lessen the adverse effect. The term that people often use for parents who are very proactive, and who are not afraid to do things that may be unpopular, is: push parents. I would rather call us proactive parents. If, for a moment, we  accept that label of “push parent”, what is worse than a push parent is a “passive parent”. If you are reading this, you are very unlikely to fall in the latter category! I must quickly point out that proactive parenting does not necessarily mean that you are not relaxed or don’t have fun with your children. In fact, it is the only way that you can be a little more relaxed and chase your own tail fewer times. Proactive parents and proactive teachers make life a little easier to get the most out of teenagers irrespective of their natural ability.

Now, back to the main discussion about managing the teenager’s education in this pandemic environment. The gap created by the inconsistency in the quality of education provided in the last few months needn’t necessarily have an adverse effect on your child.

Below are a few bullet points on what I’d be sharing with you if you and I were to be having a coffee, sitting across your kitchen table, which we are not allowed at present.

  1. It is helpful to be proactive – including keeping an eye on the information from your child’s school and have a chat regularly with him or her, to see what they are doing in school. Try to read between the lines and see how the good teachers/schools are doing things, as you may find some good practices that can be emulated
  2. Irrespective of whether the GCSE and A-level exams will take place next summer or not, the little tests that your child do in school are now more important. The concepts of enjoying the learning process and revising for tests are not mutually exclusive. Both can be done; all that is needed is the mental awareness to start with, followed by the discipling and establishing and following of routines
  3. Both offline and online learning are required, as part of the new normal. However, gaining the skills to do funky things on a computer must not be allowed to overtake originality and a genuine grasp of key concepts and the skills to articulate, in an examination environment, what your child understands or thinks they understand.
  4. As things stand, major examinations are planned to be done on paper, writing with a pen. Yes, the learning process will be both online and offline. A significant part of the studying and following up process on what has been learnt must reflect how the examination will be done – which is on paper.
  5. Watch out for teachers who do all their teaching on PowerPoint and who do no handwriting, or use the power of their voices or other personal skills to get their message across. PowerPoints are the easiest option and most people use them with a degree of effectiveness. However, I would be a little worried about a Maths or Physics teacher  who does not use a pen or board marker to solve problems during his or her teaching. I’d be equally concerned about a Chemistry teacher who does not draw. Yes, including when they are teaching online. There are ways to do this, using the right equipment, as handwriting, as part of the teaching process, aids the learning process.
  6. Do not accept any online teaching that does not include a live video interaction, where both your child and the teacher can see each other. This includes both small-group teaching and one-to-one. Yes, safety concern is important. But, in fact live video teaching is a lot more effective and is safer, provided there are clear safety rules on the videoing environment and how the video is used.

I know that many of the bullet points above may appear to be speaking against online learning; however, that isn’t the case. I am simply highlighting the detrimental effect of over reliance on technology – the internets and computers. There is no debate about the importance of online learning, as every sensible person understands how vital it is, and the significant role it will continue to play in all aspects of education at every level. What we also must be aware of is that technology ought to be used as a tool – to be used effectively and not to be overused.

Part of the learning process must include turning off the electronic devices, or at least internet connections, for a period of time in the day. The idea of thinking on paper; writing with a pen, is what I find very refreshing indeed. Despite the fact that I spend between six to nine hours on my computer on most days, I relish the time I spend holding a pen and writing on paper! From the books I’ve read and the conversations I’ve had with many successful people, there is something about the connection between four things: the brain, the pen, the hand and paper, and that connection is very empowering. Writing on paper is also less susceptible to unhelpful distractions and the possibility of drifting away from the real task at hand. Speaking about technology, I have a short story for you about John Smith, and I’ll tell you that in my next blogpost, which will be next week.

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