Why online learning is our schools’ new normal

As WA schools close for the Easter break there is a sense of trepidation because after the holidays it won’t be mandatory for students to return to the classroom.

The School Curriculum and Standards Authority says if you are an essential worker you may send your child to school, otherwise it is best if they stay at home with you.

This means an entire cohort just shy of 200,000 high school students now face the daunting task of learning from home, something which is totally alien to some of them.

Julia Crisafulli is a year 12 ATAR student at Wanneroo Secondary College who has not attended school for the last two weeks and is dreading the idea of ‘at-home’ learning.

“I’m finding it very hard, I am not committing at all and I know I’m falling behind,” she says.

Julia Crisafulli says finding motivation away from the classroom can be a struggle.
Photo supplied by Julia Crisafulli.

“I need the motivation from the teachers, I need that one-on-one class time.”

In a recent Google classroom session one of her teachers told the class the practical assessments for drama, music and dance might be cancelled due to COVID-19.

As a student of drama Ms Crisafulli is confused and worried as to how this will impact her mid-year exams.

“How do you do that course without [practical assessments]?” she says.

A fellow pupil at Wanneroo Secondary College, Paige Smith, has similar misgivings about this new experience.

Paige Smith detailing what her biggest concerns are about online learning.

However, the feeling from some educators who now carry the weight of an anxious and uneasy body of students upon their shoulders is a mix of intrigue and almost excitement.

A science teacher from Joseph Banks Secondary College, who wishes to remain anonymous, thinks it will be an interesting phase for everyone involved.

“It’s pretty exciting for this opportunity, it’s like nothing that’s happened in education before.

“No one really knows what to expect.”

This teacher says when term two resumes their school will be fully online but they do not know for how long.

The Dean of postgraduate studies at UWA, Professor Graham Brown, feels the closure of schools presents a good opportunity for experimentation.

At a university level the platform online learning provides can be a good support structure for those who are shy or do not speak English to the highest level.

“This is actually very enabling for certain students who are shy or from an international background,” he says.

But Professor Brown does warn of the very real issues online learning presents to high school students regarding exams, with children in lower socio-economic areas at the most risk.

“A lot of the learning experience is what happens between classes, going to the library, studying in little groups, conversing with friends,” he says.

“This COVID generation are likely to face greater challenges with low socio-economic areas struggling to teach this year.

“There is very clear evidence of a socio-economic curve on the ATAR rankings, this COVID-19 issue is going to massively exaggerate that.”

So what does this mean for Julia, Paige and the tens of thousands of other students from working class or low-income areas gearing up to sit crucial exams?

Given the rate of speed at which things are changing no one really knows.

The one thing both students and teachers agreed on was the fact it was impossible to know what next week, next month or the end-of-year looks like for education.