The battle for time online

Australia’s media reports about the relative success and failure of what it describes incorrectly as ‘home schooling’. This almost always focuses on parental opinions. As news media is propelled by advertising revenue, it is unsurprising they amplify messages of a ‘return to normal’.

The corona virus pandemic has resulted in rapid, unprecedented changes in consumer behaviours and their preferences across Australia. Consumers are spending vastly more time online and watching TV. Brands are focused on showing images of how they are supporting customers and staff and messages intended to make people feel happy through funny and positive content that distracts them from what’s going on.

School is a problematic story. On one hand, parents are first hand experience as ‘home school’ has disrupted family life. On the other, political messages falsely accuse teachers of refusing to return to school and do their job. It’s no great surprise that TV media avoids any in-depth debate about schooling as it fails to create the kind of content that consumers want – and therefore impacts their advertising revenue. This revenue has changed in response to the pandemic. Almost half are not in a position to spend and the rest have had to adopt the messaging that the current broken-consumer wants.

At home, parents are causing disruption to their children’s learning. Most stories orbit the difficulty parents have in ‘being teachers’. I’m yet to see a story which asks children directly for their experiences and so ignores any possibility that children can create their own agency over time. Time is the issue, for most households ‘home schooling’ has been two or perhaps three weeks.

In that time, parents have been running the agenda. In high school at least, this has created in-equity in what they spend time working on. Maths, Science and English are widely seen as ‘the most important’ subjects, regardless of the quality of what children are asked to do with their time. Other subjects are allocated the remainder of available time, and appear to involve more child-choice. In high school, I’ve heard of Maths teachers pumping out time-tabled Zoom lessons, setting worksheets and even demanding homework (yes, at home). In schools, few appear to have considered the behaviour of some teachers who are simply looting time for their at the expense of other subjects.

It may be that the news stories are adding pressure for teachers to be seen doing something – perhaps amazing, perhaps not – towards easing parent anxiety. Even if this seeing some students working several hours a day more than usual. My own experience is that students are zoom-choosy: leaving a class for one they think is more important; not showing up at all; or pretending to be engaging. Within a few weeks it soon became apparent that synchronous learning was the domain of subject parents believe are most important – and in many ways, the re-assurance of Jimmy being in a Zoom Meet with Mr Fletcher’s Maths class meets that ‘comfort news’ story.

I adopted a simple methodology. It seemed obvious to me that any notion of flipping, pivoting or porting to ‘online’ could not be approached as if society wasn’t in the grip of a pandemic which is largely experienced through online and television news – which as I have said is distorted. More worryingly, information is hidden from the audience. In part, political interference, which even the ABC seems to have not escaped and the obvious change in content and themes to prop up a decaying advertising income. If the media messages don’t meet the needs of the consumer and brands, people simply binge streaming media services.

My argument is that it is currently impossible to put forward a binary argument about good/bad education online, as it cannot be based on previous incarnations of how learners engage with online learning. It can at best be looked at in terms of time and within that, what is the most purposeful use any remaining time parents give to subjects outside of the holy trinity of maths, science and english.

At a time of heated angst, political messaging is promoting the nonsense of a COVID SAFE society. Media messages orbit terms such as ‘out-breaks’ and ‘soft-spots’ to soften the truth that the LNP is pursuing the mythical ‘herd immunity’ goal and there is less safety when teachers and students are forced into full schools, shops re-open along side cafes and restaurants.

For the next two weeks, children will return one day a week. Schools will not remove bell-times. Instead, children will sit in a room with 10-12 others and supervised by a teacher (not their subject teacher) as they complete the same online work as they did at home. These teachers are also required to support online learning. This may ease the concerns of parents as they pack their children off to Covid-Safe schools, but it creates yet another paradigm for students – and doesn’t address the current issues of some subjects dominating others. The problem here is that some schools are going to measure every teacher and every subject equally. They will ignore the discrepancies being created though parent’s belief about what subjects matter (and the ongoing issues therein).

So if you are a teacher outside the big three; perhaps it’s absolutely fine to ask for an hour a week and to simply accept that the next two weeks will not happen outside the current media-frenzy and altered news messaging.

It’s a matter for parents to determine the health risk vs the ‘learning benefit’. The PM and the media it appears to direct have two arguments: open for learning and open for business. The benefit of schools being open for either seems marginal whether private or public.

Allowing more people to meet is problematic, but for children, meeting to play is always going to be better for their welfare than to sit in a supervised room for the day. Any notion of continuing education online, pivoted, ported or whatever is already corrupted by belief and competition around time … and ultimately, whats a few weeks going to matter …