Top Jewish educator says online learning from Monday ‘simply isn’t realistic’
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Top Jewish educator says online learning from Monday ‘simply isn’t realistic’

Leading teachers warn that answers about the transition to digital-based education may not be immediate in wake of national school closures

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Jewish families should not expect schools to have immediate answers on home-schooling from Monday, a senior advisor to Jewish educators has said.

Nic Abery from Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS), said educators were experiencing a “double whammy” of having to set up online while working out which children of critical workers would be attending in-person next week.

“Right now schools have to focus on how they open for children of key workers,” she said, speaking to Jewish News on Friday. “Parents may be expecting online learning to begin at 9am on Monday but that simply isn’t realistic in many cases, because the schools need time to work on their own strategy and staffing.”

Some Jewish secondary schools such as JFS already have limited online learning management systems, using apps such as Show My Homework, whereby teachers post the task for children to download, complete, upload and submit, but some schools, including most primary schools, have nothing in-place.

PaJeS recently ran webinars training primary schools in online platforms, she said, but these do not replicate schooling, rather they act as tools for teachers to give tasks, homework and instruction, then for children to go off and complete it.

The Jewish schools umbrella body was primed to do “a lot of curating” in the coming days, she said. “We don’t want to bombard people with thousands of websites. Someone needs to go through them to assess their usability and applicability.”

Abery explained that a big priority for PaJeS was support in creating online communities for educators as well as outlining practically what school closures will mean for staff, heads, parents and governors.

“We’ve set up WhatsApp groups for heads, kodesh teachers, ivrit teachers etc, so they don’t feel isolated in managing this, but part of a wider community,” she said. “I’m a silent participant in these WhatsApp groups and it’s unbelievable to say the level of collaboration. It’s so inspiring to see the heads supporting each other.”

She added that this was “the fire-fighting stage” but said there was “a huge area of work around emotional wellbeing, about knowing how to speak to kids going through turmoil, especially in Years 11 and 13 whose exams have been cancelled.

“It’s about creating a new normal and that will take time. There will be huge amounts of adjustment to make and an element of grief for children who may feel like they’ve had the net pulled out from under them.”

Beyond that, Abery said families whose children will be at home now needed to think about their new reality. “The most important thing is structure,” she said. “What does a working week look like? What does a day look like? What do you do together and what apart? What time do you spent at screens and what time away? What time do you spend exercising? Timetabling is really important.”

Parental support was another priority, she said, with Facebook groups set up by families who are already in lockdown sharing strategies for creating a viable family home-life.

“The situation is still all over the place. This time yesterday we didn’t know who key workers were, today we hear it’s pretty much everyone other than marketing! This is a time of real flux and it will take time to work out.

“Parents need to reconfigure what matters. It’s about prioritisation, relaxing, thinking about a new normal, getting kids and adults to learn something new. Kids will now be seeing their parents as learners.

“The government had planned to introduce something called character education from September. It’s based around things like self-belief and resilience! The irony of it, the timing of it, is just hilarious. But actually, resilience is about adaptation, it isn’t about replicating the school at home. It’s just not tenable or realistic.”

Nic’s Tips on Creating a New Norm

“There are lots of things you can do together as a family while at home. You can go on a virtual tour of a museum, for example, so you could all go to look at artefacts at the British Museum as a family outing. Imagine a Pesach tour, looking at the ancient Egyptian artefacts!

“Similarly, there are Broadway musicals online, so you can say ‘right, we’re going to the theatre on Thursday night.’ You’ve got to think about it like that. ‘Education’ isn’t just English, maths, science… Education isn’t just maths, English, science, and as parents we’re able to take on a slightly different role and make things fun.”

“The most important thing is for kids to feel is a sense of security, even if parents may not be feeling 100 percent secure. It’s about finding a balance. Monday’s priority is not to sit and do five hours of maths, English and science. That will come.

“For now, it’s about relaxing in whatever form the schools. Parents are not expected to become teachers, besides they may already be worrying about their own parents, who may be housebound, so we really are going to have to relax.

“Let the kids go in the garden and dig up worms. Get kids messy. Get them doing art. Get them baking, doing supper. Give them a recipe each and relax about the mess they’re going to make. This is a time to think about what’s really important, and to work out what your priorities are as a family at home.

“My own family, for instance, love to play board games, so the idea that we can now sit around the table and spend an hour playing board games 5-6pm is amazing! We’ll talk to and learn from each other. You could have a daily Kitchen Dance, where you click on your favourite Spotify playlist and have a good boogie. These are stressful times, why add to the stress? Pare back to what actually matters.”

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