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Home schooling: How one teacher is adapting to the remote learning experience
Teaching children at home has been one of the many challenges during the stay-at-home period. Having never been faced with a shutdown of this nature before, Belgium’s education authorities had no central plan on the best way to provide distance learning. Every school attacked the situation in its own way, with all of them going digital to one extent or another.
Thousands of students across the country, from primary to university level, now switch on computers to follow lessons. And each week, teachers have to be ready with fresh material. The Bulletin talks to one of them about the experience and its challenges.
Charlotte Debbaut (pictured below) teaches in a secondary school in the Bruges area. “On the first day of the shutdown, all of the teachers came to an agreement about how to concretely approach the situation. We decided to offer all of the course material online and not introduce any new material,” she says.
Teamwork was imperative in making it work quickly. “We divided the various tasks among each other, which made it possible to send all the assignments to the students for the coming week,” she adds. Teachers used the Smart School educational programme, where they could post material and communicate with pupils.
As expected, this is easier for some pupils than others – especially in her school. Debbaut, who just started teaching last autumn, heads a class in a BSO, or a professional secondary school. It prepares students for either technical college or the workforce.
She teaches a range of general subjects, like language skills, organisational ability and mathematics. “Right now we’re not opting for ‘live’ lessons. Our pupils complete the assignments online on their own. But we do group video sessions where they can ask questions about the assignments and talk about how it’s all going.”
While it took planning and effort to set it all up, now “it’s going smoothly,” Debbaut says. “Some parts of the course have been digitalised, which has given us a head-start on our plans for the next school year, when we will implement a BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – programme.”
Unfortunately, not all of Debbaut’s pupils show up online. Sometimes they don’t have access to a computer at home. “Many of them tried to work with their smartphones, but that’s not ideal,” she notes. “The names of the pupils without a laptop have been passed on so they can get one from the government. I don’t know if this has actually happened, but there are a few pupils I haven’t heard from at all, and I cannot manage to reach them.”
Social contact crucial
As for the others, she’s glad they can at least continue to complete schoolwork during the corona crisis, but fully realises that some pupils cannot cope with learning without structure and supervision. “Learning to work independently is a very positive thing, but for some pupils this is too much of a challenge – especially BSO pupils. Some subjects, like maths, are really difficult for them, even in the classroom. It’s simply not feasible to teach some of this material digitally.”
She also misses the personal contact with her pupils. “Many of them desperately need the social contact. Part of teaching is also just interacting with them, teaching through talking. Online, there is little to no ability to do that,” she says.
Lockdown light is meant to last until 3 May. Whether schools will be shut longer than that hasn’t yet been determined. “In terms of material, we have enough to last until then.”
And if there should be a second wave that would shut down schools again, she has a little advice for school administrators. “We weren’t ready for this,” she says matter-of-factly. “Many teachers do not feel confident about working online.”
The groups of pupils are also too large, she says. “If it happens again, we need to work with smaller groups. That’s the only way to make sure that they pass the year. With big groups like we have, we cannot ensure that some of them won’t fall through the cracks.”
Photo, top: iStock/Getty Images Plus