As spring break is coming next week, it is hard to imagine it has been a year since the pandemic started -- the social isolation, having most in-person activities either cancelled or switched to online format. Parents started from disliking the online classes (worrying about their children's eyes), to accepting them to the point where now some parents sign their kids up for more online classes than their kids can handle. As a teacher, I have witnessed how some kids were improving and moving towards the right direction before COVID but once online classes started the quality of their work and their attitude towards learning, in class and at home, deteriorated greatly. We all want to blame the online classes, but is that really the only reason?
It is true that there are numerous challenges posed by the online education environment:
it is new for the kids to learn online, the lack of in-person interaction is not easy for a lot of kids to adapt to.
for the first time, kids are allowed to use their laptops/iPads more freely, all in the name of doing online work. In the past, they might have been limited to how long they could use electronic devices each day.
some parents are not very good with technology, so once the device is given to their children and children take the device to their room with door closed, parents become unaware of what is actually happening and how the devices are being used.
the biggest challenge of the online education is the distraction students face while using their devices for class. Multiple windows might be opened on their laptops during class time, students might be watching a YouTube video on the side or even playing games while "participating" in the class, or some students might have their social media on and keep getting notifications from them and even replying to them.
How can anyone learn properly if their attention is divided?
In the PACE online classes, we are well aware of these possible challenges. Thus we tried our best to design online curriculum that is engaging and there will be time we called out to students to answer questions just to see if they are paying attention. However, the truth is very little can be achieved in a two-hour class. The most important thing students need to develop is how to prioritize their time, put effort in their work, and care about each learning opportunity. However, what we see in most students is that everyone is just TOO BUSY. They have one class after another because their parents signed them up due to their worries of their child lagging behind when compared to peers. It is human nature to want to rest and play, so if time is limited, which kid would choose to do extra work?
My observation forced me to label this as "rushed syndrome". Kids rush through their classes, rush through their daily routine, rush through their homework, rush through their meal time, bath time, and by the time they finally "finished" everything, it is bedtime....A student with "rushed syndrome" often produces low quality work, not because they are incapable, but because they just want to finish each task and forget all about it. While we encourage our students to check over their work and submit corrections, these student never do because they just have no spare time. Even though we encourage our students to ask questions online, these students often just leave questions they don't know blank, because even asking questions takes time. At the end, what kind of student will these kids with "rushed syndrome" become?
Is this what we, as parents, want our kids to be like?
Although "rushed syndrome" has long existed even before the pandemic, it has become more prevalent and extreme because now kids are spending more time online, meaning there are more things competing for their attention and time. For example, more time spent on gaming or social media will mean less time for work. I have heard too many stories from parents complaining about how their children are addicted to online gaming and play for hours each day, or are in many chat groups which took up a lot of their time. The sad thing is that all these parents can do is complain while feeling powerless to do anything about it. They let things spiral out of control and they blame online classes. But, is it really because of the online classes?
During self-isolation, even though kids and parents are all stuck at home, some parents still chose not to be involved in their kids' education, they never tried to talk to their kids about how they are doing in class or look into what kind of work they are doing, or how much of the work they did. Amidst these sad stories of students' work attitude and habits taking a turn for the worse, I have also witnessed students who thrive and shine during this difficult time and learning through online environment. How did they do it? It turns out their parents play a big part in their learning. These parents decided to become more involved in their kids' learning. They noticed the difficulties their children might face in the online learning environment and decided to step in to help their children. They understood that it is natural for children to be distracted and have difficulty with self-discipline in the face of temptation to play. So they schedule their kids' time properly, without over-scheduling them, leaving them plenty of time to work on the class material they have signed up for. They monitor their children's progress by checking their worksheets and urge them to ask questions and use the resources from our Google Classroom. Through these parents devotion of time and effort, we can see their kids improving leaps and bounds, while kids without this support struggle alone.
Often times, parents are too focused on their children learning more knowledge, wanting to stuff their head with as much info as possible. But I believe that is the incorrect approach to education. At PACE, we believe learning to take responsibility for your own work is one of the most important thing children should learn since young, e.g. handing in your work on time and making sure they are the best quality possible. Responsibility comes with being able to prioritize your time and effort, knowing that every opportunity should not be taken for granted. This realization will lead to having proper learning attitude and work habits. If a child possesses the aforementioned abilities, learning any new knowledge will be the easy part of education. However, no child will be able to achieve the above without the support of their parents. Parents need to show the right attitude towards learning. They also need to be willing to devote time to guide their children.
We , as parents, must ask ourselves the following questions :
What does being a good student mean?
Is a good grade all that matters in a child's student life?
Does signing up a child for many classes mean he/she is going to become a good student?
Does our responsibility in our children's education end when we pay for a class or put them in a good school?
What can we, as parents, do to reinforce good learning attitude and good working habit at home?
When we rush our children to do one work after another, are we forcing them to develop the "rushed syndrome" and reinforcing the idea of just "finishing" without regard to the quality of work they produce?
Are we giving our children time to relax, to think, and to develop their passion?
Almost four years ago, my son, Andrew Lin, received early admission to Stanford University and he is currently a third year student there. At that time, he had observed some common mistakes in his fellow schoolmates, so he decided to help younger students to navigate their ways through high school by sharing his experience and observation. At the time, over 150 people attended this talk. Recently, I listened to it again and found it to be relevant and helpful in this time. The sound quality might not be very clear, so please turn on either the English or Chinese subtitles. I hope that parents and children can watch this video together and have a serious conversation afterwards about what is truly important as a student.