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What I learnt during Home-Based Learning

01 May 2020

#6 during her English lesson

#6 during her English lesson

While our children picked up new tech skills and got used to Home-Based Learning, what did the parents learn? Michelle Wee, mother of six children (three in primary and secondary school) reflects.

Over the past three weeks, I have been observing how six of my children have been handling their remote learning. Three of the younger ones are doing Home-Based Learning (HBL), while the older ones are on full online learning in Polytechnic and University.

With so many children, one of my top priorities has always been to make them independent from a young age. From the time they entered Primary 1, they were fully in charge of their homework, spelling and tingxie revision, and tests. 

HBL would be the litmus test as I do believe that remote learning comes easier for those who are organised and independent. 

Otherwise, parents have to step in a lot to handhold them, remind them or nag at them. 

The importance of independence

At the end of the three weeks, I can say that my five girls have managed their remote learning wonderfully. I can’t say the same for my son.

HBL works well for a child like my seven-year-old daughter, #6. It took me two weeks to teach her how to log in, where to check for her assignments, how to take photos of her offline work and air drop it to the computer and upload it into SLS. 

Thereafter, she was on auto-pilot. Organised, self-motivated, disciplined, eager to learn… I don’t have to bother about her at all. She wakes up, has her breakfast and goes into SLS to check her homework for the day. She gets everything done, and is punctual and waiting for her daily 12pm lesson to commence. It is totally hands-off for me. The only problem she faces is with Chinese, as she sometimes can’t read the instructions and we have to help her with that. 

As for #5, my son who is in Secondary 2, HBL has been a nightmare. He is an experiential learner, and doing worksheets has always been a struggle for him. His favourite subjects in school are Design and Technology and Science.

Even when he was in school before HBL started, he got by with a lot of scolding, punishment and staying back during recess to get his work up to scratch. 

With HBL, all these issues are compounded. It is hard for his teachers to reach out to him to provide help when he refuses to go online 1-1 with them. They have no choice but to text me daily to get him to complete his work. When I asked him why, he stared at me incredulously, saying, “Why would I want to face-time my teacher? That is just too awkward.” He gives his teachers a huge headache with his backlog of uncompleted work and it is hard for me to help him as I am busy with my own work and running the household.

My experience over this period makes me think that HBL doesn’t get a child to be independent quickly. A child who is already independent and self-motivated adjusts easily to HBL. But for the kids who are not, HBL is hardly an adequate replacement for school.

Teachers’ ups and downs

#4 is in Secondary 4 and will be having her O-Levels this year. Her class has live lessons every hour for the different subjects. Being able to peer over her shoulder, I admire the teachers’ patience! It seems like the teaching is probably the easiest part of the job and they are so passionate about it. The hardest part is to get the kids to be motivated enough to pay attention fully, do their revision or complete their homework to a good standard. It takes two hands to clap.

#4 studying for her O-Levels
#4 studying for her O-Levels

I have seen teachers very quick to provide additional help and guidance to students. For example, #6 missed out on a few chapters of her listening comprehension while she was on LOA just before the official start of HBL. I didn’t expect her teacher to offer to get online immediately and conduct the lesson with her 1-1. #6 was so happy to see her teacher on screen, and to have her full attention.

I have also sensed some teachers’ frustration at students’ apathy in the face of upcoming O-Level exams. One teacher has been expressing this in my daughter’s class WhatsApp chat group. I can totally imagine his frustration at his students, but they are also going through a lot. 

I remember one of my older girls was faring really badly for Chemistry during the mid-year exams. But for the O-Levels she did really well. She said that she would never forget how her Chemistry teacher never gave up on her even though she felt like giving up on herself. The O-Levels is a tough year, and the students do need their teachers to journey with them through to the end. I guess it is so much harder to do it remotely. Stay strong, teachers!

A special bond

HBL has brought the classroom into our homes. We get to listen to the teachers talk to their students, we get to see the relationship they have fostered with our children. It is heartening to see the care and concern from their teachers. And this episode has brought out a special bond between parents and teachers, as we are helping and encouraging one another as we overcome all our technical challenges together!

We were all forced to embrace remote learning, but this has opened up many new options and platforms, and there are many benefits that we can continue to utilise for learning in the long term.

Education has always been a partnership between the school and the home and HBL has really brought that home to us.

Take the rough with the smooth

#4 loves HBL! No more walking home from school in the hot sun. No time wasted on transport. 

She wakes up at 8am instead of 6.30am and is all done by 3pm. She is still full of energy, so she can spend a good few hours on her hobbies, too. She enjoys crafts like knitting and weaving, and is creating her own line of jewellery. She has even sold some of her products online! She is not academically inclined and studying for hours is stressful for her. This is a great way to destress and relax as the pressure of the O-Levels is mounting and her teachers are rallying them to revise harder.
#4’s crafts and jewellery
#4’s crafts and jewellery

On the downside, she was initially disappointed that the volleyball competition season was cancelled. This is her last year in school and she was really looking forward to it. Not only was the competition itself exciting, but the whole experience of taking the bus to the different venues was a fun bonding time for the students as she had made many good friends across the different classes and streams.

But she got over it quickly, knowing that well, that’s just how life is. My kids have gone though many ups and downs in life and they are resilient and understand that life is unpredictable and it helps if we try to stay positive, focus on the silver lining instead of what we have lost or is not within our control.

Room for creativity

Our kids have been taking this difficult period and constant changes in their stride and have come up with family bonding activities to keep their spirits up. We had a family candlelight dinner where each member cooked their favourite dish – even the youngest #6 contributed a yummy quesadilla dish! 
The family and our helper cooking dinner together
The family and our helper cooking dinner together

We have movie nights, dance nights, board game nights to break the monotony of being cooped up at home. They do miss going out and miss their friends, and have been keeping connected with the various online platforms. I have also relaxed my screen-time limits to buy myself time to work in peace and they have been playing online games with their cousins and friends.

#6 has also been writing snail mail to her classmates, and they are surprising one another with little trinkets and craft. Opening the mailbox has become a fun past time! 
#6’s snail mail that is going out to a classmate
#6’s snail mail that is going out to a classmate

So, what have we learnt as a family? Discipline, responsibility, self-motivation, good time management, self-control, pride in handing in a good piece of work versus rushing through it just to get it submitted… These are much needed traits to nurture. Not only for our children, but us adults, too. These will stand us in good stead in the years to come.

And there are many little lessons along the way that we may have not noticed before. For instance, #2, now in her first year of law school, had to complete her exams from home. The younger ones in the family have learnt to be understanding and considerate, by staying absolutely silent during exam hours so their older sister can focus. 

Now that’s a lesson worth learning that will last long beyond the end of the circuit breaker.