Once seen as a fringe choice by a small number of parents, the past weeks have seen home schooling become the norm for almost every child in the world. As we start to prepare our students to move back to a life of standardised tests and brick-and-mortar buildings, it's worth reflecting on the positive learning that may have been happening at home during lockdown.
Initial reports of Covid-19 infections led to social media being filled with posts from parents wanting schools to close to keep their children safe. Then - once the schools did close - parents filled forums with worries that their lack of teaching experience and schools' inexperience with online delivery might mean that their children's education would suffer. Then a new normal set in - these fears were replaced with daily juggling skills of how dining tables would be used to host both parents trying to work and children trying to study at the same time.
• How to explain coronavirus to kids - Nanogirl and PM Jacinda Arden in new video
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Nanogirl Michelle Dickinson - How to avoid Covid 19 at the supermarket
• Nanogirl Michelle Dickinson: Hands down, walking is the way to go
• Nanogirl astonished after thieves return stolen goods
Now, as New Zealand starts to think about sending their children back to physical classrooms and daily routines, it might be time to reflect on some of the life lessons taught through this lockdown period. Lessons which there are no final exams for but will likely stick with us for the rest of our lives.
Without a formal curriculum to guide them, the last few weeks have seen children explore topics from the chemistry of baking bread to the financial literacy of paying bills for characters in their Sims world. While the camping in the garden experience wasn't labelled as astronomy or entomology, talking about the stars at night or identifying which insect just crawled into the sleeping bag were all tied back to traditional achievement standards.
Rather than the strict structure of lesson times and room changes, our children were left to discover in spaces where they could focus on their favourite activities and fill their time learning through play. When successful entrepreneurs and innovators have been interviewed, many talk about moments in their childhood where being allowed to tinker and play without the pressure of assessment as times that gave them the freedom to try things without fear of failure. These times are often referred to as the catalysts that eventually resulted in their long term success.
This time has not been fair to all though, and the digital divide has exacerbated socio-economic inequality for tens of thousands of New Zealand children. This is why the need to go back to school is so important to help access to education being as of the key weapons in breaking the poverty cycle be used again.
Only time will tell on whether this significant change in the education practice has a positive or negative effect on the ways that we measure success in education.
Formal academic studies of students who have been home-schooled long term have shown an increase in overall assessed academic achievement, however it's hard to tell if this is correlation or causation and how it applies to temporary lockdown conditions.
Moving all of our students to home study will have brought parents closer to their children's day-to-day learnings and forced teachers to quickly adapt to technology based ways to share their content.
A decade from now we will all look back on these times with stories to tell of how we survived the great pandemic together. Perhaps a new wave of entrepreneurs will be born from these times. Perhaps schools and their uptake of digital learning will permanently change from this day forwards. Whatever happens, it's been a learning experience for all of us - and one that we might want to take lessons from ourselves as we consider what we want education to look like in the future.