Family learning: the new normal under lockdown?

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Before this year’s coronavirus-induced lockdown, a connection between school and home had to be forged through things like home visits and school communication planning. Now, the two spaces have been forcibly merged, and parents can’t just decide to be engaged in their children’s education – they need to be engaged. Will family learning be the new normal during the pandemic?

Family learning refers to activities involving both children and adult family members, where both groups have a set of learning objectives. European countries have shown varying degrees of commitment to this approach, with Luxembourg leading the effort – but although family learning has proved hugely impactful and cost-effective, it has not yet entered the mainstream, being mostly funded by NGOs.

In the exceptional circumstances caused by COVID-19, though, family learning is gaining ground. Whether by providing technical support, helping students with their homework or serving as an audience for their work, parents are assisting students in their learning and – crucially – learning alongside them. There may be truth in Ehrenfeld and Gardoqui’s statement: “Students will learn that their parents did not learn math very well, and it is up to them to teach their parents how to solve basic equations using anything other than the standard algorithm.” If nothing else, students will likely be ahead of their parents in terms of IT literacy and – in some cases – knowledge of the local language.

The challenges of this situation cannot be overstated, but every cloud had a silver lining. For one thing, by learning together with their family, students can exercise their right to their mother tongue and home culture and get motivated by a culture of aspiration. Parents, in turn, will have a better idea of what the teacher’s job entails and what their children are learning, especially if using a Learning Management System (LMS) – an online platform for interaction between teacher, pupils and others:

To aid parents in this critical period, teachers can ask them about their needs and organise family feedback or workshops, and policymakers can suggest a model adapted to their country’s context.

Through family learning, we can encourage adult education, break down the artificial barriers between formal, non-formal and informal learning, and fill in the cracks in children’s future that inequality might bring.

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Ismini Georgiadi

Ismini Georgiadi works in Brussels as an Editorial Officer for European Schoolnet. She is in charge of the editorial content on School Education Gateway and manages the day-to-day work on Teacher Academy.