*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
The effects of the pandemic on education have been far-reaching for all ages. With education being interrupted globally—affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 200 countries—it is still unknown what effect the last 18 months has had on children’s learning.
In Qatar, schools shut their doors on 10 March 2020, reopening on a blended learning basis the following September for the 2020/2021 school year. What followed months later was another lockdown, quarantines, and another round of blended learning. This uncertainty around whether children will or won’t be in school and the lack of consistency has affected children to various degrees. Add to that the changing goalposts as the country battled to get the pandemic under control, and it’s easy to see that the world they knew was snatched from underneath their feet.
On the one hand, younger children have had to adapt to ad-hoc school openings and limited time in the classroom to hone new skills that had to be left to home learning. And older children have had to deal with cancelled exams and delayed university admissions.
On the other hand, these changes have meant more time together for some families and less stressful mornings. Evidently, blended learning has brought out a tapestry of experiences.
Take our teachers. They pulled out all the stops thinking up creative and innovative ways to motivate and inspire children online and at school. Their hard work and dedication have been a credit to them all. They faced each hurdle while thinking of the children despite teaching in new and not ideal ways. Sophie*, a local international school teacher, says that this has been the most difficult 18 months of her long-spanning teaching career. But despite that, she says that her students have seemed to be happy and thriving.
As the saying goes, “we are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm”. That has certainly been the case for the families in the thick of this. Laura, a mother to three children under nine, says that blended learning has been a negative experience for her family. Compounded by the fact she had just moved to Qatar during this time, she has found that her children have struggled socially in ways she couldn’t imagine. Strictly moderated break times had stunted spontaneous game playing. And social distancing in class has made it harder for her children to interact with others.
Additionally, collaborative exercises and group work have had to stop so that children can maintain their distance. She says: “My children are stressed and anxious in a way they weren’t before. They cannot see the end of the restrictions because every time there appears to be a chink of light, it is taken away, and they are plunged back into restrictions. They never know when their friends will be taken away, or when they will be locked back into the house for an indeterminate period of time.”
Mary*, a mother to two young boys, agrees. She also says that she found herself shouting more and feeling unnecessary stress, which impacted her relationship with her children. Those tough days took a lot out of them all as a family, and she believes that she is still recovering from them.
Pandemic online schooling cannot replicate traditional school nor homeschool—it is very much “crisis schooling”. Add in working parents and, as Ann discovered, the guilt is magnified. She could not take time off during the pandemic to help her children through their new schooling experience. This guilt, compounded by the pressure of trying to maintain and meet the demands of her full-time job, was troubling for her mental health.
Josie*, a mother to two schoolchildren and a toddler, found that trying to balance keeping her toddler entertained while attempting to help her young children with their online assignments had spread her thin. “I felt that no one was getting the best of me and the time with my children became stressful and unenjoyable—for all of us,” she says. She wasn’t alone in this as Emma, a mum with a school-aged child and a toddler, had a similar experience. Emma also worked from home, so the stress levels in her household were at another level.
While many parents of young children struggled to navigate the new school system with their children, those with older children faced different challenges. Naaz*, a mum to two teenage daughters, said that her children were mostly motivated to do their school work. Instead, her worries centred around their lack of social interaction with other teenagers. She felt that she saw them start to blatantly avoid connecting with friends through Zoom and other technological methods. This lack of social interaction and the inability to go out and grow independently when it came to older children was a concern echoed by many parents. But as restrictions started easing and the vaccine became available for over-12s, Naaz says her children are blossoming again.
Still, it was not all doom and gloom. Yasmeen, a mother to one, reflects positively on the experience. She found that it highlighted to her that traditional schooling wasn’t working for her son. She found that her son was much more engaged with tasks that the school did not set. As a result, she now feels that the education system should take into account the changing digital world and spend less time on traditional subjects and more on cultivating children’s talents and creativity. It has led to her considering taking her child out of formal education and embracing home education—something many other families are also now considering.
This is particularly true for Steph, a mother to three, who toyed with the idea of home education before this experience. Her children’s response to being educated by her and the freedom she found in following their interests led her to finally take the leap to full-time home education.
Sarah*, a mum whose daughter was in FS2, also found it to be a positive experience. She enjoyed the fewer early starts and the less time spent preparing lunch and snacks and commuting to school. She says that she connected with her daughter more and enjoyed teaching her to the best of her ability.
Rebecca*, a parent to three, says that blended learning made her children more excited about their in-school days. They had a higher appreciation for being within the school environment and being with their friends. Because of this, she feels that her children benefited more on in-school days and were more engaged with school than ever before.
It’s safe to say that blended learning brought out a rollercoaster of experiences that were as diverse as the families involved. But one constant thing has been the hard work and dedication of teachers throughout the pandemic. The varying responses to blended learning do not reflect the effort they have put in—teachers in Qatar have a lot to be proud of regardless.
As vaccination rates continue to climb, that glimmer of light indicating a return to a more vibrant, pandemic-free school life for children seems to shine brighter. But until then, all that parents, teachers, and educators can do is to continue with their best efforts to help children through this storm that everyone has been facing.