Indian-American parents in tri-state express mixed reactions to another six weeks of homeschooling

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New Jersey Department of Education header photo from Twitter. (Photo: Twitter)

This May 4, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared all public schools K-12 will remain closed till the end of the academic year and  private schools until June 30.

That according to Bloomberg news, keeps some 1.4 million children studying online for another six weeks or so, putting paid to hopes kids could soon see their friends and teachers in person.

Three days earlier, May 1, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, made the same announcement, keeping home approximately 3 million kids (2.6 million in 2017-18) according to government data; In Pennsylvania, which has some 500 public schools and 170 charter schools, Gov. Tom Wolf decided this was the best way to go back in early April; Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, which has some 527,829 students in the K-12 program (ctschoolfinance.org), joined the other governors May 5, in declaring K-12 classrooms closed till end of school year. Hundreds of thousands additionally in each of these states, are enrolled in private schools.

“This difficult decision was made based on the guidance from public health experts with a single goal in mind, the safety and well-being of our children and our educators,” Gov. Murphy said, adding that the state simply could not ensure a safe environment for the children because of logistical, educational, and practical hurdles.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s tweet May 5, 2020, regarding school closure. (Photo: Twitter)

No decision has been made yet regarding summer education and other programs yet.

Indian-American parents in the tri-state area interviewed for this report are largely in agreement with the decision of their governors. But they suggest alternate ways to make up any learning deficiency they feel might embedded in prolonged online classes.

In fact, some of them have enrolled kids in extra-learning classes such as Math Genie which has a Home School Support section, or YouTube options, or Khanacademy.org, to name very few.

Some others are extremely satisfied by the study kits and online learning their children are undergoing.

Yet others believe the pandemic has brought to light what could be the shortcomings of online learning which was sometimes quoted as the wave of the future.

For the last several days, anxious New Jersey parents had been asking Chetali Khanna, Hoboken Education Board member, if schools were going to remain closed till year end, and she told them it was a state-level decision, Khanna told Desi Talk. Her 12 and 6 year old kids want to go back to school. Enough of home schooling already. “Kids don’t want to learn from their parents. They already hear enough from them to do this or that,” Khanna joked.

She isn’t happy about the extension. “I’m not thrilled about school closures till June end. But obviously they have to do it for health reasons,” Khanna said.

Upping The Game

“We had to up the game for my son,” said Seema from New Jersey, who did not want her real name to be used. She and her husband have a five year old transitioning to kindergarten this September, who finished all his homework the daycare gave, in the first week after schools closed in March. They began subscribing to a bunch of programs on YouTube and other sites, doing 40 minutes of yoga online, playing virtual tennis, and using the gym when possible. “We are more concerned about his physical health so took care of that.” Book-learning which was now online learning was becoming boring for the overachiever, so studies are made up of “short bursts.”

Seema would love to have her kid’s face-to-face school days back and is not necessarily looking forward to another six weeks of online schooling as both parents work almost full time from home. “But only if there is safety.” That is not something she is sure of. “If one could trust everyone to follow the guidelines when easing of lockdown is started, it might be possible, but …” she is willing to bide the time.

Parents with somewhat older children appear to have an easier time it appears.

Khanna of the Hoboken Education Board says parents shouldn’t stress if kindergarteners are losing six months or a year. As for older kids, they are independent workers mostly. “The closures have affected kids of different ages, differently,” she observes.

Ankur Vaidya, also of New Jersey, has two children, son Krish, 12, who goes into middle school this September, and daughter Tanya, 9. who is in 2nd Grade. He is going with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which require a 14-day plateau in number of cases and deaths, the same as is being followed in New York and New Jersey.

Kids get very agitated with all the talk of Coronavirus he says. His son was extremely concerned when Vaidya was talking to his landscaper through a window at a six-foot distance, for barely a couple of minutes, began shouting, “Dad, Dad, don’t!”

“Even though I had a mask on!” Vaidya says. “Sending them back to school when they are already so worried,” is not something he would like.

Extended School Year

Vaidya suggests an alternative. Extend the school year by a month to end of July with online schooling continuing. Cut the summer vacation to two months, and begin the next academic year as usual in September.

“Schools close on June 20 anyway. How much are the kids going to gain in 30 days that they will not be able to catch up in September?” he opines. Besides, going longer means, “Studies will keep them occupied.”

A Tiger Dad? one could ask. But Vaidya says the kids are already so well acquainted with online studies using Google Docs, I Cloud, etc. Plus his kids are signed on to Math Genie and other programs, all supplemental teaching tools outside of school lessons.

“I think a lot of parents would like Summer School,” Khanna says. “Everyone is realizing that school has a very social aspect alongside the structured teaching environment. Teachers should be put on a pedestal,” for the work they do,” she adds.

Amit Prakash, who taught high school in New York City for 7 years and college for 13 years, before moving to Vermont, is not for extending online teaching by another month.

Teachers as well as their students initially thought online teaching was going to be a temporary, stop-gap measure. “Now a malaise has set in,” according to Prakash, with the extension and the kinds of things especially science students for instance are missing, like real labs.

“They really don’t want to continue this, but if they don’t they lose their jobs,” Prakash said. “I don’t think extending the school year online is a good idea.”

He wonders how many private schools will be able to weather the pandemic, as parents would not be wanting to pay anything from $20,000 to $60,000 a year for online education.

The idea of continuing hours and hours of teaching online would not work. “When they are online, I believe they are not as engaged, or learning as much,” he says from his experience.

Neha Malik of Hoboken, N.J., a mother of a 10-year old son and 5 year old daughter, does not want the school year extended either.

However, as a working mom, she says, she would have liked it if her children were going back to school. But like Seema, she is worried about safety.

She has no problem with the kids having a full summer vacation. “My kids are getting enough studies. They still have the same number of hours, they are not getting anything less than in school,” she contends.

If schools had reopened now, or even at end of June, parents would worry about their children’s health.

“Another plus is that while homeschooling, you get to know what your children are learning,” Malik says. Her 12-year old does all his homework and assignments himself and when he has a problem in Math, he checks in with his Mom, a software engineer.

“With my younger one, I see her work, and am absolutely appreciative of the teachers, much more now than before,” Malik says. She concedes that what’s missing is the “social” aspect of the kids’ life.

In the ultimate analysis, she says, “I don’t think the future of education is online. It’s very important for them to go to school. I would love that. It’s good or the sanity of all at home.”

“Learning at home and learning at school are very different,” Malik says, making the astute observation that, “In school you learn from other children as well.”

Holistic health coach for “overwhelmed moms” Misha Vayner of Armonk, Westchester, NY, is extremely enthusiastic about online education for her three children, a 6-year old, a three and a half year old, and a two and a half year old.

Almost bubbling with the excitement of getting meaningful time with her kids, Vayner says she used to be busy ferrying them from one activity to another before the pandemic. Now she has hours and hours to spend with them, plus be a full-time working mom from home.

“I was disconnected from what they were learning and I was not able to nurture and support the, and know their weaknesses,” she says.

Vayner is all for extending the school year to the end of July. “It’s an opportunity to enjoy, connect and build a new relationship with the kids,” she continues. Her younger two are less affected by being at home so much, she has observed. Her 6-year old misses her friends more, a gap met with driving by their homes and with social media.

The lockdown, Vayner says is giving everyone a perspective about what real priorities are, and on how to educate with minimal resources. “We think they need this whole infrastructure. But my home is not a laboratory where picking up cheerios can teach counting, and spending time with nature.”

In her view, opening schools sooner would set everyone back.

“It’s a good idea to extend online schooling a month more after end of June,” Vayner says. “It gives structure to the children and for us to have school support and the guidance we are getting, it’s only going to be helpful.”

Teacher Prakash differs. From a teacher’s perspective, he says, online teaching is a paradox.

“On the one hand, everybody had the vision of a future where they would be teaching online,” he said.

“But, it’s becoming apparent how grossly inadequate this kind of teaching is. It’s all exposed to everyone,” Prakash says, “It’s not ‘real learning’.”

 

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