If we’ve learned anything from the extended lockdowns that Victoria had last winter, Greater Sydney needs to stare down the barrel of a worst case scenario and strap in. This roller coaster is not the one you find at a theme park.
1.2 million school aged kids in New South Wales and their parents have high tensions today as they embark on another unwelcome slumber party of homeschooling. Despite being in this situation before, parents and teachers are permeated with concerns about this recent lockdown and what it means for education, and their sanity. Parents find it challenging to navigate home learning and often resort back to their own ways that they were taught. So who needs to hold the responsibility for a child's education during these challenging time; is it the teacher or the parents and how can we better equip everyone to create an amazing educational space for children at home?
Around 700,000 of these students in NSW are in the critical stages of K-6 where kids are still learning the heartland of literacy, that one skill that sits beneath all others to ensure kids have a prosperous life of learning anything they wish in the future. And yes, illiteracy is a real issue in Australia, with the ABS reporting that 44% of Australian adults are unable to read above a level 1 or 2, the 2 lowest levels reported of the 5 stage levelling system set up by the OECD in 2017.
There are a series of COVID learning catch up task forces now, but the question still remains how are they working? And what can be done now to support teachers, parents and students to minimise the impact of “catch up” and get smarter about what we can do today that will help.
A local Sydney education startup in literacy, Cleverbean, has taken matters into their own hands back in March this year. Cofounder, Lucy Chambers who has been a passionate primary school teacher for the last 12 years set up a new literacy platform with ex Qantas executive, Alina Hunter who was responsible for building some of the airlines most successful digital products. The powerful female duo have taken on one of Australia’s biggest problems in literacy in a way that’s been seen nowhere else globally, where their philosophy to learning and literacy starts with empowering and supporting teachers with lessons curated by a select few of Australia’s best teachers. No mind numbing apps to stick your kids in front of, rather focusing on creativity, hands on activities, minimal equipment and easy setup to get the best literacy engagement amongst all types of learners. Each one of these primary school reading lessons have a step by step lesson flow, as well as add ons including how to give feedback and how to assess if a child is picking up the key concepts targeted within that lesson. These features mean that any teacher, parent or carer could pick up a lesson and run with it.
Against all advice, they’ve also made the platform free so that every teacher and parent in the struggles of COVID can be supported with no strings attached or any more paperwork. Teachers can sort and filter through over 300 quality explicit reading lessons to meet their students' needs, ranging from core skills (such as comprehension, phonics, fluency and others), ability level and other keywords, all linked back to the Australian curriculum for maximum teacher confidence.
Chambers says “Even without COVID, the resources available to teachers that will result in great student outcomes are really few and far between”, she add’s “Unless you’ve got the time to be committed to the scroll hole of social media to find good ideas, and have enough experience, skill and insight on every child to make the most of some of the good ideas out there, you really are left with a huge pile of outdated and uninspiring mechanisms to teach kids literacy and set them up to handle what’s to come in their education. It’s not good enough, all teachers know it and are screaming for help to support the wide range of abilities in their classroom.”
So what’s the plan? How do we prepare better for these lock downs? Chambers says “You need a plan. You need explicit instruction for students, and you need hands on activities that will keep them occupied for longer than 10 minutes at a time, and you need a clear way to assess outcomes, so both the teacher, the student, and the parents know what they are working on, why, and how it relates to their learning. Our platform gives you the tools to do all of this.”
Other things Chambers recommends for parents is to set your home up as a place for learning. Create a reading nook; somewhere that’s comfy, new and fun kids can go a few times a day and just pick up a new book to read. Stock the house with books from your local library and get some basic tools for kids such as Post-it notes, a mini whiteboard, some markers, play dough and coloured pencils. They even have lessons that use egg cartons, muffin tins and other household items to fit with their no-fuss set up and sustainability values.
Chambers leaves a final note “This is not a time to wait for a Government to tell you what to do. People need to step up, speak with their peers and share what’s working for them. The community of our teachers and parents need to be stronger than ever as they navigate this time where the only certainty is that times will be uncertain for some time longer, and that like always, we need to keep finding new and effective ways to develop kids' learning, and take it into our own hands.”
Want to try for yourself? Join free today at cleverbean.co