The challenges of distance learning

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Published: Thu 21 Jan 2021, 11:24 PM

I was sitting on my couch this week, making ambitious plans for the year and one of my student’s mother texted me to say that schools would be officially closing for two weeks. Reason? A spike in cases.

By Malavika Varadan, managing director, The Hive

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I sighed. I thought I heard a million mothers across the UAE sigh simultaneously. “Not again,” I thought. Distance learning has not been easy. What started as a week off school turned into months and now nearly a year of disruption. It hasn’t been easy on the kids. And it certainly hasn’t been easy on mothers — stay-at-home mothers, working mothers, single mothers and mothers who are also teachers. There have been tears and lowered grades, disagreements and frustrations, worries and higher work loads, and a sense that we are working and learning on a sort of stationary machine — where we run but we don’t get very far.

It’s been a year now, of us trying to cope with the new normal and those of us who work closely with children can see the impact it has had on them. They struggle to concentrate, with a million ways to get distracted now a swipe away. They struggle with making connections and they struggle with communicating how they feel. They struggle to feel seen and heard in a classroom that now looks like a screen filled with black circles, initials and profile pictures. It’s been equally difficult for teachers who have never been trained on making videos, or conferencing their way through lessons.

What we need now more than ever, is empathy. You see, this is a country whose population comprises mostly of expats. This means that most of us live without a support system. We rely on the kindness of friends and colleagues to get us through difficult times. This means that we are in constant fear of losing our jobs and income. It means that a bad month at work could mean more than just losing our livelihoods. It means that life as we know it crumbles for us.

As one friend of mine put it, “I feel like I have run out of sympathy currency. How much longer will my co-workers think it’s cute when my four-year-old disturbs my presentation?” Now more than ever, as colleagues and leaders, as teachers and parents, we need to hold a hand out to those who are “juggling and struggling” and tell them that we see and hear them. You will find them by the coffee machine getting their fourth cup of the day, dark circles under their eyes, furiously typing WhatsApp messages to teachers and older family members, hoping that they aren’t seen as slacking.

I urge you to take five minutes out of your day today and call someone in your circle who is feeling this pressure. To reassure them that we are still in a pandemic and that their struggle is not being seen as a bunch of excuses.

We may have vaccines, and we may not be banging plates and lighting candles on our balconies anymore, but the problem is far from over. And the only way we will keep the fabric of this community together is to show kindness and grace to those who truly build a safer and better tomorrow.

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