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Opinion & Analysis

Online education presents challenges, but opportunities too

Stephen Ignacio

The decision to delay the opening of schools has proved a difficult one and has split public opinion as teachers, students and parents alike adjust to the challenge of online learning. Here, a young teacher reflects on some of the issues that arise and empathises with students and parents, but urges them to find opportunity in the current circumstances too.

I often talk about gratitude and the contagious effects of actively practicing this. Today, I am feeling the shift and effects of when the exact opposite is practiced and projected.

As a qualified teacher (although not currently employed), who fully understands the hard work all teachers are currently pouring into their jobs, my heart goes out to all teachers reading hurtful comments online.

When you project negativity and put it out into the world, realise that this has an effect and can act as a catalyst to a whole host of decisions that come thereafter.

When you share an opinion publicly, remember that you may not feel this way about an entire profession, or even all your teachers, but this gets back to them all and dampens their spirits. Be mindful about what you say, try to act from a place of reason and not haste or selfishness without consideration of the larger picture. Only say things you would be absolutely happy for every single teacher that is part of your (or your kids’) journey to hear. The negative part of social media is that those sharing comments, who often don’t have the whole picture or don’t explain the whole picture, easily influence public morale and public opinion in an unfair way. Whilst social media can be used in many positive ways, it is also able to spread unfair negativity in the same way.

If you feel the quality of the work you are receiving isn’t good or you don’t understand, ask your teachers (or your kids’ teachers). How amazing is it that you have the means to contact them, that the current set up allows you to do this and that often your teachers are replying and doing their best around the clock? So if you aren’t utilizing this fully, please don’t complain. Teaching is a collaboration, a dialogue where questioning plays a crucial role.

Whilst teachers adapt to the online system, they need your cooperation to be able to emulate the class experience as effectively as possible. If you aren’t using these platforms to instigate conversations and ask questions, reflect on this before publicly placing blame on teachers. Take ownership of this service and experience, be self-motivated and try not to use the method of delivering work as an excuse for your lack of motivation. If you’re struggling with motivation, express this to your teachers. They are there to help and mentor you and will offer their best advice and support.

Those in crucial exam years, realise that everyone else is in the same boat in the UK, that these factors will be considered in the way you get judged. In many cases this will work in your favour. Many students who are from Gibraltar, where we have the privilege of free education and further education, often have unconditional offers to universities and so the ramifications of these decisions don’t affect them as directly.

Yet despite all these positive things we have as Gibraltarians, there are some students taking to social media to spread negativity about the decisions the government has made but also to comment directly about the quality of education they are receiving.

I empathise with these teenagers too. I understand they may feel that their future is being jeopardised through no fault of their own. However, students may gain strength in the realisation that the only thing guaranteed or certain in life is change. Whilst this may cause anxiety, instead of demanding answers, it is useful to take time to find methods of coping and dealing with anxiety. This is something that they will continue to experience throughout life, so having the tools to deal with it is extremely beneficial for the growth of these adolescents.

The journey beyond school is different for everyone. In the absolute worst case scenario, those students would go to university a year later. That gap year may provide them with their first working experience, giving them essential life skills that prepare them better for the university experience. The quality of training they may receive in the UK a year later may, as a result, be better as the pandemic would be better controlled.

In addition, and ironically, this age group will soon realise the reality that a lot of university education is in fact online learning, independent study and self-teaching. As they move into adulthood having this skill to learn in the way they are currently being asked to is a massive positive. And I predict post pandemic more things may be done in this way, very much in the same way that a lot of professions are going digital. This is also education.

Instead of looking at these positives, unfortunately, complaining on social media only fails to inspire teachers. In turn this makes these professionals and humans feel that every hour they have spent adapting and creating new resources for online learning, marking work, creating chat groups so students can contact them directly and answering all individual needs, is being completely overlooked in the general opinion of the public due to the unfair opinions being shared. It’s extremely disheartening to see.

Moreover, it is important to add that many teachers are also parents experiencing the same struggles as those taking to social media to complain publicly. They too are witnessing the struggle experienced by their kids and would prefer to be back in school.

Nobody becomes a teacher because they don’t like kids. All teachers want the best for their students. So maybe use this time to practice gratitude, to learn about compassion for the profession but also others around you who are potentially suffering worse than you or not as lucky as you. Realise we are, as a community, extremely privileged to access free education and further education, and that all teachers are doing their best within the given circumstances. When you focus on the good, the good gets better. So why not be as actively vocal about the things that are working? If some of your teachers are extremely helpful, by putting this out into the world, other teachers may read these comments and implement similar methods, thus improving the situation and morale for all.

Positivity goes a long way and inspires teachers to give even more (if that’s possible), because they feel valued and appreciated.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The teacher who wrote this article submitted the piece and engaged with us openly but asked to remain anonymous on publication. While our normal policy is not to run anonymous opinion pieces, we felt the article raised valuable observations and we were happy to make an exception on this occasion.

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