Improved digital skills and independence

As the Netherlands is slowly emerging from the worst of its lockdown, some teachers, pupils and parents have been taking stock and looked at the effects of the corona lockdown on education in schools. There have been some drawbacks, but school pupils in the Netherlands have improved their digital skills and become more independent in their work. It is a far cry from the so-called ‘corona generation’; in which pupils were said to fall behind, with negative effects that would last for the rest of their lives. So, what have been some of the key lessons of digital homeschooling?

“I often see the whole family sitting on the other side of the Zoom camera. Dressed up. The parents wear neat clothes, the girls have put on make-up. Boys have extra gel in their hair. I get a view into the lives of my pupils, and we have meaningful conversations,” Dutch language teacher Hartger Meihuizen from Drenthe told De Volkskrant, explaining his pupils have worked very hard during this time. “Wonderful, this home-schooling. Can’t we keep it going?” wrote weekly Vrij Nederland, and educational advisor and coach Stan Put told Trouw newspaper: “During the corona crisis, children have simply been taught their lessons and learned many additional skills.” These were some of the comments on homeschooling. Others mentioned the feared absence of pupils was only partially justified, as schools were keeping a record of absences as well as pupils’ general well-being.

On time and organised
Looking at this in more detail, many pupils in the Netherlands are said to have improved their self-discipline and independence skills during home schooling. “Everyone has had to adapt. This required flexibility, creativity, resilience, cooperation and humour. Our children learned that. With lifelong impact,” wrote Stan Put. Karin den Heijer, a teacher from Rotterdam, told De Volkskrant she has observed a number of underachievers flourish: “They are often pupils who can do a lot, but seem unmotivated because they are bored. Now they ask questions. Suddenly their work is finished on time. It works better if they can organise their time themselves.”

“It is striking that three-quarters of pupils say they have grown in independence,” said school principal Alexander Volmer of secondary school Ichthus Lyceum in Noordhollands Dagblad about the pupils at his school. He was one of the roughly 100 teachers and 1,200 pupils and parents who were surveyed in June, and said: “They also take steps in planning and organising their work, and actually do what they intend to do. These skills are important for our pupils to learn, because they often determine future success in study and careers.”

Up for the digital challenge
Whilst a pupil’s progress can be followed digitally, there are scheduled phone calls, video conferences and other forms of contact with the teacher, writes Put, highlighting that the technology side of digital teaching has turned out to bring with it some inherent benefits too. Classrooms and lecture halls were exchanged for hangouts, there were YouTube lessons and live streams, and chat boxes facilitated teacher questions and comments. Even some ‘older’ teachers have been throwing themselves into the deep end, and have created special learning environments, answered questions via chat and recorded videos which they edited themselves.

Volkan Tasdan, a social sciences teacher from Noord-Brabant, said that digital education challenges pupils: “They can look up information at lightning speed. Pupils can do more than you think. They surprise themselves.” He explained how his pupils submitted assignments that were made in more detail than they might otherwise have been, sometimes during the weekend; or gained a deeper understanding of his explanations by being able to look them up online. “My passive pupils are now more active. They dare to do more,” he said, adding there is scope for material in textbooks to be adapted to this ‘new world’ of social media and search engines.

Nice and quiet
Many pupils also reported on their improved productivity due to the quieter environment. Meihuizen said: “Many pupils can concentrate better and dare to ask more questions, and I can give them my full attention. Other pupils do not talk at the same time, a colleague does not suddenly walk in. The school can be a chaotic world.” In a similar light, pupil Robine Wilts, 14, told De Volkskrant: “I am more peaceful. I am easily distracted at school, but in Zoom I don’t hear others talking constantly. When the living room is full, I can go to my room. There I only hear the birds outside.” Zee Cosgun, 16, said: “At school I often feel like I’m wasting my time. But at home I can do a nine-hour school day in three hours.”

In a Vrij Nederland article, which focused on how parents who have seen their children flourish whilst studying at the kitchen table, one parent observed newly-found enthusiasm and energy in her daughter since learning at home, and improved maths and language skills. “My daughter says she can concentrate better because she is not distracted by classmates, and I can guide her more, and focus on the things she finds difficult,” she said.

What to do in the future?
Although some teachers missed the body language aspect of communication and experienced extra time pressure during digital teaching, some will take on board what they have learned, such as being able to have a better overview of the work of their pupils, with insights in to how they work and plan. Take Volmer’s school, which is determined to maintain a digital platform in which pupils can review lessons, find assignments and support each other. The slow process of the much-needed digitisation of education in schools was accelerated by the corona crisis, writes the government, and as De Volkskrant put it: “Physical education, with a teacher in the classroom, is starting again. Nevertheless, distance education has gained its place, everyone agrees on that.” So, is digital home education here to stay? Time will tell, but some valuable lessons have been learned.

Written by Femke van Iperen