Remote learning
Remote learning puts kids under 'Toxic Stress'. Picture used for illustrative purpose only Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: It made my life hectic, but thanks to hybrid learning, for the first time in eight years, the past year gave me more time with my child.

When schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, many questions came to mind - How would I help my child study while handling work? How will he develop social skills without meeting his classmates and teachers? How will I explain subjects that confuse me (read ‘math’)? And, how will I leave him with un-checked access to the Internet when I return to work?

The first few months were a disaster, even though I was working from home. Work left me little time to ensure assignments were being done during school hours. But, slowly, we found a pattern that worked for us - two hours before office and two hours after were dedicated to schoolwork. It greatly helped that my child’s teachers were understanding of my situation and allowed him to send in assignments by night.

Why I like hybrid learning for my child

Yes, he barely studied by himself and is more interested in Minecraft gameplay videos like any modern-day internet-using eight-year-old. And, on countless occasions, I have found him asleep next to his tablet while the teacher was busy taking a class.

But, from waiting for mum to finish work, to submitting assignments all by himself, I have gradually seen my little one grow independent.

Urmimala Sinha, a clinical psychologist at Primacare Clinic in Dubai told Gulf News: “If done properly, hybrid learning can make children more independent as you need to set your own goals, work on them and submit your assignments on time. It enhances self-discipline and self-regulation. But, a lot depends on the child’s motivation and interest level.”

Looking back, I have grown to like hybrid classes much better than physical school, and here is why.

Till last year, like many working mums in Dubai, I would only get to see my son in the morning. Those days, all our combined energies went into getting the little one out of bed, into the shower, into school clothes, and out of the door in time while trying to ensure both dad and son left with the right lunch boxes. By the time I returned from work, he would be asleep. It was only on weekends that I would get to play with him.

Why is this important?

Long work hours and a packed learning schedule have reduced the time children spend with their parents. Sangeeta Manglani, a Dubai-based connection coach who works with parents and children, explains: “Whether the pandemic has had a positive or negative impact on children in their formative years is not something black and white. It has many shades of grey, depending on the family situation and the mindset of the family, as a whole."

Although at the face of it, children were deprived of stimulus contact with others and the environment, never before, in modern history have parents especially both parents, spent so much time and energy with their children in one place. In some way, this has allowed for, even though a forced one, an opportunity to reconnect or connect, create memories, and evaluate priorities. It allowed for rediscovering life’s simple pleasures and scope for a much stronger ability to express emotions, care, and concern.”

In the past year, I finally got to meet my son in the true sense. I learnt what an entertaining character he has. I was amazed at how much he knew - he was using big words that I had learnt much later in life. I was shocked when I found that my little villain had figured out that the incognito mode on the internet browser would bypass a blocker I had installed to keep him from playing games during school hours. It forced me to learn how to get into the system registry on our laptop, to disable the incognito mode altogether.

- Evangeline Elsa, Social Media Editor

In the past year, I finally got to meet my son in the true sense. I learnt what an entertaining character he has. I was amazed at how much he knew - he was using big words that I had learnt much later in life. I was shocked when I found that my little villain had figured out that the incognito mode on the internet browser would bypass a blocker I had installed to keep him from playing games during school hours. It forced me to learn how to get into the system registry on our laptop, to disable the incognito mode altogether.

It made me realise that even with all parental controls checked, I have to ensure I spend those extra minutes every day to go through the history tab on our browser to ensure my child is not exposed to any age-inappropriate content.

It also made me an expert listener, where he would talk to me excitedly about a new game or cartoon, and I would listen carefully to know what he was watching. It's something we do every evening.

Earlier, were after-school phone calls, with me repeatedly asking my child what he had learnt in school that day, met with the standard reply, “eh… nothing”. Now, he calls me every few hours to clarify a doubt or waits for me to get back home to tell me what lessons he was able to complete and what he needs help with.

Boredom made him creative. In the past year, he read more books, heard more songs, watched more movies, figured out how to play some of his favourite tunes on a keyboard, learned to ride a bike, grew less scared in a swimming pool, and helped out in the kitchen more. He even made a new friend, Don, a nine-year-old boy living on the other side of the high wall of our terrace. They never saw each other for eight months but became the best of friends, discussing their favourite games, passing toys over the fence, playing ball, and sharing cakes or other treats I would bake him. There are no words to explain the happiness on their faces when the two friends met for the first time in January.

Boredom made my son creative. In the past year, he read more books, heard more songs, watched more movies, figured out how to play some of his favourite tunes on a keyboard, learned to ride a bike, grew less scared in a swimming pool, and helped out in the kitchen more. He even made a new friend, Don, a nine-year-old boy living on the other side of the high wall of our terrace. They never saw each other for eight months but became the best of friends, discussing their favourite games, passing toys over the fence, playing ball, and sharing cakes or other treats I would bake him. There are no words to explain the happiness on their faces when the two friends met for the first time in January.

- Evangeline Elsa, Social Media Editor

Another favourite reason is the fact that my son fell ill only twice in the last 14 months. I am sure many parents will agree that when children attend a physical school, they fall ill every few months. Fevers and blocked noses are a regular feature.

According to Dr Nitin Verma, consultant pediatrician and allergist at Kings College Hospital in Dubai: “Kids at home is a different playing field altogether as compared to when kids are all together in schools and nurseries. When schools were closed, we saw minimal infections.”

In fact, Dr Verma added, there was a significant surge in infections over the last couple of months when schools and nurseries reopened. “I saw all the winter viruses in the middle of summer! Interestingly, data from the US has also highlighted a similar pattern in the increase of viral illnesses,” he said.

Social interactions

But, does being away from school affect a child’s development in terms of not meeting other children, and making friends?

Dr. Sinha explained: “Social stimulation and communication skills are greatly compromised when studying from home. Meeting friends, having a chat, sharing lunch and play are huge outlets that children miss out due to online studies.”

To tackle this issue, after moving to a new apartment, I started taking my child out to the play area, where he made friends. And, he meets them on most days after I return from work.

Hybrid learning best of both worlds

Last week, my son’s assessment reports came in. I was mentally prepared to see that his grades were not up to expectation. But, I heaved a sigh of relief when all the columns were marked with “good” or “better than expected”, even math. Our hard work had paid off, and we are ready for the next grade.

Even though it is difficult for working parents to help children with daily assignments, with some extra effort, I think hybrid learning is the best of both worlds, and I am in no hurry to send my son back to school.