MAY 2020
According to Associate Professor Sue
Nichols of the University of South
Australia, in the current circumstances of
the COVID-19 pandemic, schools can
support parents in the transition to home-
schooling by providing a better
understanding of online tools and clearer
communication channels.
While many schools have implemented digital
learning in the curriculum, parents may have
limited current awareness of the particular
approaches, tools and resources used.
“There needs to be consistency regarding the digital platforms and tools being used by schools for
parents to successfully support their children’s learning at home. The current circumstances may
increase parents’ interest in finding out more, so systems and schools should consider providing
parent learning resources including online workshops for them,” Professor Nichols says.
She suggests that there are a number of key ways that schools can support parents in the transition
to learning at home
Firstly, a range of communication channels needs to be available to parents. Even when schools
have implemented online platforms, which include home-school communication, these will not be
used by all families. A study in 2017 found that a digital bulletin board and forum was used by
‘relatively few’ parents. Therefore, schools need to provide the same information to parents via a
number of channels.
Associate Professor Nichols also points out that families’ resourcing differs greatly. Some families
only have digital phones, which she holds is the least optimal way to access online learning.
“However with the economic downturn, families’ ability to purchase needed equipment may well
be decreased,” she says.
Learning resources, such as web pages, instructions on accessing online materials and the
teaching materials themselves, need to be translated into non English languages, as research
shows that a minority of school websites provide information in languages other than English.
Along with accessible resources and language, clear communication is also critical.
“Just as in our schools, the parent community includes individuals with learning disabilities and
difficulties that may or may not have been diagnosed. This may become more of an obstacle when
a large amount of learning material is being sent home through online channels, and where parents
are expected to support home schooling. School communications need to be written in clear,
understandable language, avoiding cluttered screens, complex sentences and multiple hyperlinks.
Numbered lists and dot points, with carefully chosen relevant images are advised.”
There has been very little research on parents with learning difficulties and online support.
However, studies show that parents appreciate teachers sending photos, video and texts, and that
a “lack of visual and nonverbal cues” can make communication hard for parents to ‘decode’.
Establishing boundaries are another important aspect of the home-schooling transition, Associae
Professor Nichols maintains. Specifically, boundaries that protect educators.
“Implementing home-school digital communication can have impacts on teachers’ work by
potentially extending the times during which parents will attempt to access teachers. One response
would be to communicate to parents and students the times in which teachers will be available to
respond to their enquiries. Principals may wish to communicate that teachers will be responding
to emails during specific times and may direct their staff to set up out-of-office replies at other
times,” Associate Professor Nichols continues.
An important thing to do when transitioning to home-schooling is to see home-based learning as
an opportunity to expand horizons.
It is well known that the official school curriculum gives some students more opportunities to shine
than others. However, home-based activities can enrich children’s learning, without the need to
turn them into school-like tasks. Associate Professor Nichols says: “Planting, growing and cooking
vegetables and herbs, for instance, is of inherent value. Encourage parents and children to share
these activities; teachers can then bring a more explicitly pedagogical perspective, taking the
pressure off parents to become teachers.”
Lastly, personalisation is appreciated, Associate Professor Nichols notes.
“Parents are interested in their own child’s learning and they appreciate their child receiving
individualised attention from the teacher,” she says. While digital tools can offer personalisation in
the sense that the system provides individual tracking and feedback, this is not the same as a
teacher’s attention. In the home-schooling context, this may mean a weekly online meeting
between teacher and child which the parent can either attend, or which can be recorded for later
viewing by the parent.
Research shows that students need teacher support to recognise the educational value of out-of-
school learning experiences, and that parents are not told often always aware of their children’s
digital activities at school.
Associate Professor Nichols is hopeful that these key points will guide schools, systems and
teachers in how to support parents.