“In our house we have five people and only four laptops”: how parents cope with a new series of virtual schools
As kids embark on yet another round of virtual schools, parents fret about their children’s education, enraged by last-minute government decisions and stressed beyond imaginable. We asked a few parents in Toronto what they are going through now.
“When I first heard about back to virtual school, my first thought was: forgive my tongue—F the Government of Ontario. I was incredibly angry. My son, Bemi, is in grade 2 and last year there was not a single case of Covid in his class. His school took all the necessary precautions over the summer to protect students from the Covid: there are only 15 children per class, and they keep a row of windows open for ventilation. But because other schools can’t do the same, we’re all cut short. I don’t see virtual learning as a real school. The first time around, Bemi was instructed by a number of substitute teachers who told him to go to YouTube or do a math game for an hour.
“I work in my clinic or shoe office every day, and my husband, who works in finance, works from home in his basement office. This means that our seven year old is basically alone without supervision for most of the day. My husband is supposed to return to the office in March. If Bemi is still in the virtual school, I face the possibility of having to reduce my clinic hours, which will have a financial impact.
“It is virtually impossible to keep Bemi engaged in the virtual school. He’ll leave his iPad and start playing games, or leave his room and go play basketball. He’s tech-savvy, so sometimes he turns off the camera and blames it on technical difficulties. I think as long as he’s doing something creative and using his brain, he’s fine. He creates things like planes and pulley systems, and makes robots or buildings out of cardboard.
“He’s a lot more irritable when learning virtual. When he’s at school he can run around and be with his friends, but when he’s at the computer all day he’s bored and frustrated, sometimes to the point of throwing things and yelling. Now I can’t even tell him that spending all day in front of a screen is bad for him because he has to do it for school.
“At my job, I can see the physical toll this has on parents. They come with headaches, migraines, neck pain, back pain, etc. Before the pandemic, when I saw patients get to this point, I would recommend that they quit their jobs. Now I can’t say anything. It is really dark.
Tyler clark burke
“My husband and I have two children, ages eight and nine, and virtual school is generally bad for us. My son has spent the entire last year of virtual school on the mat, lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling. Over time, I noticed how much this affected his social development. He is barely able to talk to anyone and has stopped making eye contact with people. Things are going well for him now, but I approach this containment differently. I will work harder to find opportunities for him to talk with his friends. This cycle of online learning is neither sustainable nor healthy for our family.
“When the government announced it was postponing school for only two days, I laughed because it was so funny. It was all a slow train wreck. I’m angry with the way Stephen Lecce and Doug Ford handled things. A month ago, what had to happen was so obvious: red alert, stop everything. Last minute decision making is inexcusable. At the same time, I’m relieved that the children don’t have to go back to school because it didn’t feel right to send them away. I knew everyone in our house would get sick and we would go through a never-ending cycle of symptoms and isolation.
“During virtual school, I was basically just a tech support for my kids and ended up completely losing my own sense of purpose and self-esteem. As a parent, I am so exhausted that it is almost impossible to stand up and protest. We just don’t have a voice.
“When I heard the announcement of the virtual school, I felt a mixture of anger and relief. Anger because our government is reactive instead of proactive, and relief because I knew it was the right decision. It’s not sure to have everyone inside right now. And yet having four people in the house during the day – me, my husband and our two daughters – in a little two bedroom house is difficult. We need to plan who can sit where in the house down to the minute; the in-room desk is reserved for those attending a live meeting. I am a teacher and guidance counselor, and my husband works in a non-profit association. Our two jobs can be quite sensitive. I often have Zoom meetings with students where I discuss topics that I don’t want my seven- and nine-year-olds to hear.
“My oldest daughter loves online school and jokes that all she wants is to stay home watching movies and playing video games. My younger daughter hates it. She is terribly annoyed by the slow pace. The teacher speaks and the students can only speak one at a time. Last year, she cried every morning before going online. I would give him a pep talk even though I generally felt the same way. As a teacher, I feel like crying before I zoom in in class. Nobody wants to be there, and everything is horrible on Zoom. It is difficult for the teachers as we have to keep the strong, despite the dead eyes and the children pretending to be careful while playing on their phones.
“As a teacher, I have seen a lot of difficult behavior in the classroom. Children do not seem to be able to listen or follow instructions. They struggle with judgment and decision making and confidence. I give them homework and they will ask me a million questions on how to do it instead of just interpreting the instructions on their own like they would have done a few years ago. Our children need a lot more freedom than we are giving them now. Much more.”
“I normally share childcare responsibilities for my eight and two year old sons with his mother, who lives nearby. As an arts administrator, I have the option of working from home, so I collect and return and often take care of them after school. If there is anything that I have learned during the pandemic, it is that everything is going to be announced incredibly at the last minute. There are several steps parents need to think about before government announcements are made because none of them can be relied upon. I hope that during these two weeks the post-vacation workload will improve. I’m tired of hearing government officials say they’ve done everything they can to protect children when two days later they fall to a standstill. As a parent, I seek as much certainty as possible to manage my schedule so that I can continue to work. Having my kids at home seems like the easiest option, even if it means going to work nights and weekends so I can take on the burden of daycare.
“My eight-year-old is a homebody, so he likes virtual school, but the longer he stays at home the more he prefers it. I’d rather take him out of his comfort zone and see him socialize with more kids. I wouldn’t say he’s fully engaged in the virtual school either. He does this in his room, so he usually finds something else to occupy him. If he wants to play with Lego for 20 minutes to get off the screen, it doesn’t matter. As long as he can read and has the opportunity to work on his basic math and writing skills, that’s enough for me. Hopefully it will only last two weeks, but after what happened last year, I expect it to last longer.
Child and youth care practitioner
“In our home, we are missing a device. There are five people – myself, my partner and our three children – and only four laptops. I will give up my laptop during the day so that my kids can learn. I’m working on a book and was planning on doing a lot of writing this semester, but I don’t think it will happen anymore. I get a lot of gigs and consulting work through social media, so being offline during these prime hours is going to make it difficult to promote my work.
“We faced a lot of audiovisual challenges during the first two rounds of virtual training, trying to get the mics and headsets to work. After being reprimanded by a teacher for having a broken microphone, my 11 year old son simply gave up on handing in his homework and participating in his French class. My two older children haven’t had a normal year of high school since the pandemic began. They cannot participate in extracurricular activities. My oldest wants to find a job and take driving lessons, but everything is on hiatus. It is frustrating for them not to be able to reach these milestones.
“I was exasperated by the government’s latest announcement. It’s another setback, and the government continues to come up with half-hearted measures to keep schools safe. They are so focused on the economy, and it’s just not sustainable. As a parent, I need to monitor my children’s moods to make sure they’re in a relatively healthy place. It’s my job to figure out what the new normal is because it’s definitely not the normal we grew up with. “