Online learning a ‘full-time job’ for parents

Nov 2, 2020 by

Jennifer Murtazashvili has caught her son, Leo, a fifth grader, playing video games during his online classes this school year.

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She calls her kindergartner, Eve, a “master of multi-tasking with YouTube.”

Ms. Murtazashvili knows she is not the only parent with kids who lose focus at times during the school day when they have to spend hours at a time sitting at home in front of their computers.

“All the kids are doing this,” she said. “When was the last time you were in a Zoom meeting and you weren’t checking your email? This is what we all do, and I think it’s natural. It’s really hard for kids to pay attention, especially the younger ones.”

Schools around the globe have switched to remote instruction as a method intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping their students and staffs safe and healthy. Remote instruction is usually online and often done live in a video conference at a set time.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools has been fully remote all year and will continue to be for most students after the school board voted last week to extend the district’s remote model into January. Though done remotely, daily class schedules are followed the same as they would be during regular school years.

But some parents say remote instruction offered by the district is insufficient, despite the best efforts of teachers.

Ms. Murtazashvili, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said she uses a different style when she teaches online classes. She said the Pittsburgh Public Schools should not be as rigid in attempting to make online learning flow like a typical school day, citing how difficult it is for children to sit in front of computer screens for so long.

“My kids after lunch are baked, but they still have to sit there for two more hours,” said Ms. Murtazashvili, who has children in fifth, fourth and first grades at Colfax K-8 as well as a preschooler. “I think it’s not effective.”

David Morris, who has a fifth grader and a first grader at Dilworth K-5, said he also has challenges in keeping his children focused during the school day, especially the younger one.

He said he tries to keep his children engaged by making them work for 30 minutes and then allowing them to take a 10- or 15-minute break.

“That seems to be more effective,” he said. “I’d rather them focus for 30 minutes and take a break than zone out for a hour and 15 minutes.”

Ms. Murtazashvili and Mr. Morris also said they worry for vulnerable children who are outside the district’s radar.

Veronica Edwards, a Pittsburgh Public Schools board member who came out strongly against extending the district’s fully remote instruction model, said she is concerned about low-achieving students and others who might be struggling in an online setting.

She said that unlike surrounding school districts, Pittsburgh Public Schools was ignoring low-achieving and vulnerable children as well as children whose parents leave them at home unattended when they go to work.

“Nobody on this board is living under those kind of circumstances,” Ms. Edwards said during Wednesday’s school board meeting. “So until you have time to get out there and talk to parents who are struggling to keep a roof over their kids’ heads, food on the table, struggling to get them educated, it is up to the school district of Pittsburgh to educate all children, and we are not doing that.”

Chaton Turner has sympathy for struggling parents. As the mother of fifth- and first-grade students at Phillips K-5, she knows the effort it takes to make sure children — especially young ones — are doing what they need to do.

“I work full time, my husband works full time,” Ms. Turner said. “Managing their schooling has become the equivalent of a full-time job, and it definitely is more work than it was when we were sending them to school.”

Many other school districts locally are in a hybrid model in which students attend classes in person a certain number of days per week and study online the other days. This month, the Pittsburgh Public Schools plans to bring back special needs students, those who are medically fragile, English language learners and select other student groups.

But both Ms. Murtazashvili and Mr. Morris believe the district should be open to more students, possibly the lower grade levels.

Ms. Murtazashvili suggested sending elementary students to classes in the high school buildings, which have more space. She said it has been proved nationally that schools are not super-spreaders of COVID-19, and the numbers the state told schools to use to determine if they should reopen allow the district to implement a hybrid model.

“Everyone says listen to the experts. No one listens to science anymore,” she said. “Whose science are we listening to?”

Ms. Murtazashvili said she was considering removing her children from Pittsburgh Public Schools and sending them elsewhere.

Ms. Turner said she was thinking about the same thing even though she believes the district has improved its online capabilities since the spring.

Still, Ms. Turner said, a number of issues remain, like glitches with technology and inconsistent communication. The biggest problem she sees, though, is that online learning is difficult to sustain for working parents.

Ms. Turner has the means to hire someone to watch her kids when she and her husband cannot be there, but she knows that is not the reality for everyone.

“You just can’t simultaneously do two divergent jobs,” she said. “At some point you’re not paying attention to your kids’ schooling, or you’re not paying attention to your job.”

Source: Online learning a ‘full-time job’ for parents | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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