Sometimes he does arithmetic while I try to sleep. Other nights he recites lessons in Pilipino next to me in bed. And once I awoke to find him doing calisthenics in front of his laptop in the dark.
Welcome to online learning in the age of Covid with a twist; while Isaac is in California, his school is in the Philippines. So as his fellow fourth graders start their lessons at 8 am, Isaac is almost ready for 5 p.m. dinner. And when class resumes in the afternoon, he’s signing on in pitch dark at 11 p.m.
All of which has wrought some major changes in our lifestyle. Isaac and his mom, who helps him prepare his lessons, have taken to going to bed late at night and getting up even later in the morning. Because the Philippines is 15 hours ahead of California on the clock, our weeks run from Sunday through Thursday. And as one of no less than a myriad of other consequences, I have become accustomed to hearing numbers, prayers, and Pilipino sentences recited in my dreams.
All that said, online learning has turned out somewhat better than we expected. Back when it started, Isaac exhibited—shall we say—considerably less than full enthusiasm. Later, though, he warmed up to the idea, even reminding us to crank up the computer to prepare for class. “Mommy, mommy,” I’ve heard him say on more than one occasion, “Did you forget that it’s time for school?” And these days he even seems to revel in donning his little Catholic schoolboy uniform—or at least its upper portions—to properly “meet” with his class.
Will any of this result in actual learning? On that score, I fear, the jury is still out. Part of the problem lies in the dearth of precedence for what’s happening in the world today. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed over 100 schools in the southern United States, displacing thousands of students for months. A study five years later found that, academically, more than a third of them were still at least a year behind their peers whose educations had not been disrupted. And many also suffered from anxiety, depression and various other crisis-induced emotional woes.
“When there’s an event with a significant trauma or loss and ongoing community disruption,” says Lisa Gibbs, a University of Melbourne researcher who studied the aftermath of Australia’s 2009 “Black Saturday” bushfires, “there is an extended period where learning is affected. And while children might get right back on track with their capacity to learn, they’re not catching up in terms of where they’re at academically.” The result: “a changed academic pathway,” she insists, “that may have lifelong implications.”
Gibbs’ subjects, of course, didn’t have the benefits of online learning, a relatively new invention with implications largely unknown.
One obvious implication for my son—especially with his even longer long-distance learning—is lots more time for bike riding during these endless lazy days. To help effectuate that, in fact, we recently bought him a brand new 20-inch dirt bike with thick rubber cactus-ready tires. Ah, but nights are reserved for learning and the verdict of that undertaking, as I say, remains unclear.
Will the absence of brick-and-mortar schools become part of a now-common characterization that I loathe; the hated “new normal?” Will the fact that Isaac can now “attend” school nearly 12,000 kilometers from where he sleeps make the significance of one’s physical location a thing of the past?
And speaking of sleeping, will I ever again get my full share? That part of the equation, at least, bears a tentative solution; I’m thinking of buying wax earplugs.
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David Haldane authored the award-winning memoir, “Nazis & Nudists.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an American journalist, essayist, and broadcaster whose radio work received a Golden Mike from the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California. He lives in Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their two children. http:///felixr28.sg-host.com
Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily