By Cath Gould

Welcome to virtual school!  Have you had your name marked off?  Did you bring your workbook? What do you mean you didn’t do your homework, you’re literally AT HOME WORKING!

In this new, strange world, we are learning new skills every day. How to use new software, how to shake hands with our elbows, and how to survive without paper towels and toilet paper!  But for me, I’m glad to be part of a new revolution of schooling. The online classroom.

This isn’t completely new to me. I was involved with a transitions program at a boarding school. Every week, I would Web Conference with new girls living in rural and remote areas who would be joining our boarding house in the coming year. The idea was that the girls would get to know each other virtually and build friendships so that the city wouldn’t be so big and daunting and that boarding wouldn’t be so lonely. It also allowed us to introduce the girls to technology, and for us to screen their literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills so that we could figure out who would need additional support before they even got to us.

I’m not going to lie – the first year I did this, it was hard. It took hours to learn how to troubleshoot the program with the IT team, let alone how to troubleshoot computer programs over hundreds of kilometres. It took a long time and a lot of creativity come up with content that would not be too boring, to find activities that involved stuff that would be in any household or that the girls could easily get at a local shop. For country kids, the local store doesn’t always have ‘luxuries’ like blue tack, straws, or safety pins. Sometimes I would have to send them ‘care packages’ with this equipment so they could participate. Sometimes the kids would have to improvise – replacing straws with pasta, or blue tack with gaffa tape. 

But despite the hours of preparation and the mental work out, I learned so many cool things. Technology allows us to get to know our students in so many ways that we mightn’t be able to otherwise. I remember one session where I was working from home and my dog, Bella, was curious about the odd noises coming out of my computer. My curious Rottweiler decided to climb on my lap and sniff at the camera and speakers, which of course elicited a round of coos and giggles from the girls. Who can resist a cute dog, really! What that led to was the girls showing their own pets, and then taking us on a tour of their farms. I saw Kimberley cattle stations and Manjimup orchards, all from the comfort of my office chair. 

In this moment of darkness, we need to remember to take the good. Yes, you and your child will probably want to throttle each other in a few weeks. Yes, you probably will want to throw the computer out the window, especially when the bandwidth isn’t quite good enough for more than one person to stream. But what you will also do is feel so proud of your child for figuring out a way to just “get it done”. You will watch them while they cook at home, or complete a model or an artwork, and marvel at the skills they’re developing, even though they can’t be at school with all of the easily accessible materials. The mailbox might even become a fun thing to check again – not just bills and junk mail, but care packages from friends and family, and tools from school.

Who knows? They might even find a way to manufacture some toilet paper.