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Education in Hard Times Part II: How An Elementary School Has Been Dealing With The Pandemic

Behind screens without seeing their students, elementary school teachers in Brno have been trying hard to keep the quality of education during the pandemic as close as possible to normal times. Brno Daily spoke to staff at Jana Babáka 1 Elementary School to find out about the current challenges and lessons learned by educators. Photo credit: Freepik / Illustrative Photo. 

Brno, Jan 22 (BD) – There is no doubt that, while the COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for all levels of education, elementary school students and teachers have suffered the most. Brno Daily interviewed two teachers from the Jana Babáka 1 Elementary School in Brno-Královo Pole, to learn that while the capacity-building in the use of new technologies in education has been very positive, teachers and students alike are still lacking major contact with each other. 

How has the school been able to deal with the opening and closing and opening again? What were the challenges? 

Ivana Sváčková: I think that it was quite difficult when the first lockdown started. The school seemed to be prepared during Autumn and ready to face the situation again. Our school has been on Microsoft Teams since Spring, therefore switching to online teaching and learning was not that drastic. Our school gathered information via a simple questionnaire about each family’s access to technology, and lent laptops, tablets, phones, speakers, headphones, and cameras to those who needed them to ensure that each of our students could work on their device.

Karla Dosedlová: In April when the first lockdown started, our school was among the first schools in Brno that reacted to the situation quickly. In September and half of October, it was quite hard to swap between online and in-person teaching. January has been especially complicated due to half-term evaluation, changing the materials, and collecting money for books. 

How do you feel about the schools being open? Do you feel like you are “in the firing line” or are you also eager to get the schools open as quickly as possible? 

Ivana Sváčková: I don’t consider myself to be in the firing line and would prefer schools to be open, obviously, but I understand the reasons why they are not. 

Karla Dosedlová: Speaking for myself, I don’t have the feeling of being in the firing line, I would prefer schools to be open. I am not sure how dangerous the situation is at schools, but the truth is, some of our teachers were seriously ill.

What effect has it had on the children, either the disruption to the school or the pandemic itself? Are you worried that the pandemic disruption might have a lasting impact on the children’s development or do children just tend to bounce back from this kind of thing? 

Ivana Sváčková: I think there are several effects – the lack of social interaction is a huge problem for the students. The 9th graders are afraid of the exams in June, young learners (1st and 2nd graders) lack the everyday practice and routine which I believe is crucial at this age. I think that the older students will eventually bounce back, but I am quite worried about the younger ones. However, these times enabled us to get more information about each learner´s background at home, helped us to see them in a different light and take their situation into account. It is definitely more difficult to work with students with specific needs and learning difficulties. If it is possible, these learners should come to school and study together with a teaching assistant.

Karla Dosedlová: Most children definitely are not happy about staying at home. They lack social contact. Some of them are really bored. They are just getting the knowledge at school and some of them haven’t been able to study by themselves.  Most of the parents are desperate. They have to work or they are ill. Some parents got to know their children in these times, and they were surprised to see their children sitting in front of the computer all day, playing video games. They noticed how hard it is to make the child study or schedule homework. 

How has the online teaching been working for you?

Ivana Sváčková: I started teaching in September 2020, therefore the teaching itself is quite challenging for me. Autumn was a mess, I was finding my way around, discovering all the apps and web pages, trying not to lose contact with the kids. I feel much more confident now, can work faster and more efficiently, but feel more tired. I’m sending out weekly feedback in order to get learners’ opinions on my lessons and reflect on it next week. I am glad that we don’t just assign homework, but actually teach online. 

Karla Dosedlová: Online teaching surprisingly works quite well for me. With the smaller kids, it is more difficult as they need their parents’ support. They are slower in interaction. On the other hand, they seem eager to learn. Older students need more motivation and the teachers need to be more strict and consistent. But I am not sure whether they remember anything from online lessons at all.

Have the parents been helpful and supportive, or difficult to deal with, overall?

Ivana Sváčková: Most of the parents have been supportive and grateful for our work. 

Karla Dosedlová: In my experience, parents have been neutral. Sometimes they complain about their situation, not related to kids. They don’t complain about the quantity of curriculum. The situation of staying at home with kids and teaching them is unimaginable for me. My kids are still in kindergarten.

Has the pandemic caused any other problems for the school? Or any benefits even?

Ivana Sváčková: We have improved our technical knowledge and skills by 100%, no doubt. I am glad that I have learnt to use many applications and websites. I think all of us have learnt many great things, but it was not easy for sure.

Karla Dosedlová: The pandemic has been a huge experience and challenge for all of us. Some benefits maybe for children – they have to work alone and learn to be more responsible. And teachers are capable of finding and using new materials on the internet.

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