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The return of children to school has been a hotly debated topic across the country, with disagreements between federal and state officials and different approaches between the states. At the same time as parents and teachers grapple with our own views, fears and frustrations, I have wondered about the students? How do they feel?

Their voices receive less publicity but can be found with a little effort and care. A few weeks ago, we surveyed students from Upper Primary school through to Year 12 about their views on our model of continuous learning through our home campus.

The top positive response was having some choice about when they did the schoolwork required of them and being able to work at their own pace. They also enjoyed more time available to them as they did not have to travel.

John in Year 12 returned to school last week with mixed feelings. He was relieved to return for social reasons, but home learning worked incredibly well for him.

“These past weeks have been very productive,” he said. “I’m easily distracted. I’ve also understood that if someone tells me to do something, I don’t want to do it. Maybe that is my adolescent brain. When there’s no one to tell me I have to get something done, then I tend to just do it.”

John also said that the last weeks have been valuable in preparing him and other VCE students for what lies beyond school.

“These weeks working at home have been good training for what we’re actually trying to achieve,” he said. “Most jobs, as far as I’m aware, do not have one boss looking over a room of employees, telling all of them to get to work.”

Even some students who are younger seem to have enjoyed the flexibility of learning from home. Sophie in Year 2, has bloomed during these months, learning to read much better than she was able to before. When I asked her if there was anything bad about learning from home she said, “No, not really. I’ve enjoyed my time with mum.”

These responses, of course, are not held by all young people.  Many students say they prefer a structured classroom.

That is certainly true of Charlotte of Year 9 who has just turned 15. Charlotte returned to school on June 1 and feels as though she will do better when she can have a teacher assist her and check her work almost immediately.

“I like class time, because the teacher would usually come around and check on how everyone’s doing,” she said. “You have to be more proactive to get that attention in an online environment, and not everyone is good at that.”

Feedback from many parents has shown they feel our systems have worked well, especially given the circumstances. Many have commented that they understand better just how different their children are, and how the one-size-fits-all schooling they had at school is no longer useful.

One positive to come of this enforced experiment in learning is that schools begin to allow flexibility for students with different needs and styles. This is summed up well by another Year 10 student, who emailed the Deputy Principal of The Knox School with this comment.

“I thought I would send you an email to express to you how beneficial I, and a large majority of my peers in year 10, have found the new asynchronous timetable we have implemented into our program. I have personally experienced multiple positive effects of our new learning format including minimised levels of stress and anxieties and high levels of productivity. Asynchronous learning benefits the student’s mental health and learning abilities and if it was implemented into everyday school I believe the positive effects would be abundant. Asynchronous learning is the future of modern education and I believe that the sooner we can upgrade our schooling system the better.”

The challenge for us is to get the balance correct.

Allan Shaw

Allan Shaw is Principal and Chief Executive of The Knox School

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