Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

Coronavirus: why connectivity matters for schoolchildren

Teachers should not underestimate the role they play – and the only way to stay connected with pupils is through live lessons on the internet

Niall Statham is seen on the rowing machine as Hartland International School does a 24-hour rowing challenge in 2018. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Niall Statham is seen on the rowing machine as Hartland International School does a 24-hour rowing challenge in 2018. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Every day at 10.50am, I pace around my kitchen, generally experiencing a bit of a stage fright.

Why?

At 11am on the dot, Hartland International School beams out a live stream physical education session to the entire primary school and I am the host.

Although I once played international rugby – a few years and kilos ago – I am a far cry from Mr Motivator. The exercises I am about to demonstrate are neither new nor fancy. Anyone could find them online. The location? My two-bedroom apartment. Let us face it: this is hardly a Joe Wicks set-up.

I would forgive you at this point if you are thinking that this hardly sounds like compelling viewing.

However, at its peak, more than 160 families tuned into the live feed that we streamed into their homes through Microsoft Teams communication platform. The three-week average holds firm at more than 100 households. Some simple maths will tell you that upwards of 200 people in our school community are accessing synchronous PE.

Admittedly, I was somewhat surprised as the viewer counter continued to rise, despite my decidedly average burpees. There are so many YouTube channels, fitness resources and celebrity Instagram accounts out there, not to mention the fact that we had already produced asynchronous content.

The question I found myself asking was, at a time of heavy workload, high stress and uncertainty, why are so many parents and children downing tools in the middle of the day to exercise with me? The content is even available on demand; you can access the stream link at any time, any day and anywhere.

The answer is connectivity.

They see me live, and they can respond to my efforts, feelings, emotions and struggles in real time while they feel them, too. The teacher-student relationship that exists far supersedes the alternatives. They are there for me, because like at school, they know I am there for them. They tune in because they are part of a school community that goes beyond the classroom.

The experience has been a timely reminder that we should not underestimate how important a role we play in the lives of students.

Niall Statham of Jebel Ali Dragons, in blue, during a game against Dubai Hurricanes. Reem Mohammed / The National
Niall Statham of Jebel Ali Dragons, in blue, during a game against Dubai Hurricanes. Reem Mohammed / The National

I watched my daughter take part in a live Teddy Bear’s Picnic as part of her learning about special occasions. Complete with party dress, special snack and brown bear. The ability to communicate with her teacher was important, but not as important as the opportunity to listen and laugh with her friends. Her passion for online learning was absolutely ignited. Why?

The answer is connectivity.

I would be willing to bet that your fondest school memories are not of lessons. They are of friends, experiences, inspirational teachers and those impromptu moments where you just had to be there

I would be willing to bet that if you are reading this, your fondest school memories are not of lessons. They are of friends, experiences, inspirational teachers and those impromptu moments where you just had to be there. We cannot replace it, but we can go a long way towards creating an opportunity for them to experience some of it.

As adults, we have probably all taken the opportunity to call, Zoom or message home. The thought of not being able to do it is unbearable. For some students, we are their only source of connectivity out with home life. We need to explore as many avenues as we can to give them the opportunity to connect safely as part of their learning.

The groundwork for implementing live lessons must be laid firmly and securely – there is no doubting that. It takes confidence, it takes technical skill and it takes planning.

Is it worth it?

Every day at 11.01am, I start running on the spot and I can see that 100 other families are running on the spot, too.

And I think to myself, absolutely!

Niall Statham is head of physical education at Hartland International School Dubai and a former UAE rugby sevens captain

Updated: April 20, 2020 03:48 PM

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