Mandatory home-schooling a ‘failed policy,’ says Nova Scotia psychologist

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Nova Scotia announces phased COVID-19 reopening plan, some schools to resume in-person learning
Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin announced on Friday a multi-phase plan to reopen the province as more residents get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – May 28, 2021

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have had to grapple with taking on a new role on top of caregiving and their own jobs: teaching.

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin announced on Monday that all Nova Scotia students are going back to school this week, after a month of learning from home.

Dr. Simon Sherry, a clinical psychologist and professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University, says learning at home may cause more harm than good.

“I think parents and children are being subjected to a failed policy,” he said in an interview last week, before the change was announced.

“There’s little or no progress being made in terms of learning, and on top of that, we have distress in parents, distress in children, and a lot of negativity and friction in parent-child relationships.”

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Sherry recently worked on a study that linked mandatory home-schooling with anxiety, depression and substance use among parents.

Dr. Simon Sherry is a clinical psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Dalhousie University. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO – CRUX Psychology.

The study, conducted among 758 families across Canada – including 211 who home-schooled their children during COVID-19 – said those who home-schooled had “significantly lower levels of optimism,” as well as higher use of cannabis and alcohol to cope.

The more time parents spent on home-schooling, the more likely they were to experience emotional distress and substance misuse, said Sherry.

“Even the most capable of parents, people with a lot of skills and resources, are being overwhelmed by mandatory homeschooling,” he said.

Sherry said the additional work of teaching their children is causing “role strain” among parents and causing daily negative and tense interactions between them and their children.

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“We’re already burdened by many roles of our day-to-day life, and, not surprisingly, people have gotten overwhelmed when we add the role of teacher into their pre-existing responsibilities,” he said, adding that it’s “enormously painful” for parents to fail in the act of homeschooling.

“Parents overwhelmingly love and support their children, and it’s very painful to have a sense that you’re letting your kid down,” he said.

“I do not blame the parents, I do not blame the children, I do not blame the teachers. I really think everyone is doing their best. But this is a failed policy and it should be abandoned.”

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Sherry said Monday he was pleased the province is reopening schools for in-person learning.

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“I’ll commend our province for showing greater agility and flexibility in wave three than wave one,” he said. “I’m certainly glad to see parents, children and teachers … released from the enormous and painful stressor of home-schooling.”

Highlighting inequities

Sherry also said the research has highlighted pre-existing gender inequities among parents.

Traditionally, the roles of child-rearing, cooking and cleaning have disproportionately fallen on women, and now home-schooling has been added to the list, he said.

“This isn’t to say that men aren’t helping, but disproportionately, women are bearing the responsibility of mandatory home-schooling,” said Sherry.

“And so this is exacerbating pre-existing difficulties in our society, where a disproportionate amount of cooking, caring, cleaning, is dumped upon women.”

Sherry said this presents an opportunity for fathers to step in more. He said “one of the few encouraging” parts of their study is that in households where fathers were doing more, mothers were less stressed and families were doing better.

“So there is an opportunity for all fathers to do more and to make an important contribution in this area,” said Sherry.

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No easy answer

While he identifies mandatory home-schooling as a problem, Sherry said there’s no easy solution.

He noted that while closing schools helps to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19, learning from home isn’t necessarily the answer.

Keeping schools open should be a priority, but he believes it’s better to have no school at all than to learn at home.

“If there’s only two choices – between an extended summer, and continuing a futile and failed policy – let’s go for an extended summer,” he said.

During Monday’s news briefing, Premier Iain Rankin thanked teachers, parents and students for their work over the last month as he announced the reopening of schools.

“This week will be exciting for all of you to reunite with your friends and to your teachers in person,” he told students. “Please remember to follow the public health protocols and put safety first.”

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