Children learn best within the context of social interaction.
Instinctively we know this to be true, and much has been written on this topic. Vygotski, a famous psychologist, who contributed much to 20th-century education, had this simple message: “a child is a social being, and cognitive development is led by social interactions”. He described ‘scaffolding as a teaching method that helps students learn more by working with a teacher or a more advanced mentor to achieve their learning goals.” A Mentor could include a parent, of course. So why would I then say that school learning is better than home learning?
In the 21st century, we understand that learning is not just about acquiring academic skills, but it is also about the acquisition of recognised global competencies. Michael Fullan describes these as “the ability to learn from and live with people from diverse backgrounds, and the attitudes and values necessary to interact respectfully with others.” At first, the world recognised 4 competencies and called them 21st-century skills (collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity). Subsequently, two more have been added to the list, character, and citizenship. Together they are referred to as the 6 C’s.
To develop these competencies, we need interaction with other people, of all ages. We need to be exposed to diverse ideas, differences of opinions, and different points of view. We need to be challenged to communicate our ideas to a true audience who needs persuading to our perspective. We need to collaborate with peers who come from different home life experiences and social norms. We need to learn how to listen to others and how to consider their viewpoints, but also to stand up for ourselves, and our ideas, as well as supporting others who are less confident to deal with conflict and adversity.
We need to develop the ability to think critically and to establish relevance within an ethical framework, when given solutions or when we face challenges. We need to be inspired by others and seek to inspire in others, the ability to come up with fresh ideas and to be creative in problem-solving. Character will develop when we learn effective skills to face choices, experiences, and relationships that are hard. We all need to learn how to be good contributors to society and make citizenship count. These are all best developed within a community, with the help of a mentor, a person who has the skills to scaffold the framework that enables learning to occur. Teachers and parents can both contribute to this space, but the context of the school community, a small cosmos of the society our students will one day stand in, is hard to replicate at home. Home is the safe haven, the place of peace, and parents are the ones that cheer us on, encourage us, and comfort us. Teachers are the coaches.
At home, parents, with the help of online learning provided by teachers, did an amazing job to support the children’s learning. It was a partnership that worked very well in the context of the choices we had during the time of isolation. It was not the best context to develop the global competency skills referred to earlier though, largely because of the lack of the social environment, where authentic peer collaboration or challenge occurs. In the school environment, students, together with others in similar age groups, can be guided and supported by teachers as they experience real life opportunities of challenge and stimulation. At home, the parents contribute as a captive audience, and learning issues are discussed within this relationship. At school they have space, a learning environment, and a diverse community where they can put new skills and understandings into practice, that is broader than the home environment can provide.