Family braces for tough week as remote learning challenge returns

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Isolation won’t be a problem for Melbourne University arts student Sobur Dhieu during Victoria’s snap lockdown, but finding a quiet place and even the uninterrupted use of her own computer might be.

Ms Dhieu, 20, lives in Brookfield with her mum, dad and eight siblings, six of whom are school students ranging from twins in prep to a brother in year 12.

The Dhieu family (front left to right) Nyibol, 3 and Sobur 20 (back left to right) Adut 5, Athian, 5, Makuei, 7 dad Andrew, 50, Mayen, 17 and Makuei, 7 mostly worked out of one room together during remote learning.Credit:Joe Armao

It’s noisy, crowded and chaotic, but the family was “trying to make the best of it” as they began an unexpected week stuck at home together, including renewing their 2020 lockdown ritual of a Friday night family movie night, she said.

“I just think they are getting on. My siblings are happy to be at home not having to go to class today but I think they do understand it’s going to be hard next week.”

The large family, who moved to Australia to escape civil war in South Sudan almost 20 years ago, had it drummed into them by their parents that education was the way to a better life than the one they fled, Ms Dhieu said.

But last year’s extended lockdown took a toll on some of the Dhieu children. Their education suffered in a home that had neither enough space nor sufficient digital devices for everyone to learn.

In the mornings, when her siblings spread their books out over the dining table, Ms Dhieu helped her younger brother, who was struggling in remote learning, by logging on to his classes on her laptop.

“It was really hard, I would be sitting there from 8.30am until 5.30pm most days with him, just because it took so long to go through the content, and he really needed his teacher and was dependent on that external support to make sure that he could concentrate and stay on top of things,” Ms Dhieu said.

Ms Dhieu, who hopes to start a law degree next year, has a small tutoring business helping students from other migrant families around the Melton area.

She said some of them had gone backwards in their literacy and numeracy this year.

“When we did tutoring again with the primary school students, their literacy and times tables really did suffer; it’s testament to how challenging it was and how parents did not have a lot of time to be with their children.”

As Victorian students head into another week of remote learning, one charity has warned disadvantaged students are still suffering the ill effects of 2020’s lockdown.

The Dhieu family has had a long association with The Smith Family, a charity that works with 740 schools and about 55,000 Australian students in poverty, providing donations for essentials such as books, uniforms and devices.

The charity – which will launch its winter appeal this week to try to raise $5.1 million in June – has analysed the effect of last year’s lockdowns on its families and found that the negative effects on children’s education are lingering and in some cases worsening, even as more advantaged sectors of society start to emerge from the pandemic.

The setbacks range across all year levels, The Smith Family general manager for Victoria, Anton Leschen, said.

“The compounding elements of disadvantage mean that education is typically the first thing to go when the pressure is on,” he said

“The capacity to get up, get dressed and go to school every day requires security in income and your basic needs of being safe and fed being met, then you can think about going to school every day.”

In its report, Emerging from COVID-19, the charity said students had started year one without foundational reading skills, that some year 8 students had not adapted to high school environments and that schools were reporting that new VCE students appeared to be doing less well than last year’s crop of graduating year 12s.

“Despite all the challenges of 2020, many schools report their exiting year 12 students did very well,” the report said.

“Year 12 students who graduated in 2020 were given intensive support to enable this achievement, but as a result there is concern that years 10 and 11 have missed out and in some cases their learning outcomes are feared to have dropped significantly in 2021.”

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