More than coping?

Parents and students in lockdown

Janice Ireland talks with Henk van Hout, Global Head of Shell Education Services, about how students and parents are coping with lockdown and the demands of remote learning.

No stranger to a crisis

Henk van Hout is no stranger to a crisis and has supported schools located in areas of civil unrest and humanitarian emergencies during his time with Shell Education Services. Most recently, in 2014, Henk supported schools in Nigeria during a period of closure as a result of the Ebola virus epidemic. In a recent interview, Janice Ireland asked him first how well he thought students and parents were coping with remote learning.

Students and the lockdown

According to Henk, students today have a combination of different skills and resources that make it easier for them to learn remotely compared to even a decade ago.

‘The tools students have available through digital devices such as iPhones, computers and tablets means they can access knowledge within seconds. Digital devices are almost like an extension of a student’s body – many haven’t experienced life without such technology.

‘Students are increasingly connected to virtual worlds that some adults would find difficult to navigate. In this respect, students are well placed to learn remotely; for them, it’s the natural way to learn.

Many students can’t imagine a world where they can’t ‘see’ people on a mobile device, regardless of where they are.’


He thinks that students have also been able to take advantage of skill sets schools have been developing to enable their students to become ‘independent and interdependent’ learners.

‘Learning in this way really underpins what we are seeing in all aspects of remote learning. Many students are working on independent projects, developing personal interests, and at the same time, they are collaborating with peers by sharing ideas and contributing to group projects.’

He clearly takes an optimistic line on the situation, so far as students are concerned, but makes an important qualifying point about access:

‘We must acknowledge that this availability is not across the board: some students have very limited or no access to technology. This is where we need businesses and governments stepping up to close gaps and supporting those in need. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen examples of this happening in some countries.’

Parents and the lockdown

If students have adapted well, what about their parents? How are they coping? Henk had real sympathy for them:

‘Parents should not feel under pressure to recreate a classroom and implement a curriculum perfectly. Sometimes doing what we can, when we can and how best we can is enough, especially when life has thrown us something we’ve never experienced before.

‘Be guided by the teachers, they are the professionals and they understand that home schooling isn’t always easy. Many teachers are facing similar challenges to the families they are supporting, and they understand this is a steep learning curve for most.’

According to Henk, parents are best placed to provide some fundamental support structures, such as a basic routine. Although students have mainly adapted well to online learning, they will be missing the direct contact with friends and family.

‘They need to feel safe, secure and nurtured. Looking after our own and our children’s wellbeing is a priority. A balance of short periods of learning (pitched at the right level), physical activity, play and relaxation will gain better results than a demanding academic schedule.

‘No two family situations are the same. Some will require more support than others when it comes to remote learning. As role models, adults have the greatest positive impact on children when we are calm, focused and maintain a sense of humour. Schools encourage students to talk about how they are feeling and help them to develop strategies for when things don’t go the way we would like them to, or when we are feeling sad, anxious or frustrated. If possible, maintain this approach at home and ask teachers about the strategies they use for different age groups.’

What we are learning

Henk van Hout is aware that none of this is easy, but he remains optimistic:

‘This is a challenging time for everyone, and with limited or no opportunity for social interaction, we are all waiting for some kind of normality to resume. However, we are also witnessing some heart-warming acts of kindness and generosity in our communities and seeing the world in a different light. There is a lot to learn about humanity and a lot of good coming out of a time when the world has been turned on its head’.


Henk van Hout is the Global Head of Shell Education Services for Shell and Shell affiliated schools. He was talking to Janice Ireland, Education Consultant to Shell Schools. Thanks also to Damian Brady, Digital Education Specialist Teacher and Publications Editor at Panaga School, Brunei.

Henk is currently leading a Global Think Tank examining education systems and structures that may need to change in response to life beyond COVID-19.



Feature Image: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Student pictures with grateful thanks to Rumukoroshe School in Nigeria

You may also like