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Working, Parenting, And Studying: Can We Do It All?

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

As the kids head back to school for a fresh year, are you thinking about your own learning needs too? Is it too late for us parents to return to school, and to learn well? Will it be highly challenging to juggle the demands of classes with our work and family responsibilities?

Well, the reality is that Covid-19 hasn’t just changed the way that our kids learn — it’s also pushed many of us into new ways of working. Even in pre-Covid times, the World Economic Forum had already predicted that we could see up to 75 million current jobs being displaced by 2022, with 133 million new jobs emerging in our technology-driven landscape. Those of us who want to do our jobs better, or have access to more career opportunities, will need to acquire new skills.

But whether you’re a stay-home parent, or engage in part-time or full-time work, it’s natural to have reservations about committing to a course of study.

Afraid you’re too old to learn? Science has shown that adults have the ability to learn and master new skills at any age. What’s more important is one’s mindset and self-belief.

Unsure whether a course is suited for you? You can audit a course for free on e-learning portals like Coursera or edX — in other words, watch prerecorded lesson videos without fulfilling any graded assignment requirements. This is a no-risk and stress-free way to gauge your interest in a subject area before signing up for a certified course. However, the disadvantage of this approach is that without class interactions and projects, the learning can be passive and unstructured, unless you’re conscientious about finishing the course and finding ways to apply your new knowledge in real life.

Worried about straining the family budget? If you are unable to secure company sponsorship, look for locally based classes that are eligible for SkillsFuture subsidies. In fact, Singaporeans aged 40 and above can now enjoy greater incentives to pursue further education. For instance, there is the SkillsFuture Mid-career Enhanced Subsidy, where eligible 40-something individuals will receive higher subsidies (of up to 90 percent of fees) for over 8,000 SkillsFuture-supported courses.

Those aged 40 and up are also entitled to a waiver of at least 90 percent of programme costs for MOE-subsidised full- and part-time courses, ranging from Nitec courses to postgraduate programmes in selected institutions. (Read our guide for tips on strategising your upskilling efforts.)

For those who have already chosen a course of study, congratulations! Read on for some practical tips from a KSP member — a work-from-home parent who is currently pursuing a specialist diploma funded by SkillsFuture:

E-Learning Is Convenient, But Not Necessarily Easier

Thanks to Covid-19, you’ll find that more adult-learning classes are being conducted primarily online, and what could be better than learning in the comfort of your own home?

On the surface, e-learning classes would appeal to many parents because they won’t take you “away” from your kids, and you can even have dinner while a class is in session! However, you must expect that a virtual classroom will not feel the same as a physical classroom. If you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone to learn a new subject, you may find yourself getting lost as each lesson progresses, with new terminology or more complex concepts being introduced. For e-learning classes that aren’t particularly interactive, you can end up feeling isolated and demoralised.

Should you feel lost, remember that this is part and parcel of learning. Keep the faith that you will be able to reach the finish line eventually, as long as you take little steps to advance your learning.

First and foremost, you will need to spend extra time rewatching your lesson videos, and also be proactive in asking questions to clarify doubts, whether it’s during “live” sessions or in private correspondences with your lecturers. If the topic is difficult, some lecturers will state their willingness to have one-to-one conferences to help those lagging behind. Don’t hesitate to take them up on their offer! 

Also, do bear in mind that there may be some troubleshooting involved to prepare for virtual classes, particularly if you’re a Mac user, and you may not receive prompt assistance from your institution’s technical helpdesk. If this should happen to you, Google will be your best resource.

Choose The Scheduling That Best Works For You

Some adult-learning courses require class attendances of up to four times per week, and this can be punishing even if the classes are fully online. For instance, if you are waylaid by health, work, or family issues for two weeks, you could’ve fallen behind by eight lessons. And as long as you’ve signed up for a course, you will be expected to manage your coursework, and there will be penalties imposed if you request to extend assignment deadlines.

With classes that are held once or twice a week, you will have much more breathing space for self-learning and your other commitments.

Ultimately, whatever you choose, you will have to commit to making it work. This may mean cutting down on social gatherings for the duration of your studies, studying on weekends and public holidays, and accepting that you will generally have less time for yourself and your loved ones. There are many others doing the same, so you’re not alone! It’s all worth it if you are clear on why you’ve signed up for your course and what you hope to gain from it.

Don’t Rely On Just One Teacher

Most lecturers are well-meaning, but sadly, this doesn’t always translate into being able to teach well. You may find that this is especially true for technical subjects that are commonly taught by rote, such as statistics.

If you have issues with the instruction in your classes, don’t give up, because you have other options! For example, there are countless resources on YouTube, and it can be useful to hear the same concept explained by others — think of it as different people helping to fill in different pieces of a puzzle.

To better understand any concept, look for longer explanatory videos (e.g. 45 minutes) as opposed to bite-sized (5-minute) videos that may be fun to watch, but often lack depth. And if you need to brush up on your math skills, no-frills videos featuring a teacher and a whiteboard are the best. Try looking up popular math teachers on YouTube, such as Eddie Woo and Professor Leonard, and you’ll soon realise why they have a cult following!

For those who prefer to do additional reading instead of watching videos, don’t dive into technical textbooks right away if you’re a newbie. Instead, look for accessible introductory books, such as the Dummies guides or the Head First series, which are available at the local library. These can be very helpful for getting acquainted with new terminology and concepts.

You’ll Need Your Family’s Full Support

Your family members may have given you the go-ahead to sign up for school, but you will also need to discuss how this will affect your daily routines. For instance, who will prepare the meals on days where you have night classes? If you’re attending “live” e-lessons, is there a space you can use where you won’t be disturbed? Can your partner spend time with the kids on weekends while you work on your school assignments?

Depending on your ability to cope with the course that you’ve chosen, you may find that you need more time and support than anticipated. Don’t let these teething issues get you down — have discussions with your partner and kids, and come up with solutions as a team. For instance, you could set aside a budget for food delivery, to ease the load on everyone on days where you have night classes. If you have younger kids, you could have them watch a movie while you attend to your schoolwork, so that your partner can have a break too. There is always a way forward, if everyone is willing to compromise.

Learn Alongside Your Kids, And Show Them How It’s Done

This is the biggest advantage of returning to school as a parent — you’ll be able to experience some of the learning issues that your kids might face, and better empathise with them.

It’s also the perfect opportunity to practise what you preach, be it about having a growth mindset, minimising distractions, asking questions, being organised, and setting aside ample time to prepare for assignments and tests.

If you have told your kids not to be fixated on grades, you’ll now be receiving grades too, and you may be surprised by the importance that you place on them! Do share your journey — triumphs as well as disappointments — with your kids. It’ll give you something to bond over, and your kids will be more motivated to tackle challenges in their own academic journeys when they see that you’re trying your best too.

 

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