Like many parents, Tammy (not her real name) is happy to see the back of remote learning experienced by families during the COVID lockdowns.
"I never want to do that again," she says.
The single mother of six struggled with keeping on top of each of her children's educational needs and dealing with the different ways that their schools adapted to the new circumstances.
But one outcome from the pandemic she is happy about, is that her daughter was able to take part in a trial of their local Smith Family Learning Club in an online environment.
Tammy's children are part of The Smith Family's Learning for Life program, which provides access to extra, outside-of-school learning and mentoring programs for children experiencing disadvantage.
Learning Clubs are an important part of that support, providing students with help for their homework and access to volunteer tutors to enable them to get more out of their schooling.
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But as schools closed because of COVID, so did the in-person Learning Clubs.
Tammy lives 30 minutes outside a major regional hub in Victoria, so getting to the local Learning Club was always difficult.
Evenings were busy with the family's routine of meals and bedtime for the young children. Tammy didn't always have time to take her daughter back into town in the evening and then wait an hour for her to finish.
So, when the Learning Club switched to online, it opened a new opportunity for Tammy and her daughter.
"Online Learning Club meant the kids had time to go home and freshen up, and it saved me the long trip back into town and then home again," Tammy said.
"And the one-on-one attention made a huge difference for my daughter. There were no distractions for her, and it was easier to concentrate."
COVID forced The Smith Family to assess how it delivered its programs to almost 180,000 children and young people across Australia.
"We were really worried about the isolation, the loss of social contact for kids who participate in our programs and the potential loss of learning as well," says Wendy Field, The Smith Family's Head of Programs, Policy and Strategy.
"We had already begun the process of digitising some of our programs, but remote learning brought on by COVID really turbo-charged the whole process."
Some programs were a natural fit for digital delivery, while others were more difficult to adapt.
"Learning Clubs was one of those that probably wasn't a neat fit, but we decided to see what we could do," Ms Field says.
Tammy's local Learning Club was part of the trial to assess that viability, and online delivery meant some innovative developments such as having skilled people join the club from interstate. For instance, a volunteer from New South Wales joined the Victorian tutoring team to help deliver a reading program, and the club could also accept new members dialling in from Tasmania.
The Learning Club trial showed the enormous possibilities that are potentially available with digital delivery of appropriate programs - particularly for students in remote and regional locations.
However, the trial ultimately revealed that when the online Learning Clubs worked most effectively, they became more like one-on-one online tutoring programs - which are expensive to run and complex to apply at scale.
With The Smith Family aiming to increase the number of students it reaches to 250,000 over the next five years, that presents a mighty challenge. But to best meet the needs of students effectively, the charity knows it needs to innovate and trial new approaches.
"We're keen to try some group tutoring with a specialist group tutoring company," Ms Field says.
"It's on our 'Would Love To Do' list. We want to trial it."
The charity is also tackling another barrier to running digital programs - many students and families experiencing disadvantage still don't have access to digital resources such as a computer or proper access to the internet. To counter this, The Smith Family has distributed over 5,200 digital inclusion kits since the pandemic began. These provide families with a device like a laptop or tablet plus reliable internet and access to technological support.
One in six of the 58,000 children on Learning for Life still don't have digital access at home but The Smith Family has big plans to ensure every child on the program can get access.
"In today's education environment it's just unthinkable that children can't participate in their learning online," said Ms Field. "With the support of our partners, where we can make that happen for them, we will."
Tammy's daughter continues to be supported by The Smith Family, and Tammy hopes that at some stage in the future Learning Clubs, or something like it, will again be offered online. She's thinking of all those other families whose children can equally benefit.
"It just opens up opportunities to lots more kids," she says.
"I know, for my daughter, it's definitely helped her understand her schoolwork better."
To find out more about supporting The Smith Family go to www.thesmithfamily.com.au
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