COVID-19: Home Schooling, Confinement and Risk

(19 March 2020)

We have been in a form of confinement for a week, due to a particular vulnerability that sits in my tribe. And so I am – for better or worse – a week ahead of most people I know, so I offer this as a reflection that might get someone slightly ahead of next week’s challenges.

Home Schooling:

So, I have a decent spread of ages at home (7-14), and with it different educational challenges. I felt a little queasy about how we (and it’s been very much a we) would try to balance our work with the needs to ensure the children were maintaining their studies, particularly if it was going to occupy a 0900-1515 timeframe. I made an interesting discovery, and one – as a school governor – I’ll be careful how I frame, if at all. Freed from the distractions of another 29 or so children in the class, we managed to get through the material they had left over as homework, materials supplied by school, and online found online (which I’ll post at the end) in a third of the time normally taken up at school.

I don’t think this is because we’re fantastic school-level tutors (I really don’t), or that proper school teachers pad it out, but that the transaction-costs, frictions or inefficiencies of school classrooms place a 66% cost on learning time. The major cost of learning at home is that absence of socialised forms of learnings, that I’m sure they really benefit from. But there’s little I can do about that right now.

So, having discovered that the school day can be safely dispensed with in two to two and a half hours we happened upon the most important facet of this current situation, which is to allow space to understand and sit alongside the sheer weight of disruption, dislocation and what-the-chaffery of what has happened over the past two weeks. Our spring and summer was mapped out: athletics meetings, championships, trips away, terms to finish, people to see, beaches to sit on.. and without fail, they’ve all been cancelled. The school friend of Child Two who comes round one morning before school and one afternoon after school: now PNG’d (persona non-grata). Scouts nights, swimming galas, governors meetings, athletics club committees (let’s not mourn too heavily for all the losses here) all swiped away. From paradise lost, to living death… And I’m making an educated guess that is what the children think about this abrupt loss of liberty. So, attending to their emotional needs, and their understanding of the situation is as important (perhaps more important) than the reading and writing.

Not everyone can afford the technology required to sustain children learning at home, and parents working. But I like a gadget. No, I love a gadget, so I would like to make the briefest of cases for the Raspberry Pi4 as a cheap but adequate PC for the moment. They can be bought for £34 (although if the pound continues to tank this might go up, I guess) and a starter set is circa £65.. and it plugs into an ordinary television. Child4 has done all of his school work this week on it, including the online stuff I had a half-worry the humble Raspberry Pi might struggle with. So, no, I don’t think that everyone can afford one, but it is ‘the’ most affordable PC-ish thing there is, and I can do my work on it too (Child 3 ‘borrowed’ my laptop, leaving me to use the Pi as a pragmatic alternative to ‘squeaking’).


My writing partner and I have a law (we even called it Dover and Goodman’s first law) which is that anyone who is difficult to work with from the get-go, never gets better and should be avoided. I am going to take the liberty of adapting that law for the current moment (so, D&G’s first law, covid-19 edition).. anyone you see acting in a gratuitously risky way at this time, against the advice of government, or against the evidence you know them to have…after this is all over, don’t start a business with them, don’t get in a car with them, they’re clearly not sound. Or reliable.

It is said that the mitigation of an epidemic (or in this case pandemic) only gets more serious when large numbers of people know someone who died from the pathogen. I can see that. Acting ahead of an experience is a leap of faith. But I don’t need to drive a car into a wall to know that it will hurt. So, I don’t corner hard enough to find out. Equally, I don’t need to eat raw chicken to know that it might make me really unwell. So, I cook my food properly. So, I have run past the lovely, spangly gym at the top of my road with seven shades of incredulity on that it is chock-a-block busy every evening this week. These people have never watched Max Brooks’ video, they think they’re immune (they’re not), or they don’t care. But they’re not processing risk rationally, and it would make me nervous to drive with them.

How we think about risk individually and collectively will become a public policy issue very shorty. Should we move to lock-down (yes, the markets have priced it in and it is the most effective way of stopping this, along with testing. And testing. And testing)? Should we keep more spare capacity in the health service (this episode and every winter I can remember suggests yes, absolutely)? Should we ensure that people can do the right thing and not face poverty (I think there are ‘right’ and ‘left’ wing reasons to enact a basic income now)? But the whole foundation of our economic lives (and thus to some extent our social existence) is premised on ‘just in time, just enough’ logistics. When these are disrupted, as they are being currently by dysfunctions in the demand-side, then we will need to think through what risks we are prepared to accept, and what buffers we can build in so that the economy does not contract by 20-30% if we are faced by the same again. I personally think that the basic income is one measure to achieve this, but there are many others, including (and whisper it) the state having to shoulder more risk in critical public infrastructure. Now, that pains me as a shareholder (but I’m nursing a 27% loss in my portfolio so money is very funny at the moment…), but it makes sense to keep trains moving, medicines flowing, food logistics as a securitised issue and so on.

So, my lessons of the week: don’t fret about your child’s schooling (a couple of hours a day is a sufficient amount), utilise quality online facilities, crowdsource ideas and support, embrace video calls and make sure you get ‘me-time’. I’d also add, have set appointments with the news, and try (and it is devilishly difficult) to filter the actionable from the noise. You should only be concerned with the actionable, the noise is just noise. (For those obsessed with the news, I’d advocate reading The Sun online in your mix.. not because I think it’s any good, but because they seem to have reliably tee’d up the policy move that happens the day later, as if they’re pre-running policies in a fast-moving focus group format. You’ll rarely hear me suggest this again….)

Online Resources (with thanks to Whiteabbey School)

Khan Academy

Especially good for maths and computing for all ages but other subjects at Secondary level. Note this uses the U.S. grade system but it’s mostly common material.

BBC Learning

This site is old and no longer updated and yet there’s so much still available, from language learning to BBC Bitesize for revision. No TV licence required except for content on BBC iPlayer.


Free to access 100s of courses, only pay to upgrade if you need a certificate in your name (own account from age 14+ but younger learners can use a parent account).


For those revising at GCSE or A level. Tons of free revision content. Paid access to higher level material.


Free taster courses aimed at those considering Open University but everyone can access it. Adult level, but some e.g. nature and environment courses could well be of interest to young people.


Learn computer programming skills – fun and free.


Creative computer programming

Ted Ed

All sorts of engaging educational videos

National Geographic Kids

Activities and quizzes for younger kids.


Learn languages for free. Web or app.

Mystery Science

Free science lessons

The Kids Should See This

Wide range of cool educational videos

Crash Course

You Tube videos on many subjects

Crash Course Kids

As above for a younger audience

Crest Awards

Science awards you can complete from home.

iDEA Awards

Digital enterprise award scheme you can complete online.

Paw Print Badges

Free challenge packs and other downloads. Many activities can be completed indoors. Badges cost but are optional.


All kinds of making.

Prodigy Maths

Is in U.S. grades, but good for UK Primary age.

Cbeebies Radio

Listening activities for the younger ones.

Nature Detectives…/

A lot of these can be done in a garden, or if you can get to a remote forest location!

British Council

Resources for English language learning

Oxford Owl for Home

Lots of free resources for Primary age

Big History Project

Aimed at Secondary age. Multi disciplinary activities.

Geography Games

Geography gaming!

Blue Peter Badges

If you have a stamp and a nearby post box.

The Artful Parent

Good, free art activities

Red Ted Art

Easy arts and crafts for little ones

The Imagination Tree

Creative art and craft activities for the very youngest.

Toy Theater

Educational online games

DK Find Out…

Activities and quizzes


This is more for printouts, and usually at a fee, but they are offering a month of free access to parents in the event of school closures.”


Published by Rob Dover

Senior Lecturer in Intelligence and International Security at University of Leicester

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