by ITV Wales apprentice Monde Mwitumwa
A mother-of-three has spoken about the difficulties of homeschooling her children while trying to balance academic studies during the coronavirus pandemic.
Natalie Prideaux-Collins, 29, from Llanelli, is a full-time psychology student, studying at Carmarthen University.
After First Minister Mark Drakeford announced a new lockdown just before Christmas, which saw the closure of schools to most pupils, parents have been homeschooling once again, including Natalie.
She has a four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter who are currently being taught by her at home. She also has a one-year-old who is in nursery.
“It’s very challenging – they are both of different levels being four and seven. One child, my youngest, he’s very against doing it in the first place.
“So you are looking at a daily argument and I can’t do both at once, they have to be separated. I’ll do one, then do the other – then have to amuse them both in between.”
Whilst teaching her children, Natalie is studying towards a psychology degree. She told ITV News she finds it hard prioritising between hers and the children’s classes.
“I’ve got my own work to fit in – got my live Teams meetings, their Teams meetings. Quite a lot of them will clash.”
The most challenging thing Natalie found about homeschooling is trying to work out “who is more important.”
“How do you choose between your children and their future – your degree and your future. I’ve let myself slide slightly. How I was doing before is not how I am doing now.
“I’ve gone down a little level, not too much, but I have gone down to make up for schooling them. There is a constant battle in my head thinking am I doing enough? It’s hard – it’s the most difficult decision you can make.”
“How do you pick who’s most important? It’s not something anyone should have to go through.”
The 29-year-old has been giving up her free time in the evenings to focus on her work.
“All my evenings are dedicated to working. I’ve got work to do, so the whole personal time which you need as a parent – that’s gone, it’s completely disappeared.
“I am pretty much working from bedtime – all of my lectures are recorded which is helpful. My evenings are catching up, read up, work and hope for the best.”
Universities Wales said the health and wellbeing of its students and staff is the “top priority”.
“Universities recognise the challenges facing students and, in addition to their existing student support services, have put in place specific policies to support those who may encounter difficulties in studying remotely”, a spokesperson said.
It added, it would encourage any students struggling or experiencing difficulties during this time to talk to their university.
Primary and secondary schools closed during the latest lockdown in Wales – however, colleges and universities have stayed open online.
Natalia told ITV News there is not enough recognition of mature students with young children, who have to attend college or university classes while homeschooling.
“I feel like what was forgotten – college and university there are mature students in both, we are all not teenagers we’ve got children, a family, other commitments. I feel like that’s been forgotten.
“There are school hubs in place for key workers but why can’t we use them at least just when we are on live lessons. We will be able to get on with our degrees without worrying too much about our children.”
The majority of the undergraduates in Natalie class are mature students. She said they feel like they were not considered when closing schools but keeping colleges and universities open.
“I genuinely think our age group – our parent group has been forgotten about. I understand everybody’s situation is different, but a mature student is its own group itself.
“It should have been thought through a little more prior to introducing keeping higher education open but closing the schools.”
There are plans to begin the phased return of some primary school pupils after the February half-term.
Making the announcement last week, Education Minister Kirsty Williams said the youngest learners have been prioritised because they find it difficult to learn remotely – and transmission risks are lower.
The Welsh Government said it has provided an additional £77million to support universities with the ongoing pandemic with £50m specifically for student support and hardship.
This funding will enable universities and student unions to offer additional support to students and staff, including mental health and wellbeing support, access to digital and hardship funding.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said, “We have provided guidance to universities on offering additional support to students and staff throughout the pandemic.
“The guidance is particularly for those who may need additional help due to personal circumstances, for example, students who may have caring or work responsibilities.
“Any student who is experiencing difficulties in accessing and participating in their studies should contact their university to ask what additional support may be available.”