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STORIES

Katalin Gaspar
Campus 11 January 2021

'How will I manage an extended lockdown?'

Working from home with children - how do you do that? (1)
Numerous VU employees have resumed their unofficial part-time job as home teacher. Anyone who has school-age children must accompany them with their schoolwork in addition to their own work. In this first episode PhD student Katalin Gaspar shares how she is keeping it up.
BY Marieke Kolkman

It’s a European melting pot at home with PhD student Katalin Gaspar. She is Hungarian, her husband is French, they live in Amsterdam with their two children, who go to a Dutch and a French primary school.

Is that complicated in a lockdown? Well, yes. Gaspar is home schooling her children in two languages, that are not even her mother tongue. But that’s not the only thing. The coronavirus exposed a big difference between the Dutch and the French school system. “The French system is pretty old fashioned. They only have a few virtual classes per week. The Dutch school has at least one virtual class per day, and they do all kinds of online assignments.”

Lot of guidance

For her six-year-old son, who is in first grade in the French school, this means a lot of homework, and as a consequence a lot of parental guidance. “He now gets one virtual class a week, plus one session with the language teacher. The rest of the school work is listed on a website. They get exercises every day that they need to complete.”

Her son is learning to read and write and add numbers, not particularly something he wishes to practice for hours on end. “Imagine a lot of kicking and screaming: I don’t want to do this! And me saying: Sit down and finish your homework.

Totally independent

Gaspars eight-year-old daughter on the other hand, who switched to a Dutch school in September “because I wanted her to learn Dutch properly”, starts the day with an hour of online education by her teacher. Then she does assignments for an hour on the computer, and then there’s another hour with online contact. “She is completely capable of doing it alone”, says Gaspar. “She can finish up by 1.30 or 2 o’clock independently.”

'I’m worn out by the evening, I can’t imagine working right now'

With the experience of the first lockdown in mind, Gaspar worked through the Christmas holidays, with her husband minding the children, and wisely took a vacation for the first three weeks of the year. “In the afternoon I take the kids out for an hour, and when they have finished their schoolwork they can watch TV and it’s time for me to prepare dinner. I’m worn out by the evening, I can’t imagine working right now.”

Which leaves a nagging worry. “I’m concerned the lockdown will be extended. How am I going to manage that?”

Slow science

Gaspar is investigating how to finance hospitals and doctors to get the best care. She hopes to finish her PhD thesis by the summer, but things have slowed down in the publishing process. Submitting articles takes longer than before because peer reviewers take longer to respond. In her thesis at least three out of five articles need to have been published.

Moreover, at the Dutch Healthcare Authority, where Gaspar gets her data, people have better things to do at the moment, “like supervising the healthcare system.” And her supervisor, Xander Koolman, was at times very involved advising policy makers, so he had less time for supervision. But luckily she has enough funding. And she gets to go to the VU campus every now and then, because her data is there.

Day 2

And Gaspar has other concerns for now. “In the first lockdown we let things slide, and the kids ended up watching a lot of TV on the iPad. We found out that’s not good for anyone. The kids are constantly whining and begging for the iPad. Now our goal is to leave the iPad out of it for two weeks. We’re trying to keep a schedule.” She laughs. “But I say this on day two.”

Correction 12/01/2021: Gaspar's supervisor is not involved in the Red Team anymore, as was stated in an earlier version of this article.

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