How can the education sector evolve post-Coronavirus?
While this is a strong stress test for education systems, this is also an opportunity to develop alternative education opportunities, (OECD)
A paper by OECD suggests what could lay ahead for education: “The current wave of school closures offers an opportunity for experimentation and for envisioning new models of education and new ways of using face-to-face learning time.”
As schools and headteachers have developed emergency plans, training for teachers to work remotely and apply online classwork has become the greatest issue in our education systems to develop some form of capacity. In the webinars I have been conducting to support the professional development for teachers online, I have managed to connect with about 500 teachers across the United Kingdom, Ireland, UAE and Brazil.
The OECD writes: “Every week of school closure will imply a massive loss in the development of human capital with significant long-term economic and social implications.” It has become increasingly clear that the greatest workload issue for teachers has been the plethora of non-stop notifications. For schools, managing staff and vulnerable pupils, making life-threatening decisions has taken their toll on some of our school leaders.
Using online platforms
It is no surprise that Zoom has seen a significant shift in the number of downloads as millions of people all around the world, including parents, look for new ways to teach children at home. When I think of how I completed my bachelor degree, or my masters and currently my doctoral degree, many tertiary education institutions already deliver online courses to students. As the OECD highlight, “this is less systematically true in primary and secondary education.”
Distance learning already has curriculum courses and resources online, with teachers selecting lectures and exercises for the students to complete. Currently, in the UK, we have thousands of schools and teachers, currently developing online teaching content, mastering how to teach via Google, Microsoft teams and Zoom, for example. Every single school will already have a partnership with some private educational platforms, providing materials and quizzes for pupils to complete. I have already listed 46 ideas: How to Teach Online for teachers and schools.
I found it fascinating to read about Coronavirus from teachers and schools in the Far East, trying to understand what lies ahead and how these educators have dealt with these same problems. What if we could collaborate more internationally, to mutualised existing online educational resources and ideas?
The OECD says “Countries and sometimes regions within countries have different curricula, they tend to teach similar subjects and could consider translating and using foreign digital resources aligned with their curriculum… to provide teachers with digital learning opportunities, offering online teacher training resources on how to teach online.” I suspect many schools, not all, managed to do so within a short period of time under immense physical and mental pressure.
Challenges of implementing new ways of teaching
“Learning and collaborating in an online environment might not come naturally to teachers and students” and although I would consider myself to be fairly tech-savvy and some may be optimistic about teaching online in the future, I do fear what lies ahead for our disadvantage pupils. There are many things I hope to see change after the pandemic, but decisions with timetabling, examinations and accountability cannot be made in isolation. It will take government decisions for us to move away from any of the methods we have always used, and whatever issues we choose to reform, we will all need to agree!
Our education system is still operating on the traditional forms of education. If you do a little bit of research into our educational history, whether this is in England or America, you can still see much of what was first created still exists today. Following on from this pandemic, as much as I want to see a revolution in education, and with a significant disclaimer for our vulnerable pupils (offering them a physical space in which to be taught by a person face-to-face rather than remotely), I do not believe we will see any significant reform to schooling once our lives go back to normal.
The OCED highlights:
- How do we balance between digital and physical activities; mental health?
- How to keep a pulse on students’ emotional health?
- Do all students have access to devices?
- Is our country providing access to IT infrastructure?
What caught my eye about this paper published by the OECD, was this paper offering opportunity for experimentation, envisioning new models of education and new ways of face-to-face learning time.
The biggest disruption without question is the summer examinations. In England, with the announcement that teacher assessments will be used to form examination grades, several teachers got in touch with me stating that they have been inundated with parents demanding what their children’s grades would be. I’ve been a huge fan of comparative assessment, showcasing how teachers can reliably predict grades without bias and improve reliability. A real challenge will be for our education system to explore secure systems for pupils to be able to take an exam online, from home.
Another challenge will be to explore different times and schooling models. I’ve been privileged enough to see schools operating in 15 different countries, and after 25 years of teaching in one particular way, I am pleased to report there are other ways that we can teach our children. The challenge is how this fits in with parents and our current models of living and working. One thing that we have all commonly experienced as a result of this pandemic, is how we can all work from home, whether this is on television, office-based or teaching within a traditional school building. If anything, it shows that we can achieve some of our current ways of working.
With the increased profile of mental health, the need to explore how students can learn in different places and at different times will provide students with opportunities to have more agency and give teachers more autonomy; something I am currently researching for my doctoral studies.
Another recommendation by the OECD, is empowering teachers to make the most of digital advances. For obvious reasons, the UK has always placed safeguarding high on the agenda. There is a stark contrast to safeguarding pupils is some of the other countries I have visited. I take great pride in what we achieve in the UK, and as a former pupil from a free-school meals background, we shouldn’t be cautious of the longer-term opportunities that teaching online can present for our disadvantaged children. There have been the usual safeguarding concerns with using video, and I would argue this is because using ICT in schools is often restricted by the quality of the resources schools can afford and the training offered to our teachers.
We can do better.
While “the crisis pushes learning, research and evaluation to the background, the different solutions implemented within countries and their effects should be carefully documented.”