It’s been a school year like no other. Τhere was a moment, last spring, when every parent suddenly realized how deeply their lives and livelihoods depended on an institution too often in the background and taken for granted: school. We hadn’t realized as a society how much we needed schools until they were closed.
With almost no notice, adults and children found themselves in the middle of a massive national experiment in new ways of teaching and learning, and new ways of dividing responsibilities between home, school and work.
TEXT BY ANASTASIA SPYROPOULOU
A year later, it’s clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed education in lasting ways, and glimpses of that transformed system are already emerging.
Thousands of educators across the country, from preschool to university, discovered that knowledge of their subject would no longer be sufficient to cope with the new situation. A tsunami of learning new skills and more specifically ICT ones emerged across the globe. No other period in the history of humanity has experienced learning in such a scale in such a short time.
Experts were talking about life-long learning many years ago but few were eager to commit themselves to learning new skills.
“Not at my age”, “I am very close to retirement, no need to invest in my education”, “I’ve been teaching for thirty years, I know my stuff”.
And all of a sudden the world came upside-down. Novice and experienced educators had to find new ways to offer their students the service they needed to succeed. Many thought that lessons via Skype or Zoom would be an easy solution; that tuition would, more or less, be like a face-to-face lesson till they discovered that teaching remotely required more effort, planning, preparation, flexibility, resilience, empathy and patience.
New skills had to be acquired overnight by those who considered technology as an evil to be avoided at any cost, as risky, or even dangerous. They feared that it would replace the teacher; that jobs would be lost and…the universe would collapse.
I suppose the same teachers have the illusion that everything will come back to normal as soon as schools open in September. However this page has been turned over. Covid-19 will be with us for at least the next couple of years. Schools will re-open and re-close many times –maybe not at a national but at a local level. Many students in Covid-19 restricted areas will still need to be taught remotely.
Covid-19 has changed education permanently
Yet, the pandemic has unleashed a wave of innovation in education, it has accelerated change and prompted blue-sky thinking throughout the system. There is just too much good happening today in the digital environment for students to miss out. Even when school is fully in-person, digital access will allow them to more easily form study groups and do homework together, get involved in coding or digital projects.
Some food for thought
Before we can contemplate the arrival of some futuristic, high-tech utopia, we need to take into account that thousands of students will have to be supported. The best way schools can help students catch up academically after a year of distance learning is to ensure they feel relaxed, safe and connected to their friends and teachers as they return to the classroom. Policymakers have to commit to long-term change beyond the Band-Aids applied to a crumbling system over the past year. Even the most obvious gain of the pandemic -hundreds of thousands more students with access to technology- will be fleeting in the absence of structural improvements.
The challenge is how we can keep breaking down the barriers of inequity through what we learned in the pandemic. Some students adjusted well to distance learning and thrived academically, but many others struggled with online classes and endured hardships at home, such as Covid-related sickness or deaths of family members or parents’ unemployment. Some students simply vanished from schools’ radars by not logging into online classes or responding to emails, texts or phone calls.
For many children the screen was a barrier to building teacher-student relationships because they lacked a strong internet signal or a quiet place to work. Schools kept their students engaged through a year of profound disruption but who will address their emotional needs? Who will offer the support they deserve?
It turns out that school and home are more deeply interconnected than we previously thought, and both depend on each other for social, emotional and psychological support.