The educational world has, like many other sectors, been experiencing a thorough shake up and sweeping away of familiar structures in the last couple of months. A learning experience for all concerned. As the Covid-19 crisis rumbles on there seems to be increasing evidence that these temporary measures might actually be closer to the future norms than we may care to admit. Could this be the moment to be forced into standing education on its head and facing up to new realities and new needs? Not just the needs of the immediate requirements of medical necessity, but also of the type of education that we need right now in 2020 and the years to come?
Here in the Netherlands we are just starting to loosen the lockdown. Primary schools have started a partial reopening this week and secondary schools look set to follow at the start of June. Temporary timetables of reduced classes will be made to perhaps give some sort of sense of a restart in the few weeks left until the summer holiday. But it also looks increasingly likely that the much longed for securities of educational familiarity might not be on offer when we return at the end of August or the beginning of September.
What started off as temporary and emergency measures might yet rapidly take on a more permanent, or at least long lasting perspective. Education with reduced school time blended with learning at home looks an increasingly more likely possibility.
The school where I work have been busy for the last two to three years working on a new concept for the education that we offer. We were, and indeed are, intending to fully launch it after the summer break. It is less dependent on the classical lesson structure of 30 children in a classroom and the teacher at the front. There is more room for the pupils to work independently, at their own pace and level.
The intention was of course to facilitate this independent element at school, but in the Covid-19 version of education this might very well be the section that is moved out to the home study area. For us, as with all in education, there are important decisions to be made. But as a school we have already made some useful and relevant steps in directions that may well prove to be extremely useful. I does feel that the weekly developments and their effects on education are a Pandora’s box that is slowly opening with new limitations, challenges but also perhaps opportunities. Is this the time and the moment to take a critical look at what we do and how we do it? And at the same time to not be afraid to say that we have to do things differently, and indeed want to do things differently? Time will tell, but an interesting article appeared in the UK based Guardian newspaper today that touches on many of these points and raises a couple of interesting and neglected directions that are neglected areas in education philosophies.
Five weeks ago, after a week of school in early March where you could already feel that the Corona effect was about to burst loose, the schools in the Netherlands closed. Initially for three weeks, although for most people it was pretty clear that five weeks minimum was extremely likely as it would bring many schools up to the spring holiday. We’ve reached that point, and holiday for me starts this weekend and runs until early May. As I write it is unclear what will happen thereafter, but that should become known sometime in the next week or so.
So, five weeks in, time for a little reflection on how it’s gone and is going. Let’s start with the negatives.
I have undoubtedly put in more hours to my teaching job in a month than quite possibly ever before
As a result of the above, I go into the holiday hugely behind with my marking
I feel like I have an office job, stuck behind a desk, staring at a screen for hours on end. Which for an art teacher does come as a bit of a shock.
I miss massively the contact with the kids, the humour, the silliness and general classroom banter.
I miss the engagement with the pupils involved in their practical activities, the reaching over a shoulder to guide, coach and advise
It is too easy for pupils to be invisible. And herein lies the biggest potential problem. Successful and assertive ‘achievers’ will work well. The shy, the strugglers or the disadvantaged (in any number of ways) will run into more difficulties. This potential risk area, means the differences in abilities and achievements in any class is going to magnified.
The practical possibilities on offer to be able to work into distant learning art practical assignments are greatly reduced. I can’t really assume my pupils have access to much more than their iPad, pencil and pen at home.
The online lessons whilst being useful are so radically different in almost every way to the sorts of lessons I normally give. There are possibilities here, but after these first weeks of experimentation I am only really just starting to get my head round the new format and to start to see the opportunities. Initially you do seem to be constantly hitting your head on the difficulties.
But enough of the negatives, what about the positives….
First, and most importantly of all, education is continuing, the form is different, but something is certainly happening!
The digital know-how and experience of virtually all teachers is coming on in leaps and bounds, instead of it being just the realm of the enthusiasts. I sense that the incredibly difficult to arrange art department meetings might be moving to a digital arrangement next year.
The pupils are actually turning up on time and doing the assignments at the required moments (at least in my experience)
The pupils are also rapidly picking up the necessary skills to work in new digital areas.
The pupils don’t seem to moan any more…..but maybe that’s because their microphones are turned off!
The one on one contact with pupils is interestingly different. In the course of the week there’s quite a lot of messaging and chatting with individual pupils about assignments that are being worked on. This is chatty and friendly and feels somehow different both to the rather awkwardly written emails I sometimes get or the face to face contact in the classroom. They’ve started wishing me a good weekend, saying that they enjoyed an assignment, some have even asked for extra homework…..this is all rather uncharted and very interesting territory!
I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to say that distant learning is the future of mainstream education. But this is a learning experience for all, and there are undoubtedly things that should be kept in and built on when we do eventually get back into the classroom.