Dutch schools have been shut for five weeks. After the current May holiday there are eight or so weeks until the summer holiday. In any normal year it is a busy time, with so much to fit in as the end of year approaches.
But imagine that the schools can’t return immediately after the current Spring holiday, and that very well might be the case. What then? Well, we’ll be continuing with the current distance learning strategies. The jury is very much out still on how effective the learning and education that is on offer is actually being. But two things are certain, firstly, education is continuing and secondly, its success or failure certainly won’t be for lack of trying. The education world at all levels are doing their best in incredibly demanding circumstances.
With this as the background music, in the higher echelons of the Dutch Education system there is already talk of playing catch-up. The question is being asked, ‘how is the time that the schools are, well, not in school going to be caught up?’ There is talk of next year extending the length of the school day or of shortening the summer holiday to make good the ‘damage’. But wait a minute, the teaching staff are currently putting in extraordinary efforts to continue the educational process. This unprecedented situation we find ourselves in is leading pupils and staff to approach learning in some new and innovative ways and judgement is already being made that these cannot possibly be working sufficiently well, and we should be looking at damage limitation and how to make up the ‘lost’ time.
This approach overlooks so much. During the shutdown young people are still learning. They are still learning the conventional educational material (maybe temporarily at a slightly less high tempo than normal), but they are engaging with so many other things. They are being encouraged to work more independently, they are meeting new digital challenges, they are learning more about the world around them, they are learning about the dynamics of a pandemic, they are learning about their relationship with in a broader society and their place within it, they might also be learning about following the news for the first time in their life. Yes, they might very well return to school with a better understanding of a bigger picture that will stand them in good stead for future their development.
Others may return to school having struggled with the educational challenges thrown at them during the shutdown, that is perfectly true. But what about those who return having had to deal with unexpected bereavement and loss, or simple anxiety problems that have arisen from the events happening around them that have left them feeling insecure or simply afraid. Less obvious problems on the surface perhaps, but ones that will have lasting consequences if swept under the educational carpet in the rush to play catch-up. Education has a wide reach and a duty of care to its pupils in countless areas that go way beyond simple academic achievement, a fact that we should not loose sight of.
Finally, it does have to be asked, what exactly are we trying to catch-up. The integrity of an educational program and the curriculum you might say. Take out two or three months, and we’ll never be able to deliver the pupils to the demarcated finishing line at the age of, say 18. That does rather assume that the content that must be forced in by the age of 18 is absolute and strictly defined. Well, I suppose it is defined by the content of the final exams. So, is the whole idea of the catch-up, and throwing the whole educational sector, pupils and staff under still more pressure, just to be able to pass the exams? Could it just be, that it is the exams that are the problem here, and it is there that we should be looking?