Marshall Cavendish Education

Sustaining Quality Education during the Pandemic – Responses, Risks and Opportunities

by Marshall Cavendish Education | Jul 06, 2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic has provided a set of circumstances globally that have not existed in living memory, if ever. The impact of the virus is all-pervasive and in many places, catastrophic.

It is too soon to be definitive about its impact but we can make a number of important observations. On balance, the pandemic has challenged and strained education more than it has benefited it. The responses from education systems and authorities has been typically rapid, but hurried, hopeful but uncertain. Many students have been placed at great risk, and teachers have approached their new responsibilities with varying levels of expertise and confidence. Overall, however, some positives have emerged.

The most obvious implications of the pandemic include the need to: close schools, or at least invoke social distancing, rapidly ramp up online teaching and learning, keep children safe, inform and support parents to become partners in their children’s education, and to determine how quality in education can be sustained.

Teachers have been forced to rethink how they teach when they engage students virtually. The vital ingredient of interaction has been jeopardised. Teachers have lost the opportunity to ask students questions dynamically. Lost the ability to confidently gauge student levels of engagement and motivation, both key to learning. Online learning has excited some students, but bored others. Hopefully, teachers have been compelled to reflect on the absolute fundamentals of teaching. Careful and skilful planning of lessons is key. Wise choices must be made about what students bring to the lesson. What prior knowledge do they have on which to build new knowledge? Are teachers using familiar examples to illustrate to students the points they want to make? Are questions being framed so as to maximise learning? Are ‘rehearsal’ techniques being used to consolidate new learning? Where video technology such as ZOOM is available, are teachers ensuring their presentations are dynamic, and that they are expertly seeking feedback from students to gauge the effectiveness of learning? In some worst case scenarios, teachers have been simply issuing worksheets for students - requiring them to ‘research’ new content. Experts like E. D. Hirsch jnr. explain to us how less-capable students are likely to struggle, if not sink, when left alone to learn.

So, what have been new opportunities? Probably the most obvious is the ubiquitous application of technology. National Centre for Education and the Economy (NCEE) research shows nearly 80% of educators globally used ‘technology and other innovative solutions’. Over 70% of those surveyed counted as a positive the opportunity for ‘students to manage their own learning’. The same survey showed that 65% of respondents considered the new arrangements strengthened ‘involvement and co-operation of parents’. Results are likely to be mixed for students with special education needs because on one hand there is a depreciation in the quality of personal, real support, but on the other hand, some students felt more at ease with working from home and avoiding the at times overwhelming presence of lots of other students.

On balance, however, the likely and concerning impact will be the widening of the social divide in education as students experienced significant ‘losses in learning’. A Victorian-based Grattan Institute survey recorded that only 35% of 5,000 teachers in NSW considered students to be ‘learning well in remote learning’. In disadvantaged schools, this dropped to 15% who felt students were ‘making progress’. Some rural areas in Australia, for example, had 30% of students without internet access at home. Even where connectivity exits, remote learning calls on a new range of student skills, skills not yet developed in many students. Add to this, parental support varies enormously by circumstance and tends to correlate closely with levels of economic advantage and disadvantage.

In summary, the pandemic caught us all unaware, and we now must work hard to better understand all the implications of such tumultuous disruptions to schooling and (i) quickly enhance the quality and accessibility of remote education, and (ii) get kids back to school as soon as we can!

This article is written by Peter Adams, Global Director of The Balanced Scorecard for Schools.

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