Friday 19 March
Dear global education leader,
Since the world shut over a year ago there has been a justified focus on the toll of school closures and remote learning, especially for low-income families and students. Students with no devices or proper space to study, or inadequate or absent WiFi have struggled to learn. Grief and loss have engulfed families and communities while soaring unemployment has ratcheted up stress in hundreds of millions of homes around the world. Students have been falling behindacademically and struggling emotionally.
But the pandemic has also helped and empowered some. Kids who were bullied at school, found refuge at home, away from their predators. Teachers dramatically improved their digital teaching skills while students discovered a world of online learning resources which will be forever available to them, from Kahoot! and Khan Academy to digital study tools like Quizlet. Parents turned up in droves for virtual parent-teacher meetings, a welcome change for educators (who need engaged parents) and parents (who really can’t leave work at 3:30pm on any given Tuesday).
Many students have thrived when able to learn at their own pace, watching a video three or four times if needed, or signing off once they understand the concept. Parents have noticed their kids gaining independence and more self-direction. “We found that our pupils who might struggle in class to understand things have often done well", said Jon Hutchinson, a teacher at Reach Academy in Feltham, during an online event.
The impact of this annus horribilis may be more profound than more tech, more personalization, more self-paced learning, and more independence. Some schools have seen the futility of arranging by grades and not ability, many are rethinking assessments, and all have been reminded of the importance of social and emotional learning—and not just as a tool to fuel academic learning. Small-group instruction is front and center, from learning pods in the West to teachers in Uganda, traveling from village to village to teach small groups outside rather than in classrooms packed with 70 students. Cajon Valley Union School District started the year with hybrid learning. According to superintendent David Miyashiro, when the kindergarteners arrived in person, for the first time ever, there were no tears. They had met their classmates and teachers online, which made the transition—a notably difficult one—much easier.
We cannot be blind to the needs this year has created, or the gaps that have widened. But to rehash a wildly-overused phrase, we also cannot let this crisis go to waste. New research from Brookings based on a survey of 25,000 parents in 10 countries showed that many of them want a “new” kind of education for their children, with majorities demanding a better balance of academic and social and emotional learning. Maybe it’s time to start listening to them.
Host, The Learnit Podcast