How the Coronavirus is radically changing the way we do school

Will we ever go back to “normal”?

In just a week schools were radically changed all around the world, starting what seems to be an experiment on an epic scale. What happens when the students are learning from home and teachers are relying on digital tools for learning and assessment? What happens when the amount of time spent at school no longer matters? And what happens when schools and teachers are asked by the school authorities to disregard attendance, a factor that mattered the most just 4 weeks ago? If a student had more than ten days of undocumented absence, they were not allowed to graduate in Norway. That is just 4 weeks ago. Today we have to focus on what students know, not how much time they spend in school. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

It’s a great moment” for learning, says Andreas Schliecher, head of education at the OECD.  “All the red tape that keeps things away is gone and people are looking for solutions that in the past they did not want to see,” he says. Students will take ownership over their learning, understanding more about how they learn, what they like, and what support they need. They will personalize their learning, even if the systems around them won’t. Schliecher believes that genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Quarz.  “Real change takes place in deep crisis,” he says. “You will not stop the momentum that will build.”

Even so, there are huge differences in how countries are equipped to face these challenges. According to OECD data, in Denmark, Slovenia, Norway, Poland, Lithuania, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, over 95% of students reported having a computer to use for their work. Students in these countries are truly fortunate.

Teachers who were prepared for this drastic change are sharing videos and online instructions in which students do most of their learning via Teams or other platforms and then come to school online to work together.  It is an opportunity to spend time online with the teacher and classmates on discussions, reflection, analysis, evaluation, and collaboration. It is what we call working on higher-order skills.

Schliecher, from the OECD, “The big question for me is will we develop an ed tech solution that capitalizes on the relationship between students and teachers, as opposed to just broadcasting stuff,” he says. “I think if we want to give this any chance of success for large numbers of students and learners, the teacher is going to be absolutely key,” especially in the younger years such as primary schools. Pair good teachers, who coach and facilitate, with good content and good tech, and the sky is the limit. Quarz

Most countries have built a system that is consummately focused on compliance around the time spent on learning—how many days students attend school (190 in Norway) and how many minutes in each class. By doing so we have been missing the bigger picture.  Today we need to ask each student if they are mastering meaningful competencies.

In such a system, we would acknowledge honestly that all students don’t take the same amount of time to master concepts. Some will need several days on something, whereas others will have learned it outside of school or require less time. Some students will choose to go deeper on certain topics about which they have burning questions. Others will be eager to move on to other concepts. The point is that we won’t need to be focused so much on the inputs, but on the outcomes. Are students learning? Are they engaged and making progress? Time can be variable and learning can be constant—the exact opposite of today’s system. Digital resources—much as millions of students around the country are now using—can help create a more flexible system that allows educators to personalize for each student’s needs. Appropriately allocating scarce resources—rather than with a blind view of equity—is critical. Forbes

It is my hope and belief that when we recover from this, and life slowly goes back to normal, schools will have changed for the better. In order for this to happen, we need to reflect on how we are working in the virtual classroom today. We need to share good practices, we need to engage in meaningful conversations with our students and school leaders have to know what is going on in the classroom. Only by acknowledging the opportunities, this change in school has provided, can we make a radical sustainable change.


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