The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly re-shaped the way we do things as a society.
Social distancing, stricter hygiene habits, temperature checks, online shopping, mask wearing and virtual meetings. Software such as teams or zoom and expressions like hybrid learning or lockdown, are now part of our quotidian conversations and there is no doubt that the aftermath of this coronavirus pandemic will see myriad changes, from personal adjustments to global shifts, that will probably have a long term lasting impact.
Education, the pillar of our society, has been one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic. We were warned but it still took us all by surprise. Students went from spending eight hours or their weekdays learning and socialising in schools, to spending most of their time in front of the screens of their laptops or tablets. Teachers went from being classroom practitioners to online lecturers and deliverers overnight. The school’s leadership teams went from discussing learning spaces, curriculum distribution, after school activities and in-house pastoral support to worrying about online lessons, screen time and students wellbeing. Initially we were working in unprecedented circumstances and mistakes were made, but we learned from our mistakes
The main challenges worldwide were the lack of teachers’ skills to adapt to distance learning and the lack of skills with technology. In addition connectivity issues and the difficulty for younger students to access distance learning independently were also an initial concern. In that sense, parental involvement played and continues to play a crucial role in making a child’s distance learning programme a success. We feel privileged at TBS to have very strong partnerships with our parents as they have been pivotal in making virtual learning at TBS a success.
In our school, we are continuously looking at ways of maintaining this high quality online learning experience that all our students are experiencing whilst ensuring that the wellbeing of our students is prioritised. In that sense, the use of exam.net to administer internal exams is a step forward towards maintaining the rigorous academic approach for which we pride ourselves.
Worldwide, there are however, many challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access and/or technology struggle to participate in digital learning; this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries. For example, according to OECD data, whilst 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway, and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork, only 34% of students in Indonesia have access to technology.
In the US, there is a significant gap between those from privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds: whilst nearly all 15-year-olds from a privileged background said they had a computer to work on, nearly 25% of those from disadvantaged backgrounds did not. In the UK, 17.3% of students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and approximately 9% of households do not have a laptop, desktop or tablet; however in certain schools this figure would be as much as 60 or 70% of students. While some schools and governments have been providing digital equipment to students in need, such as in New South Wales, Australia, many are still concerned that the pandemic will widen the digital divide.
For those who do have access to the right technology, there is evidence that learning online can be more effective in a number of ways. However, the effectiveness of online learning varies amongst age groups and the general consensus is that a structured environment is required, because children are more easily distracted. To get the full benefit of online learning, there needs to be a concerted effort to provide this structure and go beyond replicating a physical class/lecture through video capabilities, instead, using a range of collaboration tools and engagement methods that promote curiosity, critical thinking, adaptability and ultimately fully engage students.
After all, one thing is clear, the effects of this pandemic on us all, have demonstrated the importance of building resilience to cope with the uncertainties that we are faced on a daily basis. To ensure those skills remain a priority for our students, resilience must be built into our educational systems as well.
So what to expect in the future? While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning – with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation – will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, one that will be more blended and technologically oriented which will bring significant benefits.
Deputy Head Academic