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Month: April 2020

Not OUT of school, AT School, but not IN School

EdTalkNZ is back! After a gap in postings EdTalkNZ has returned to start all those conversations that arise from matters educational. Engage, support, challenge are the hallmarks of a strong education environment.

Not OUT of school, AT School, but not IN School

Has there ever been a time in New Zealand’s recent history that the whole nation acts in unison for a single purpose? Well perhaps not within our memories but reacting to an event as tragic as an epidemic or a pandemic it is not new to New Zealand nor is it new to our schools.

Endemics and pandemics have floated across our horisons with some regularity inflicting varying degrees of damage to people of all ages and to some more than to others.

I looked up the dates and they spread across a range – 1890 -94, 1872, 1899, 1915, 1916, 1918, 1948, 1952, 1955, 1956, 1957, 2009, 1912, and, of course, 2020. The nature of these periods of epidemic varied also: Influenza, Smallpox, Incephalitis, Polio, Asian ‘flu, SARs, and Covit-19. The number of deaths varied from the largest tragedy (9,000 in 1918) across numbers in the 800 – 1,000 range in the fifties, down to the extraordinarily low number of NZ deaths in 2020 (as of yesterday). Kia maia, kia manawanui, kia kaha!

They haven’t all resulted in school closures. The whole system was shut down in 1918,  primary schools were closed in the 1950 for a period and in 2020 schools were shut and are now being re-opened in a measured and staggered fashion. At other times groups of schools have been shut down.

The big difference between 2020 and the rest is the extent to which technology plays a critical part – enabling scientists and those responsible for assisting  public health to access data quickly and in a form that has been massaged to a sophisticated level. And who would have thought that schools could tool themselves to respond to the challenge of teaching students in large numbers and at a distance and in a hurry? Of course paper still has a role and always did – documents tell the tales of piles of paper being circulated to schools in pretty well all the closures over the years.

To what extent will the wider use of on-line teaching currently influence the direction curriculum delivery takes in the near future or will the structures and the artefacts that fuel such strategies meet resistance as schools and institutions return to their “tried and true”? Could this be a reform without a change? And the question of who the teachers are and where learning takes place might arise and challenge a century or more of practice.

There are reports of children and their caregivers enjoying the home delivery of lessons. But there is also a group of parents that express their feelings in statements such as “I really worry about my children missing their learning” and “I would like my children to get back to learning”. Such views might expose a section of the community that has less confidence and perhaps a degree of ignorance as to what to do when it comes to learning. For an equitable use of parents and technology there needs to empowerment not disenfranchisement. There is a truckload of evidence that parents with help can be effective first teachers. The home-schooling movement has generally shown that parents with help are excellent teachers. Parents as first teachers has proven itself for those up to 3 years but the community has not had the opportunities opened up to them to have real responsibility across the system.

Both the schooling system and the tertiary education sector will discover that when we “return to normal” we will find that “normal” is not what it used to be. Education has received clear messages – learners can learn without teachers, the home environment is a good learning environment for some but it is also an uneven place for others, teachers are required to guide learners through the complex pathways of education and so on.

Can we move on from the lessons of Covid-19 to a place where we make effective and equitable use of technology as powerful instruments of teaching and learning? Can we bring all parents into the mystical circle that education has become? Perhaps the question is: Do we want education to be different?

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