Did the gain come with the pain?

The extent to which the education system responded to the Covid-19 crisis has been remarkable. The response to coming out of the lockdowns has perhaps been a little less praiseworthy in terms of the general community. And its probably too early to gauge the real impact on education going forward

Central to judging that impact on the education system will be the extent to which changes have been made. Or will the footprints of the pandemic have been quietly been wiped out of the system as it returns to the tried and tested “normal” Will what might have been seen as interruptions been sanitised out in returning to “normal”.

It would be a pity if the gains made in online learning, provision of devices (more on this in a minute!), home-based learning  and parental involvement and were to be lost.

Utilising online learning has the potential to alter the nature of the school day, to release teachers and students from the tyranny of the timetable through allowing students to plan and execute their work programme. The much-vaunted model of the teacher as a learning support might then actually increase both the development of students’ responsibility for learning while allowing teachers themselves to introduce variety into the ways they cut and dice the day. The boast of some schools that they are a “Bring your own device school” does not automatically mean that the capability of the device is being maximised to quality learning. Most schools are also “bring your own lunch” but this is no guarantee that the diet is wholesome and balanced.

The targets for the provision of devices and of the essential access to the internet was really a brave and daring gaol that had the power to change the way schools worked and probably put some better levels of equity into the advantages that are denied to many simply through a lack of access. I can’t help but think that the level of logistical sophistication required was simply not there. That was a great pity. It is hoped that the goals set out for the lockdowns are continued and eventually met.

There was a clear spirit among many families that took pleasure in being engaged parents and children doing things together in the process of learning. But not everywhere – the statement that “I worry about my children missing so much learning” was a somewhat sad reflection of a misunderstanding about what learning is and about the complementary roles of the home and the school in the educational process. Learning is not the sole property of schools, nor is the home the single fount of pleasure and freedom of spirit. Loosening the boundaries between formal learning and informal activity in daylight had a lot going for it. And institutionalising “after-school-care” and “holiday programmes” meet the needs of many grown-ups but might miss the mark for students.

We have just lived through a remarkable period, of that there is no doubt. It might not yet be finished. Lessons learnt might come in handy – they often do.

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