Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
The summer is finally here, but the real question is: what are the plans for schools reopening in September?
While hoping for the best, we should plan for the worst. But even the best hope of students attending schools in person come September, exactly as they did pre-pandemic, is unlikely. Unless the school is small, classes of 20 or 30 plus students in confined spaces are no longer safe. So, it would seem that online learning, once an alternative, and more recently a necessity, is now a reality.
Controlled socialization – crowding 1, 000 students into a Hall for Assembly and lines of students queuing at a canteen – is no longer safe. Even some close-contact sports are likely to be on the chopping block.
Here are my three biggest concerns for which we must find proactive solutions:
Firstly, interaction that drives social, emotional and behavioural growth in children has been disrupted far more than academic progress.
Secondly, online learning, even for engaged, motivated and independent learners has not been an easy transition. While other students, less self-regulating, have suffered immeasurably.
Thirdly, teachers discovered that as hard as teaching is in person, online it proved to be arduously difficult to sustain for hours, even with a more relaxed environment, technical skills, online resources and support systems. Therefore, rather than praying for ‘normal’ to resume, perhaps we should be planning for an improved learning model.
An article I recently read said, “… We compromised, we adapted, we abbreviated, we were flexible because we were in reaction mode and we needed to manage a response that felt equitable and accessible to everyone. Teachers created different expectations, students showed up, we made things work the best we could. Every infrastructure and institution that we have designed, built and supported pre-pandemic is facing large questions and larger demands, not just because we are reflectively thinking about how to make significant change, but because we are reacting to the moment much more urgently.”
In times of disruption, we become emotionally exhausted and driving our worst fears as parents, students and teachers is the truth we do not want to acknowledge: people seldom do what is expected, if it is not inspected. So, planning for a new, ‘safe’ learning environment is going to take a lot of hard work AND a personal paradigm shift on a national level.
Plans have been published by the Ministry of Education in Trinidad: ‘The school creates two groups for each class, group A and group B. Group A and group B will attend school on alternate days. A school that has a current 5-day timetable will then have a 10-day cycle.’
Teachers must teach both in person and remotely, and design will become more intricate, as will administration and inspection-driven accountability. Learning cannot be compromised; friends may be separated into different groups; ‘streaming’ based on academic criteria is almost certain; regulation must increase, placing a greater responsibility on school officials. Everything must change.
The irony in all of this is two-fold: for years, parents have embraced their children’s liberal use of technology, based on the skills they perceive them acquiring. Surely now, parents realise that their children’s use of technology as a toy, while well-developed, has not prepared them to enjoy or harness technology as a tool. Similarly, parents equate a large school with greater opportunities for social interaction. Now they are faced with the danger that comes with large numbers and the reduced, or selective, socialization that is inevitable.
The idea that parents may have had of getting their child into the ‘right school’ so that they can surrender them educationally and socially to an environment where teachers and friends take care of every need, is no longer a sustainable model. The TEAM ARCHETYPE must now take over for learning to be productive, relevant and continuous.
Fewer students or smaller schools are the answer, perhaps permanently. On June 28, 2020, Forbes magazine published a longitudinal research study that reported “online undergraduate classes should have no more than 12 students. In person, on campus classes should be no larger than 18 students”. Yet we crowd over 30 students into mixed ability classrooms from the age of eleven.
Perhaps we should all thank God for the pandemic because at least now the ‘herding’ of children through school, moving ‘them up and getting them out’, will have to end. Nurturing thinkers for the future, seeing each student’s ability and needs on an individual level, transforming lives and equalizing opportunity now has a chance to happen.
But let’s continue the honesty. Parents can no longer leave the monitoring of learning to teachers, and teachers must now be dedicated to ongoing professional development. Greater involvement and far greater flexibility are now critical components in education. We’re going to have to intensify the structure and expectations for ourselves and our students. We’re going to have to fling our excuses away and stop hiding behind unions or tradition. It’s step-up time; it’s collaboration time; it’s a new age.
You know, after all, we might all discover the truth in that old Bajan saying, ‘No bad don’t happen’.
Julia Hanschell can be contacted at [email protected]