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by Wayne Campbell
“Learning is never lost, though it may not always be “found” on pre-written tests of pre-specified knowledge or preexisting measures of pre-coronavirus notions of achievement.” – Rachael Gabriel, Associate Professor of Literacy Education at the University of Connecticut.
Professor Rachael Gabriel has a different outlook regarding the concept of learning loss. The professor argues that students continue to learn about themselves and school when we tell them that their efforts to engage with school this year were simply not enough.
They learn about inequality when they see some districts open in person and others not, some people vaccinated and others not. They learn that the world still assumes all children live with their parents, and that it is safe to do so. Professor Gabriel concluded that teachers learned too that their already lean curriculum could be even leaner and more focused.
That practice and application could and should look different at home, and that family members, friends and neighbours are a resource not only for supporting what happens in school, but for extending and elaborating on it in ways we cannot predict.
The concept of learning loss is actually designed to describe declines in knowledge test scores emerging from comparative analysis of standardised test results. In spite of Professor Gabriel’s views, the past academic year has not been anything close to normal due to the disruptions associated with the novel coronavirus.
The World Bank states that children’s learning has suffered immensely, “And because the education sector also provides health, nutrition, and psychosocial services, the overall welfare of children has declined substantially. Their recovery should start immediately.”
As a result, the United Nations Educational, Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Bank have launched a joint mission called Mission: Recovering Eduation 2021 which focuses on three priorities: bringing all children back to schools, recovering learning losses, and preparing and supporting teachers.
In the Jamaican landscape there have been calls for an extension of the academic year in order to address the learning loss. The idea is rather appealing given the learning loss many of our students have suffered since March of 2020 when educational institutions were ordered closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Jamaican government has responded to the disruptions in the 2020/2021 academic year by rolling out a ‘Recover Smarter-National School Learning and Intervention Plan’, aimed at helping students to recover from learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The summer school sessions will be held for approximately two hours per day, Monday to Thursday, from July 5 to August 19. The summer school will be delivered online and face-to-face, with the latter component primarily targeted at students who have not been consistently engaged with the education system.
Just over 17,000 students have signed on for summer school.
According to the Education Ministry more than 120, 000 students have not been engaged since the close of schools in March of 2020. Some will argue that much of the discourse regarding an extension of the school year is being done in a research vacuum.
Research Driven Jill Barshay in an article for The Hechinger Report argues, it seems intuitive that what children need now is more time. She added that since students missed so much instruction during the pandemic, teachers should get extra time to fill all those instructional holes, from teaching mathematical percents and zoological classifications to discussing literary metaphors.
“We don’t really know what the effects are,” said Jean B. Grossman, an economist at Princeton University and MDRC, a nonprofit research organisation, which has studied this research literature. Grossman added that lengthening the school day or year isn’t a new idea.
The 1983 report A Nation at Risk highlighted how much more instructional time children received in other industrialised nations. Japan had 240 school days when compared to Europe which averaged between 190 and 210 days. The average school days in the United States of America rounds off at 180 days.
The discussions surrounding lengthening the current academic year must be done in a targeted approach especially as it relates to boys’ under-achievement. We must be mindful of our unique socio-cultural factors in Jamaica as we seek creative ways to address the learning loss from the pandemic.
Male underachievement is more a socio-political issue than an educational one. Social and cultural factors have continued to influence the various ways in which masculinity is defined not only in the Jamaican society but societies all over.
Masculinity and what it means to be a man does impact on the education of our boys.
Many boys view the school experience as feminine. Our boys’ life choices are severely circumscribed by the dominant notions of masculinity competing with “multiple masculinities” in the society. Jamaica’s Education Regulations 1980 which governs teaching and learning; Regulation 7 (3), states every public educational institution shall meet for classes not less than 190 days of each school year unless it is prevented from doing so for reasons approved by the Minister.
This 190 minimum days are above that of the United States of America but fewer than that of Japan. South Korea has 220 days as its minimum number of contact days for school. Finland has a maximum of 190 days; however, most schools are in sessions fewer days.
Finland’s education system regarding student outcomes is among the best if not the best in the world. This clearly indicates that the total number of school days is not a critical factor in student performance. This data driven reality forces us to examine other factors which are important in determining student performance.
A significant number of our students are from dysfunctional families. Summer is often viewed and utilized as a time to juggle for many students in order to get themselves financially ready for the upcoming academic year. If such students did not log online during the interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic it’s doubtful that they will during the hot summer months.
Many students take their summer holidays before the official end of the academic year in order to juggle to earn funds to buy school uniforms, bags and shoes. It is not uncommon for schools in some areas to modify the start of their end of year examinations to coincide with students’ unofficial summer holidays.
We have neither summer nor winter in Jamaica, but our summer months of June, July and August are extremely hot.
In addition to the intense heat is the discomfort that is associated with many of our poorly designed school building; teaching and learning is that more challenging.
Many students continue to suffer from poor internet connectivity. There is also the issue of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Importantly, a significant number of our teachers as well as students old enough have refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Undoubtedly, this vaccine hesitancy among these key stakeholders can impact the return to face-to-face school for the upcoming academic year.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. [email protected]