How can the education sector thrive in the new COVID-19 era?

Education
The education sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Schooling from home, technological solutions and entirely new ways of teaching and learning have had to be implemented without any prior planning, to the stress of teachers, pupils, parents and the system in general. According to the United Nations, “it has set the clock back on the attainment of international education goals, and disproportionately affected the poorer and most vulnerable. And yet, the education community has proved resilient, laying a groundwork for the rebound.”

How can schools, universities and other educational centres continue to demonstrate resilience, and adequately take into consideration the needs of all students, as the climate continues to change and a ‘new normal’ takes hold? That is the million-dollar question. We’ve reviewed various resources delving into this issue and have detailed some of our main findings in the points below.

Better technological solutions

Technology is almost certainly going to be at the heart of education going forward. As such, technology will need to be developed to offer outcomes that are customised for individual student needs, as well as teachers’. This new ‘hybrid learning environment’, as it is dubbed by Microsoft in a report released by the tech giant in May, will include a ‘blend of real-life and online learning’ that will happen ‘at school, at home, in the community and beyond’.

It’s likely that this reimagined education model delivered through digital solutions will be available anywhere, anytime and will be made possible through public-private partnerships.

Importantly, even if newer and better digital solutions are found, strong social relationships between families, teachers and students will need to be maintained to ensure students remain focused and motivated. Digital activities must be balanced with screen-free time and extra attention must be paid to pupils who struggle socially or academically.

Microsoft identifies the following three considerations:

–         Technology should enable students to learn at their own pace, following their own interests and be challenged where appropriate

–         Teachers must-have tools which enable them to easily access individualised real-time data on how well each student is progressing, both emotionally and scholastically

–         Parents must be empowered through technology allowing them to closely follow their child’s programme and progress

Consideration for vulnerable students

Working and schooling at home, places vulnerable students, such as those in domviolent family situations, at increased risk. It is vital that, in the current climate and going forward, that teachers remain aware that student’s need for guidance, comfort and counselling may be greater than before. Schools will, more than ever, need to act as sanctuaries. Psychological support in schools will be paramount, as will a focus on student well-being and continuity in the curriculum and teaching staff.

Schools could also consider creating partnerships with other social and community services to ensure a collective and continued response to the needs of vulnerable children and their families is maintained.

Could Forest Learning, as done in Scandinavia, be an answer?

A matter of design

It’s easy to get caught up in all the technological elements given technology is key to how so many pupils are being taught, in many instances remotely, right now. However, there are other logistical considerations to ponder also given a level of ‘social distancing’ may be deemed necessary in schools going forward. Architect Helen Roberts, a partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, in this article by The AJ, suggests classroom pods could be an effective option, along with placing fewer students per room. This could be achieved by implementing a half-day on-site model wherein pupils spend a few hours at school and the remainder of the day learning online in a computer facility in the school catchment area or at home.

Sue Emms, a principal at BDP, also in The AJ, suggests ’more radical opportunities’ should be considered, for example using or repurposing other underused spaces within local communities. She adds: ’[Could] the infant section of a primary school move and be set up in community centres, public libraries, village halls, leisure centres or places of worship?”

Other practical considerations may include:

–         Staggered and controlled drop-offs. This is particularly important when parents pose a high-risk e.g. healthcare workers

–         Incorporating new learnings models into the current education system e.g. the Scandinavian concept of outdoor learning, ‘forest school’

–         Doorless design to prevent touching of handles

–         Improvement of ventilation

–         Updated building materials to ones that are easier to clean and less likely to accumulate bacteria, like in hospitals

–         Increase maintenance and cleaning staff.

–         Frequent C-19 testing of teachers and students using emerging near-instant and easy to use test kits.

In summary, while the COVID-19 pandemic no doubt poses challenges for parents, students and teachers as well as the system as a whole, it also offers an opportunity for us to reimagine education and develop ways to educate current and future generations in a way that is much more flexible and personalised than ever before. It’s also a promising time for both the private and public sectors who will need to closely work together to develop the digital and more traditional solutions required to make learning, in the new climate, work.