Though some will roll their eyes and say I am crazy, wouldn’t be the first time nor will it be the last, in the midst of the pandemic there are some positives that hopefully will be leveraged by educators. The following are just some of the areas where I believe the global pandemic can move us towards much-needed educational change
Whereas we have heard an awful lot about the failures with respect to Edtech during the pandemic, I would suggest that much of that revolves around bandwidth, accessibility to technology, and the grafting of poor teaching practices onto cutting-edge technology. So, first and foremost, I hope/trust that the powers that be in public education will take note of the fact that they cannot deliver excellent online learning whether it be blended or fully online without the appropriate infrastructure. So, for example, the recent statement by the Minister of Education in Ontario that online learning will continue to be an option is wise and understandable. However, unless, his government and other like-minded governments put a lot more money into Edtech infrastructure, the same problems will persist. You cannot offer state-of-the-art education if teachers and students lack the bandwidth and hardware to make it work. My hope, yes I am a dreamer, is that governments will seize this opportunity and radically update… yesterday! Perhaps, if I may, I would offer a suggestion. In Toronto, there have been a number of private/public partnerships whereby schools have been rebuilt and/or renovated in exchange for land. There has to be a way for governments to work with the tech industry to ensure students and teachers have the resources they need. Just a thought.
Having spoken to and worked with a number of teachers over the last year and a bit, I have heard horror stories about blended learning and fully online learning. And yet, I have also heard of tremendous success and amazing modifications that have made the material come to life… as it should. Expecting teachers to turn on a dime and go from 100% face-to-blended to 100% online and back to blended is madness. And yet, many teachers have done so brilliantly… with considerable effort I realize. However, those who have resolved to continue to stand and deliver have also found success… for them at least. The old methods of teaching do not suit today’s world, though tried and true methods do persist and are replicated online. But just as passive learning is boring live, it is heartbreakingly ineffective online. It is my hope that ministries, boards, and individual school leaders will acknowledge this and better train and educate the educators. We are 21 years into the 21st century and it is high time that we get with the program in terms of curriculum content and delivery. As philosopher Eric Hoffer noted, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” We know face-to-face learning is better than 100% online learning. We also know blended learning can draw on the best of both worlds and create a better learning experience than 100% face-to-face learning. Blended learning is here to stay, as it should be, and that’s exciting. So let’s leverage the opportunity and make it work!
Respect for Teachers
Some of us are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals. However, the one thing almost all of us have in common is the fact that we have gone to school. And therein lies the problem. I would never presume that I know anything about medicine because I have been to a doctor or a hospital. Similarly, I understand I know very little about the law based on my life experience. However, because we all share a similar experience when it comes to education, we all tend to think we understand the education process and schools because we have gone to school. Just sit in on parent-teacher conferences and you will understand what I mean. Similarly, there’s the old joke (which really isn’t that funny) that people from the past could return to life today and be astounded and overwhelmed by the progress we have made, but find great calm, comfort, and reassurance in the fact that schools still pretty much look and operate the same way they used to. Hopefully, parents who have been forced to work from home and help their kids gain a greater insight into what happens when their kids are at school. Though many things have remained the same physically about schools, much has also changed in terms of teaching. As noted before change is slow, but it is happening. With that in mind, trying to work with a group of students who all learn differently is a very difficult task at the best of times. And these are certainly not h best of times. Hopefully, parents and society, in general, will come out of this with a far more nuanced understanding and greater respect and admiration for teachers and schools. Again, I can dream.
As I said at the outset, a lot of time and ink has been wasted ranting and raving about all that has gone wrong during the pandemic. When this is all over there will be a lot of looking back at mistakes made and opportunities lost. There will also be those of us who will look forward and, encouraged by the positives, look to do better. Prior to the pandemic, we have not been very good at sharing what works and making connections across cities, countries, or continents. If we walk away from this crisis without leveraging the things that have worked outside our own comfort zone as educators, students, parents, and leaders we will have wasted tremendous opportunities that we have been afforded. Speaking to students, as I do on a regular basis, they tell me that they are tired of the same old same old. They are ready to move on to an educational system that meets their needs and not the needs of their parents or a world that no longer exists. And that is the reality that they understand and acknowledge. The educational paradigm pre-pandemic no longer exists. As Spanish philosopher George Santayana noted, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. I truly believe that we have been given the circumstances that, if leveraged will enable us to come together to create and implement a stronger educational practice. I truly hope that we seize the moment. It would be a tragedy if we aren’t able to do so.