I recently had an invitation to contribute to a webinar organised by the Global Citizenship Foundation on the subject of the shape of education post-Covid-19.
Here is the paper generated:
Learning Beyond Covid-19
David Hughes MA ADEM NPQH
Reactive planning and the return to the ‘old’ normal
In reacting to the Covid-19 crisis in learning terms, there has been an understandable desire at maintaining some form of continuity with what would have been happening had the school been open and operating normally. It was understandable that the focus of school leaders looked at maintenance of service. By definition, that fixation tended to prioritise the delivery of learning content through online conduits.
All these system-based approaches assumed that all pupils could access the service offered by having a robust internet connection, which is a large assumption in itself.
This has certainly not been a comfortable time for teachers in terms of the gradient of the learning curve in the use of new learning technologies and the related issues of monitoring and supporting individual pupils. That, in normal times, would be seen as a good thing, but if it only serves to decant more of a traditional curriculum into an online format, it may end up being counter-productive.
Many governments will promote a fast return to the ‘old normal’ because children back in school is a precondition for a fully functioning economy. However, the ’old normal’ might not have been the desirable place we tend to believe!
Proactive collaborations for learning improvement
As educators, we must resist this reactive approach to ‘business as normal’ in education, most widely, and in learning design in particular.
The greatest positive to come from the Coronavirus experience is that internationally, we have all experienced the same disruption. There has never been a time when the interests of education and learning improvement have coalesced internationally around a common experience.
This is why organisations like the Global Citizenship Foundation and their international debates are so important to collaborative efforts to improve educational vision and practice by sharing expertise and experience worldwide.
Whereas there will always be subtle differences in the drivers of learning in different cultures, there is increasing coalescence and consensus about the wider purpose of learning in the 21st century and this coming together of thinking is in part driven by the economic element of internationalism and competitiveness as well as the use of information technology as a common delivery and monitoring tool of the educational experience of schools and pupils. A third strand is the increasing influence of metacognition research in our understanding of the learning process. Finally, there is the growing realisation that we cannot build an effective learning model without a foundation of compassion, empathy, mutual support and collaboration as world citizens.
We need to embrace all these factors for change in our educational provision post-Covid-19.
My particular interests are in the culture of change management in schools and in more rational and expansive roles for pupils in determining their own learning.
In short, from a school leadership perspective, I am more interested in the HOW rather than the WHAT of learning and in schools working as collegiate entities, sharing expertise towards a common goal of excellence for every learner.
In my research and writing, I developed a model of school cultures based on the way they manage change from either a short term, strategic or collegiate perspective. Aspects of the school’s capacity to improve learning provision will play a decisive part in the range of response they display to the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and whether learners, both adult and pupil have an enriched learning experience within and beyond the school.
Excellence for every learner needs defining, as it does not look for external validation as the measure of success. Rather it builds on a vision of 21st-century learning as encompassing the ability of the individual to function as an independent and autonomous learner, an autodidact, who can deploy research skills, problem-solving, teamwork and presentation skills to successfully address any learning challenge presented.
The pupil perspective
Without an international perspective and research sharing, much of the reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic will be considered almost exclusively from a ‘reactive’ teacher perspective and response to the crisis.
What of the ’proactive’ perspective of the pupil?
Whether or not they had access to the internet, the Covid-19 period has fundamentally changed the relationship of the pupil to the learning process. For the first time since universal education became compulsory, the continuity of control and pedagogy exercised by teachers has been disrupted.
Pupils have, or have not, responded to the provision cobbled together by their schools with personal choices. They have been able to choose when and where to study, without the constraint of a timetable, a classroom and a class to support or hinder them. They have moved at a pace which suited them. In short, they have experienced a degree of autonomy in their learning which may be characterised as a form of ‘personalised’ learning.
Furthermore, despite the online learning opportunities provided, there has been far less teacher interaction and traditional pedagogy to guide their learning. Whether they realised it or not, pupils have had the opportunity to operate as independent and autonomous learners for the first time.
It was heartening to hear that in the UK, a literary organisation had found in research that children were increasingly resorting to reading books, in numbers never before reported.
Similarly, families confined to the household had the time to be able to build their own learning and operate as a learning hub to explore the localised environment and to share expertise and understanding.
We cannot afford to dissipate such experiences and learning pathways in the rush to the ‘old normal’. We need as international educators to construct a new normal, a higher standard of inspiration and aspiration for all our pupils.
In significant aspects, learning in the Covid-19 crisis has similar elements to Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiment of 1999 in exploring how capable young people are at learning independently and acting as autodidacts. We need to embrace such inspiring new learning paradigms.