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Why We Need To Flip The Narrative That The Pandemic Has Damaged Education

By Nick Morrison for Forbes

May 14, 2021

Children out of school, months of lost learning and widening gaps between students: it’s become fashionable to see Covid-19 as having been a disaster for education. But perhaps we need to flip the narrative and look at how education will benefit from the pandemic, opening more doors than it closed and providing an opportunity to take a leap forward in how we teach our children.

That quickly emerged as the theme of my recent conversation with an upbeat Dr Elise Ecoff, group education director of Nord Anglia Education, the world’s largest international schools group.

Responsible for the education of around 67,000 students across four continents, Dr Ecoff has had an unrivalled perspective of the impact of the pandemic on schools around the globe.

And while she does not downplay the impact of lockdowns and schools closures on millions of students worldwide, she sees reasons to be optimistic.

“The pandemic has been a great disruptor for education, as it has been for everything,” she says. “This is our opportunity to take a really good look at everything we have learned over the last 15 months.

“I think our education system and our schools are going to be better off because we have learned so much.”

The medium to long-term impact of the pandemic “is all we’ve been thinking about” at Nord-Anglia, she says, adding: “We’re not going to go back to the way things were.”

The use of technology in schools is the most obvious example of pandemic-accelerated change. While tech is well embedded in education, for most schools it plays a supplementary role; post-pandemic, it will become more integral, Ecoff says.

“Traditional, didactic teaching is going to change,” she says. “We have seen a lot of teachers using models like a flipped classroom, where they’re recording a lecture or giving students examples that they can look at over and over again, and come in the classroom next day and talk about what they have learned.

“We will see more of that, and more inquiry-based education, where students get to pick their topics and collaborate with other students,” Ecoff says.

But it would be wrong to see this as heralding a diminished role for the teacher in the classrooms of the future, she says.

“Technology has opened up lots of doors and there will be many ways in which hybrid learning [a combination of face-to-face and online teaching] will appear in classrooms,” Ecoff adds.

“But a gifted teacher sharing their knowledge is always going to be a part of the classroom experience.

“We should never be looking at things in the extreme: it is a blended-learning pedagogical approach.”

Home learning also provided the opportunity for teachers to extend differentiation between students, and to personalize their learning to a much greater extent.

“The technology is changing so rapidly. It will be able to provide teachers with the tools to help them be the best they can and do what they do best, which is one-on-one with students,” Ecoff says.

“Technology will help us understand how students learn best and what their strengths are.”

But it’s not just the students who will benefit. Lockdowns demonstrated the potential for technology to play a much greater role in teachers’ professional development, including peer learning.

“One of the biggest impacts we have seen is in the ability and willingness of teachers to collaborate and share best practice,” she adds.

There are numerous other ways in which the pandemic has accelerated the transformation of education, from enabling children to continue learning when they are out of school and the end of snow days, to inviting visiting speakers into the (virtual) classroom and giving students the opportunity to take a course not offered at their school, to changing the ways students are assessed.

“It opens up doors for students to be able to demonstrate their learning in different ways,” she says. “You don’t always have to have pencil and paper and write and traditional ways of understanding if students have mastered a subject.”

But while all the attention is on technology, it is not the only way schools will change as a result of the pandemic.

Home schooling has given parents a greater insight and involvement in their children’s education.

“They’re going to want to continue to have insight into the classroom in different ways,” Ecoff says.

And perhaps it has also given teachers greater confidence in their ability to adapt.

“Teachers have found that they’re capable of anything, if they didn’t know that before,” Ecoff says. “Teachers are the most incredible resilient and creative professionals and they have had to pivot and pushed so far out of their comfort zone.”

But perhaps most crucially of all, the experience of the last 15 months has demonstrated that schools are not just about education in the academic sense.

The loss of the ability to play, interact, co-operate and resolve arguments with their peers has had just as much of an impact on children as lost learning.

“What we have learned is that schools offer so much more than just the academic,” Ecoff says. “That isn’t new or novel but has become clearly apparent.

“Education is going to remain classroom and school-based because of the social and well-being [element] and all the things that schools offer.”

Student well-being is a key focus for Nord Anglia as students return to school, with well-being resources prominent on its student platform. One in four of Nord Anglia’s students took an online well-being course in the eight months to April this year.

“We need to ensure that we remain aware of our students’ well-being,” she added.

But for all she is upbeat about the future of education, there is a note of caution. It would be easy to rush headlong into embracing change, so it is vital to evaluate each step.

“We want to make sure we get it right,” Ecoff says. “Anybody who says they have it all figured out will probably not be telling you the truth, but we’re not going to go back to the way things were.”

The pandemic has given teachers the opportunity “to pick the very best, and combine it with the very best of what was [already] working in our schools,” Ecoff says. “And if we don’t do that we will miss out.”

Source: Forbes

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