Covid came as a catalyst.
Blame it all you want because the disruption came suddenly, and completely. Finding us unprepared. And our only route to continuity was Technology. If we could, we took it. With varying degrees of success.
With covid, and the global pandemic, have come some major issues in managing education – whether individual, or institutional.
Here are five things that Education Managements and Boards must keep in mind to handle the crisis at hand.
- Maintain Continuity – Rolling friction is much less than starting friction, we are told. This can apply to education too. It is much tougher to restart education after a gap, and so, as managers of educational efforts, our task is to ensure continuity of delivery and process. It does not matter if schools cannot be kept open for 7-8 hours a day. At least an hour of connect with each student is essential. If the school does not have digitally enabled students and teachers, find other ways to maintain contact. This is not only essential to student welfare, but also for the institution. Without connect and continuity, there is a chance that the school gets disintermediated as students find other ways to meet their educational, social and emotional progress requirements.
- Upskill and Retrain Staff: Teachers have had to bear the brunt of the paradigm shift due to the pandemic. Most of them had to jump in without any training or support though tens, if not hundreds of free webinars were conducted by many organizations to support and teach teachers. This was more about crisis teaching, not quite a digital pedagogy. Teachers continued with teaching as if they were in the classroom leading to disasters. If one is using technology, there is no need for old style lecture mode. There is no need to teach a whole ‘period’ at a time. There is no need to teach by sections as if one were in brick and whitewash rooms. All of those were administrative needs that do not exist anymore. Break the mode of 40×40 teaching, which only leads to teaching failure and teach in ways that work. Work with shorter bits, engaging learning games, peer learning, social tools and student led activities. Aim for continual learning, not continuous learning. Reframe.
Similarly for support staff who must be kept on the payrolls for when schools reopen (and because the school is a community), find different things for them to do. For example, this is a great time to do a thorough physical school safety check and indicate where things need to be fixed. It is also an excellent time rewire the school to be inclusive for the less abled – each room can have solutions for the deaf. These are essentials that must be delivered at the grassroots for any nation to be ‘proud’ of itself – and schools have an opportunity to contribute to this. School transport could still be called on to deliver worksheets and collect drawings, responses and student letters in a covid safe manner. Keep it moving!
- Parental Engagement is a double edged sword. Too little, and the student is bound to drift off, too much and the student learns nothing while delivery of learning seems to be demonstrated eg when the parent whispers an answer to a child, it seems as if the child has learnt and the teacher can stop trying now. But the untruth may have saved the child’s nascent ego (even fed it), but not their learning. Another example – uploading work for the child may be seen as supportive by the parents, but is totally damaging of self efficacy and agency for the child. This is a fine line and managements must provide sensitive, safe and sustainable guidelines for each school. At the Higher Education level, it becomes even more difficult for parents who now have sight of what teens and young twenties actually do – or don’t! This is even tougher since the students are adults and parents should not have a role between an adult student and his institution. Management and Boards will have to provide inspired leadership at this stage.
- Financial Impact – Every educational institution has felt the financial impact of the pandemic. With shut downs, canteens, transport, classrooms, libraries, study spaces – everything has been impacted. Many who worked there were part time, and it would always be difficult to continue to pay daily wage staff or temporary staff when revenues are not coming in. With fee payments down, and protests about paying the same for online (online takes work – effort and expense). With reduced revenues schools have had to send teachers on furlough, or worse. Managing for the financial impact of the crisis and trying to remain solvent remains a priority. Schools will now need to be nimble to survive. It’s time to be clever.
- What’s Next: Every management and leadership team will need an advanced brigade of thinkers and visionaries to plan for what comes next. Covid will impact traditional physical learning for at least another two, even three years. By then, behaviours, and not just learning behaviours may have changed. This team must plan for school reopening with safety during the crisis, but also must plan for the new shape of education that will have evolved by the time the pandemic is over. The future is here and now – and there is no running away from it. We tried to run from technology for twenty years (digital engagement with pedagogy started before year 2000), and were in an unprepared mess when the crisis struck. Let that not happen again. Plan ahead.
The challenge for every board will be to prioritize what they cannot see or visualise yet. Help is ahead.