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Learning Loss: You cannot Tinker and expect to Close the Gap, you have to reboot

The grand conversations in year two of the pandemic are about closing the gap of the learning lag. I wonder who they are talking about, for the rich and privileged will make the leap anyway, because they are trained in leaping to goals. They do not wait for systems, they create systems because they have the purchase

For the others, patchwork is not going to work. It has not worked in the past decades, which is precisely why you are facing the ‘digital divide’ right now. Which is why the learning loss happened in the first place. And facing the fact that most of the students in the world are not even supposed to be building for self efficacy. We are burdened with an education system that is built to create codependency. It is a narcissistic education system that needs to be at the centre of things,  setting all the rules, needing to be right all the time. No wonder our examinations are based on right vs wrong. 

And much of teaching is bullying and cajoling in place of teaching. (The best of educators rise above this, eliminating their own selves, their ego and prejudices before they engage with students, but these are few and far between. This is about the system, not about individuals). Teachers know that they will be able to help their students with learning, the loss is not in the working relationship between teachers and students. It is a loss only because students and teachers are being held to a timetable. To saying x needs to be done this year, because y learning has been lined up for next year. You bring in the pressure of time, and of course teachers will have to perform under pressure and bully and cajole their students – not for learning – but to make it in time. They are boxed in by time. And why? 

In trying to create a patchwork for catch up learning, one is inherently recognising that the concept of catch up learning is expected to be effective. Then why is it being designed only for the lag due to time? And not being used for the other lags that have always existed in reading, math and other learning levels? There are lags because of malnutrition. There are lags because of compounded previous lags. There are lags because of parental education. There are lags because of resource differentials. There are lags because some school cultures build self belief while others don’t believe enough in themselves. Fix these lags too – why just fixate on time based boxes and call them all out.  Year after year ASER and other surveys have reported the lag. We know most school systems cater to the average student – which means the other half, which includes both fast and slow learners – face some sort of a lag. The education system is designed for lags – it is a feature not a bug. 

We cannot ‘catch up’ just because new lags in learning, or learning losses were a bit more than the old learning losses. At best we will reduce the lag at the margins, but we’ll always have lags unless we completely redesign the system to have no lags. Or to make the concept of lags completely irrelevant because each student is wholly enabled to learn at their own pace and level. 

This does not mean that we remove standards for levels but it does mean that we stop measuring students in a batch against a middle of the batch totem pole. They are not lagging, they are just at a specific level on the standard totem pole and must be enabled to progress. 

If there is a learning loss, or a learning lag, it was always there. And we must design our way out of this structural hole that we have dug ourselves into. 

This conversation about learning loss is meaningless if we do not recognise this truth – learning lag and learning loss are mitigated when you care enough to progress each student, and measure their progress against their past performance, not against an artificial timetable or how far they could jump in the boxes you put them in. Learning is not about the boxes, it is about the leap. There is no loss, there is just the bigger, better, stronger leap. 

Our education systems are designed around boxes. And learners will always be lost navigating the boxes, and teachers will always be trapped into becoming navigators when all they want to do is share the love of learning. This is our real learning loss. 

But then, our system, as I said, is narcissistic. It is too much in love with itself to demolish the boxes that give it shape. 

End of first pass at rant.

If you don’t like the idea of learning loss, then look again at the system you designed, and break it’s boxy approach. Or everything you do, thinking you are doing good, you are just feeding a learning lag based system.

To even associate the idea of learning loss with just the pandemic lockdowns is the most elite, self centred, privileged idea ever! Learning losses are part of the very design of the education system! It operates on winners and losers, and catch-up!

If only this pandemic learning loss is bothering us, then we are just slaves to the system. We don’t really care about learning, or lags and losses. This is bigger than the pandemic effect on learning. 

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