In times of public calamity, quarantine, and a good dose of fear, we start wondering about things. The sudden need to reformulate the way we work and live in society, even if only for some time, might have terrifying outcomes, but also an enormous potential for reflection and change. At least that’s how I feel now with this coronavirus world crisis. That’s exactly why I’ve decided to write for my blog. I want to share some of the realizations I made – or that simply came to mind more often in the last 6 days.
I work in education. My current job is to help implement bilingual programs at Brazilian private regular schools. That requires me to be physically present, talk to school managers, coordinators, and teachers, to have contact with students, and parents, and to observe lessons. Most of these things cannot be done now. We’re all on lockdown in my city since last Monday. Schools have closed their doors to students and – although not completely – to their staff. That made me realize that:
1- Schools are not prepared for such scenarios. Most of the schools have either never considered the situation we’re going through or simply haven’t taken the time to develop a contingency plan.
2- There’s a lot of distrust in schools’ work relations. School managers either make a point of keeping their staff’s regular hours at the school, physically, or feel forced to do so in an attempt to guarantee that their employees will actually work.
3- Schools and parents feel lost without a content-oriented and time-bound model of education based on a potentially outdated dynamic of industrialization. The lack of sufficient “extra activities” and the need to frenetically create things for kids to do/study demonstrate that the wheel needs to keep turning no matter what.
4- Schools serve many purposes and one of them is to operate as a sort of “storehouse” or “depository” for children while parents are out working. When parents are met with the sudden demand of having to “forcefully” spend time with their kids, they don’t know exactly how to cope with it.
Let’s take a closer look at these 4 realizations before I move on to the last two.
First of all, I’m not going pretend that this situation solely pertains to the educational realm. This is an integral part of the system we live in. For things to keep working, they must keep working. It’s like a giant train on autopilot. If it loses control, stopping it is not really an option unless you’re ready to incur some damage and face its consequences. The thing is: it has to be stopped or the damage might be much greater. Having said that, I send my love and appreciation to all those professionals who cannot work remotely and have to keep the system running. You rock!
Secondly, we should rethink the way schools function. This is not something new. One of the most common photos I come across in lectures about innovation in schools is that before-and-after sort of advert comparing how cars and phones have changed in the last 100 years and how classrooms have remained basically the same. Every time I think about this I remember Pink Floyd’s revolutionary album The Wall and the scene in the video clip where faceless kids wearing school uniforms march into a meat grinder without hesitation to become raw material for sausages.
Even though this analogy might be a little misplaced, the message behind it is that a lot of the teaching done nowadays is still quite centered around teachers, who basically care about covering the content of a predetermined curriculum to make sure students are able to pass a test and receive an award or diploma. These teachers still basically stay in front of the students and use boards (digital or not) to teach this content to students, who have probably not even had a say in the whole process. Most of the homework assigned to these kids involves only reading and writing. To make matters worse, it is very likely that much of the content learned in the classroom will not be applied in students’ everyday life in the present or the future.
In third place, I must say it deeply concerns me that schools have not allowed their staff to start working remotely so that they can stay home safe. What is the point? Is it about a false sense of control over how much their employees work? I understand many of these decisions are not up to the managers, but keeping their staff physically present at the school building is quite irresponsible at this time and that brings me to my 5th realization:
5- Working remotely can mean more work and, above all, more challenging and relevant work.
Teachers can prepare extra activities, record videoclasses, work on their professional development, and attend webinars and meetings from the safety of their homes. We should definitely use this opportunity to reflect on how we conduct our professional lives and work relations. It takes a lot of reflection and stepping out of our comfort zones, which brings me to my final realization. I’ll try to connect it to realizations 3 and 4.
6- Cognitive biases seem exacerbated. In times of fear, some hysteria, fake news and post truth, many of us rely on personal opinion and viral videos/texts/images created by nonexperts and propagated on social media. Many of the elderly in my city refuse to stay on lockdown and some of them say things like: “I’ve survived a war, this is nothing” or “I heard vinegar is better than alcohol to wash our hands”.
This last realization means that schools are failing at something quite essential. The opinion of real experts and the conclusions of scientific papers are being undermined by a sense of “I know better”. Why are schools producing learners who can’t believe scientific evidence but rush to share a video of some guy from somewhere who claims he has unveiled a conspiracy to kill half of the world’s population? Or that a drug used to treat another condition might cure coronavirus causing the depletion of this drug in drugstores affecting those who really need it?
It’s the “I’ve always done it that way” feeling that all of us have. Schools have always been heavily content-oriented and parents have been increasingly relying on them to leave their kids and go to work. It is hard to adapt to this new reality, no doubt, but we must reflect on the sense of “I know better” and ask ourselves what we can do to make change.
Many countries and specific cities/states/regions in the world have already started integrating active learning methods that take into account the students’ realities and local communities. Project-based learning (PBL) has become quite popular and seems to be working quite effectively. At the same time, different educational systems have realized that time spent with the family and family-school integration are essential for high-quality learning. Experts also tell us that play and free time are fundamental when it comes to how kids learn.
All of this begs many questions: What if this lockdown lasts months? Should governments anticipate school breaks? Should kids have a lot of extra activities to complete at home? What about their parents’ job? How to work with all your kids around? Should schools adapt face-to-face curricula to be delivered on online platforms? What happens to those who don’t have access to the internet (yes, they exist)?
There are so many questions. I don’t have the answers, I’m afraid. I’ll keep working with my peers to offer schools the resources they need to deal with this crisis. But maybe there’s something great about this whole situation. It forces us to rethink things. It makes us realize that a runaway train calls for a very thoroughly designed contingency plan.
That’s why I’d like to invite you to join me tomorrow on Instagram at 3pm (Brazilian time) – 6pm GMT to help me answer some of these questions. After all, we’re all on lockdown together, right?
Follow @edcrocks on Insta and join me tomorrow.