After months out of the classroom, the question of return to work and return to school is in the minds of every student and parent.
Ahh the first day of school! Before COVID-19 disrupted our lives and forced our kids to open their laptops and learn from home, the first day of school was a rite of passage. It was the start of a life-determining journey that has broadly followed the same shape and rhythm for generations. This one-size-fits-all approach to education has been in place for a couple of hundred years. Now, however, it is undergoing immense scrutiny because of COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown is an unprecedented situation in modern times. It is hard to gauge the full impact that the situation is having on children and our young people’s mental health and overall wellbeing.
With COVID-19, schools had to rapidly change the basic way they do their work. Some tried to recreate the school setting online using digital tools like Zoom. Others were in-between, directing students to online tutoring and practice programs, and posting videos. So, I ask, are there elements of remote learning that should stick around after the crisis? As students are set to return to school in late August, is it a good a time to take stock and look at the likely future of education? What part of what we just did can be substituted with technology and what part can be complemented by technology to transform our education system?
Technology has changed many aspects of our society over many years, but school structures have remained largely unchanged. Kids who start school from now on will grow up to be workers and leaders in a digital-first world that will demand new skills and new ways of thinking.
The quality of remote learning is heavily dependent on the level and quality of digital access. We have been forced to find technological solutions that have the potential to deliver and transform the education system so students can achieve their academic goals. While financially well-off families can afford computers and multiple devices, students from struggling families may likely not be able to avail of such items. Significant gaps between the country’s poorest and wealthiest around access to basic technology and live remote instruction have arisen.
After months out of the classroom, the question of return to work and return to school is in the minds of every student and parent. Will it employ a split-week approach? Will it be a part-day model? School may never be the same again.
To succeed in life and at work, students will need all the social, emotional, and academic support they can get via structured and flexible learning experiences that will differ vastly from our schooldays. Although we are anticipating upcoming austerity, schools will require additional resources. They will need counsellors, mental health specialists and learning support teachers to help our weakest learners and most vulnerable children settle back into routine and catch up.
Disruptions are guaranteed to reverberate into the new school year and beyond, especially for teachers who have been thrust into new roles that most say they weren’t well-trained to fill. Pupils’ experiences of their time in lockdown will have been very varied. For some, it will mostly have been a safe and enjoyable time. For others, it will have been very challenging or a possibly traumatic time.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of building resilience to face various threats. It is our collective responsibility to foster engaging and meaningful environments when educating our children in the new era of a post pandemic education.
A time of crisis is also an opportunity for all education systems to look to the future, adjust to possible disruptions and build their capacity to cope with these threats. The pandemic is also an opportunity to remind us of the skills students need in this unpredictable world; such as problem solving and perhaps above all, adaptability. I think in order to ensure those skills remain a priority for all students, resilience must be built into our educational systems going forward.
Joe Robbins is co-founder of CareerWise Recruitment. A graduate of the University of Limerick (Degree in Business Studies, 1985), Joe worked in the UK for five years where he specialised in materials management, production management and plant management for a number of companies.
He returned to Ireland in 1992 to become Operations Manager for a Cork-based start-up, FMC Automotive Division which was subsequently taken over by Snap-on Equipment. Joe managed the business re-location of this company to Shannon in 1997 before setting up CareerWise Recruitment in 1999.
He is a committee member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Mid-West region, and a former Director and Vice President of the Shannon Chamber of Commerce. Joe is former Chairperson of the Sixmilebridge Camogie Club and current Chairperson of the Clare County Camogie Board.
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