Mind the Gap: Bridging the Education sector divide during the Covid-19 lockdown

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With the Authorities trying to ensure Covid-19 does not spread schools were the first establishments to be closed. However, weeks into the lock down some schools are exploring online teaching  and some are even resuming for 3rd term online and this raises a lot of questions. On the part of the schools one realises they have bills and wages to pay but wonders if they are truly equipped  to conduct fully online learning. For a lot of parents there is the question of “why should I have to pay anything to receive what at best is a stop gap measure considering that I will spend money on internet service, procure more gadgets and have to spend time attempting to teach and supervise my children subjects I may not even understand”. There are so many questions and Victoria Vanni- Shodeinde adds her voice to this important discussion.

With schools being closed for weeks a lot are beginning to think of how to conclude unfinished assessments and resume a new term. Some have already gone ahead to declare that classes and assessments will continue online. However, with students already facing anxiety over the uncertainty that comes with adjusting to a new way of learning,the last thing that they need at this critical time is additional stress and strain over exam focused or assessment driven approaches that are bound to produce skewed results which will at best be of little value, and worse (yet more than likely) negatively impact not only their confidence, but their academic record as well.

So the question is what should schools do?

In the midst of all the uncertainty a lot can be done , both to advance learning now, and to be better prepared to return to classrooms when school closures end; allowing teachers and learners to pick up from where learning will have gotten to and address gaps that will surely emerge.For those that were unable to conduct exams this is not a time for schools to attempt a desperate scramble for exam and test results in order to provide parents with ‘results’ and ‘reports’. On the contrary this a time to fall back on existing assessments, while guiding and gauging their growth while teaching them how to learn and emphasizing not only the content or subject material, but more importantly the student’s role in being able to learn adaptively, proactively and independently. This will give students the time to master their new learning processes, allay their parents’ fears, and pave the way for meaningful and timely assessments.

What about Digital gaps? For both Teachers and Parents

To answer this one must  ask, if any dangers lie ahead if the uncertainty facing the education sector is not properly managed? The simple answer is yes, learning gaps will emerge and existing ones will become wider still. From the angle of the teachers their capability may be a constraint which will be worsened by socio-economic constraints affecting access to power, internet access and personal electronic devices that support digital technology of that level. School leaders must be realistic and intentional about closing this gap between what the reality is for teachers and what is required of them. The usual excuses and slap-stick approaches to supporting teachers will further widen this gap by creating job insecurities, and the impact inadvertently transferred to students.

Teachers cannot be left to bear the financial cost of digital learning alone; not anywhere in the world, and especially not in Nigeria where teacher’s incomes typically leave much to be desired. If teachers are forced to choose between providing the basic necessities for their families,  and investing in power generation and internet access to do their jobs; we must all be greatly concerned about the quality of learning that we expect our children to receive.

It is imperative that rather than throw money at sophisticated new e-learning platforms which are barely tested and less than optimally suited for complicated educational purposes, schools invest in abundantly training and equipping teachers with the resources and support services they need to adjust and thrive in the new found complexities of teaching in cities that are in the midst of a mandatory ‘lockdown’. This is the way that schools must protect their students’ learning and incidentally, actively ensure their self-preservation as well.

On the side of the parents as noted by Modupe Adefeso-Olateju even more has to be done as there is an (incorrect) assumption that once digital devices and data are available to children at home, parents can adequately support teachers in the learning process”. This is however only true for parents of much older children, where the students are young the parents also struggle to adequately support the teaching process at home. There is also the fact that many parents do not have teaching skills and in many cases my end up getting frustrated and overwhelmed. Indeed, this is unrealistic to expect of parents and even teachers to seamlessly deliver such an approach. This however, is where the role of schools as purveyors of community stewardship is critical in assisting parents and teachers in preparing their roles as facilitators and supervisors of the e-learning process.

Schools must themselves understand and be prepared to reorient teachers and parents (those who will interface the learning process during this period) by supplying a novel yet much-needed narrative. This is new and unfamiliar territory, and parents are depending on schools to tell them what to do. School leaders will need to educate their communities and keep at the front of their agenda, the need fora practical student-centered approach to learning: one that emphasizes active and engaged participation and not in teachers merely regurgitating information for students to duplicate in notes and tests. This will take time but can be helped by the wealth of free online educational resources and platforms. Beyond this, school leaders can and should actively curate resources educators and parents alike can draw upon.

What about Communication gaps ?

Schools play a tremendous role in managing this period of uncertainty from setting the learning agenda to providing much-needed guidance and support for parents and teachers, locked in an intense desire and sense of responsibility to protect the interests of the children in their collective care. However, to ensure they do not incur the wrath of parents a lot of thoughtful communication must take place.

As noted by Dr. Natasha Ridge of the Al Qasimi Foundation, United Arab Emirates, “parents are getting increasingly upset with schools for retaining fees whilst delivering a very different education through Distance Learning. This misses the point that school’s costs have not fallen. In many cases schools and teachers are working even harder –and in some cases while some overheads may reduce there are other cost that may even rise when they deploy online learning.

This is why what parents need, right now, and more than ever, is clear, compassionate and kind communication from schools. This is because schools are in a relationship with their parent bodies and communication is a human element which serves a pivotal function in any relationship. Therefore, poor communication may end up in regrettable consequences like a school run while proper communication will give you loyal parents. Schools will therefore in addition to shedding some of their charges employ careful communication that will demonstrate a genuine sense of togetherness and collaboration within the community.

At a time when there is turbulence, unwanted change and vacuums created by uncertainty, communication is a valuable weapon to be used for more purposes than persuasion and exposition. It certainly has to be more than asking parents to pay their children’s fees but showing that as a school you understand that everyone is going through tough times and explaining how Education Technology can help mitigate the effects of the current educational crisis. The bottom line is that Schools, teachers and Parents must come together and reach a consensus so that everyone involved is reasonably happy and does not feel short changed.

Victoria Vanni-Sodeinde is a wife and mother of three, who likes to think of these as her primary calling and ministry. A devoted and happy teacher by choice, her experience as a leading educator and consultant spans 4 continents and 15 years. Founder of The Schools Symposium, The Exceptional School of the Year Award and School Medics Consulting, Victoria is passionate about supporting parents in finding the right-school-fit and providing schools with strategic PR, Marketing and Administrative support to enhance sustainable growth and delivery of international quality education services provision.

 

References
1. Adefeso-Olateju, Modupe. April 13, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/letter-my-sons-school-we-go-digital-modupe-adefeso-olateju-phd-
2.David, Raluca et al. April 2020. edtechhub.org/coronavirus
3. Swan, Melanie. April 10th 2020. www.schoolscompared.com

 

 

 

 

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