Coronavirus crisis ‘will change the way we educate’

Clare Flintoff, chief executive of ASSET Education. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Clare Flintoff, chief executive of ASSET Education. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

In her latest column, ASSET Education chief executive Clare Flintoff looks at the way teaching might change during the coronavirus crisis - and how you can best help young people to learn something new.

Tayla, six, and Zak, eight, making rainbows while being taught at home during the coronavirus lockdo

Tayla, six, and Zak, eight, making rainbows while being taught at home during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: TRACY NOBLE - Credit: TRACY NOBLE

What memories are your children making right now?

One thing is for certain, they will remember what happened to them when the world was hit by coronavirus and they will remember how life changed.

I could never have imagined the change that we have experienced since I last wrote this column a month ago.

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Everything has changed. Schools are closed to most pupils, families are mostly at home and we are completely indebted as a society to the key workers who are keeping essential services going and looking after us when we become sick.

Even Boris Johnson is talking about the importance of ‘society’, as the capacity of our health services and many other taxpayer funded services, such as education, are playing such a key role in our survival.

Now, more than ever, we need to be grateful for the values of goodwill, compassion, care and resilience that are held so closely by many who work in these professions.

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Over the last few weeks, I have been struck by the capacity of our schools to adapt.

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We have had no choice but, with a huge collaborative effort, we have completely redesigned the way we do things - introduced remote online learning, re-deployed staff and set up childcare provision for families who need it most.

Good communication and conversations have been key to getting this right. Education staff have been heroic in their response to emerging needs and their flexibility, adaptability, and resilience have shone through.

According to UNESCO, around 1.3billion learners around the world are not currently able to attend school or university due to the measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The vast majority of them are getting used to learning at home. Teachers are doing their best to stay connected and support but they are also learning very quickly how to use online platforms and provide effective remote learning activities.

We are amazed by the versatility of applications such as Google Classroom, which is enabling us to interact daily, set work, give feedback and generally keep in touch.

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We are all getting used to the ‘new normal’ and we will never be quite the same again.

There is little doubt that this pandemic will change the way that we educate in the future and probably bring about much needed innovation in our system.

But whilst our young people are still at home, we risk widening the gap between those with computers, laptops and other devices around and those without.

Digital technologies and remote learning will never replace the skilled adult who can lead a child into a greater understanding of, or insight into, a topic of conversation.

It is the place where learning happens, known as the zone of proximal development - where, perhaps just outside your comfort zone, you learn something new.

Teachers talk about ‘scaffolding’, learning which is all about providing just the right level of support, at the right time, to enable the learner to move into this zone and learn.

Often this scaffolding is best done through conversation, something that is free and available to all.

Over the next few months, it will be the conversations between siblings and parents in our homes that will be crucial to the development of our young people.

The curriculum has changed and that is ok for the time being, as learning can still continue. Think about widening the curriculum in your own home and consider all of the new skills, knowledge and understanding that you could include.

How about showing your child how to mop the floor, load the washing machine, read the electric meter, dust and hoover, or even pair socks!

Think about how you are scaffolding the task first - plan ahead, break it down, let them have a go, give them feedback, reflect and then, once learned, watch them master their new skills in the coming weeks.

If these are some of the memories you are making for them during this period, they won’t forget!