Can a pandemic provoke changes in Education?
One year ago, the world changed. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, “It happened slowly, and, then, all at once.”
Weeks of uncertainty became a season of suffering, and then the deadliest year in the history of Brazil, the United States, India, and Mexico. Around the world, COVID-19 has taken more than 2.7 million lives, and still counting. It has traumatized or suspended the hopes and dreams of untold millions more.
The coronavirus pandemic transformed almost every aspect of school – not gradually, but all at once. It was not just the move from classrooms to a computer or i-pad screens. It has challenged educators’ basic ideas about instruction, assessments, attendance, standardized testing, grouping, funding, the role of technology, and the human connections that hold everything together.
Now, a year later, a rethinking is underway, with a growing sense that some changes may last; in fact, some changes WILL last. This author states that some changes SHOULD last, even be expanded, if we want to use this once-in-a-hundred-years opportunity effectively to transform our schools.
“There may be an opportunity to reimagine what schools will look like”, Education Secretary of the USA, Dr. Miguel Cardona, told The Washington Post newspaper in March 2021 . “It’s always important that we continue to think about how to evolve schooling so the kids get the most out of it.”
Others in education, world-wide, see a similar opportunity to reimagine, and to revamp schools, both private and public. The pandemic pointed anew to glaring inequities of race, disability, income, and student achievement. We knew these disparities existed, but the pandemic made them more glaringly obvious.
Students without Internet access is the first glaring issue. Students with special learning needs, who are mainstreamed for optimal growth, were forced to stay home or to participate via distance learning, missing the social interaction needed to sustain their academic growth. Highly social students, who attend school mainly for the social contacts it offers, were excluded by stay-at-home orders. Sports teams, musical groups, theatre and arts classes practically disappeared.
We educators have to realize that not only do we need to THINK outside the box, but we must accept that there IS no box. Anyone inside the invisible box is there because he/she choses to stay inside the box.
“There are a lot of positives that will happen because we’ve been forced into this uncomfortable situation,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the school superintendents’ association in the USA. “The reality is that this is going to change education forever.” The “reality” this author predicts is that educational leaders, who emerge as survivors of this transformation, are the ones who realize there is no box that will contain them.
What do I envision as changes that need to be made? What actions can we take—collectively, collaboratively, concurrently—to secure and advance progress?
None of my ideas are NEW. Changes I see being part of our new reality are things I’ve been supporting since almost 50 years ago. I founded a pre-K through grade 12 school in Hollis, Maine, back in 1972, when I was 30 years old. I put my at-the-time “crazy” ideas into practice. Results? Successful, happy students, meeting their potential.
There are other great, maybe also “crazy” ideas that Alfie Kohn has been writing about for more than 30 years. Similar changes are supported by Mike Schmoker in his 2008 book, “Results Now!”. He describes the “knowing-doing gap”, noting there is a wide gap between what we KNOW about education, and what we actually DO.
I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I know where we might start. We are supported by many educators – Bradley, Kohn, Krashen, Marsh, Marzano, Morales, Schmoker – and others! To quote Schmoker — Why not us? Why not now?
CHANGES TO CONSIDER
- Broadband, free internet in all schools & homes
- Invest in laptop computers for every student – not expensive texts.
- Eliminate required, high-stakes standardized exams.
- Provide narrative students’ reports to parents, each trimester.
- Use tables in classrooms, not individual desks arranged in rows
- No homework. All work is to be completed in school. School is school. Home is home. Schools cannot, and should not, dictate what happens at home.
- No test-studying at home. Tests are based on understanding and mastery, taught and practiced in school, not memorized at home.
- Free healthy breakfast and free lunch, daily for all students
- Every classroom equipped with a projector for computer /i-pad
- Art, music, dance, athletics, health, theatre arts, cooking, sewing, carpentry, outdoor games provided twice weekly
- Students work in teams, project-based learning, individual work, too.
- Professional teachers must have a Master’s degree and teaching certificate (based on specific program for teacher development).
- Teacher assistants supervise lunch room and play areas.
- They have a 1-hour lunch break, and two 30-minute breaks.
- Teachers are assigned a Mentor their first three years teaching.
- First-year teachers receive full salary, but teach 1/2 time, using the other 1/2 time to observe master-teachers, plan, meet with Mentor.
- Every teacher, daily, has 1 hour free for lunch, and one hour free for planning/ colleagues’ meetings/ parent contact.
- Students are mainstreamed, inclusion, heterogeneously-grouped,
- Students have 60-minute SOLE classroom, twice a week, to pursue personal research projects. (Self-Organized Learning Environment – See S. Mitra’s research.)
- Daily free-reading time (See S. Krashen research.)
- Career exploration, state-of-the-art technology and coding classes
Might there be other changes recommended?
Of course. This list is the beginning of a new era.
Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, an international helping entity for the past 85 years, is quoted here from his monthly newsletter of March 24, 2021:
“As we look ahead to when we will return to offices, schools and other places, we must not return to our old ways of working, learning, and connecting. Too much has been permanently disrupted, too many long-held beliefs disproved. If 2020 was, in many ways, unprecedented, what defines the P.C. era (Post Coronavirus) is still undetermined. We cannot permit ourselves to resume what was; we must reimagine what can be.”
With those thoughts, my friends, I leave you until next month.
Meanwhile, “We must reimagine what can be.”