Planning for the new ‘normal’ has been something teachers, educators, faculties, educational institutions, and leadership teams have been thinking about since March, but without knowing exactly what that new normal might look like, it’s up to educators to make some tough decisions, as well as try and successfully plan for the new teaching year ahead – whenever that might be…
What does ‘successful’ look like in the current climate? We’ve outlined some of the key factors we think will play an important role in the new school year and how these will be incorporated into educational institutions throughout the UK and the world.
At Kinteract, we’re great advocates for the blended learning model, ensuring that traditional, in-classroom teaching is complemented by online, digital learning and journaling. We’re expecting to see a rise in the use of blended learning throughout the education sector, both because of the pandemic and because of how the world is changing, regardless of lockdown. You can see more of our thoughts on how the pandemic is changing the way we educate forever here.
But with blended learning come questions and concerns over the digital divide – and they’re the same concerns we have. What happens to those students who don’t have access to the latest gadgets and technology? In the UK, the government has been called upon to address the digital divide, which has been highlighted even further during the pandemic – especially for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children.
According to recent figures, around 700,000 children in the UK are currently unable to complete any schoolwork due to the lack of access to internet, as well as electronic equipment. Although blended learning is proven to be an effective way to teach, unless the digital divide is addressed, there will always be students left behind. Not only can these children not complete their schoolwork, essential for their academic development, but they’re also missing out on peer interaction and engaging with teachers.
When technology can be accessed, online journals and learning software enable students to have access to a wealth of knowledge, information, and interaction from their peers and teachers – as well as gaining input from their parents or guardians. It means that students who struggle to attend school, regardless of a global pandemic, can access their education and document their achievements.
As many teachers have commented, classrooms aren’t designed to have students sitting two metres apart. In fact, schools, colleges, and universities simply haven’t been built with social distancing in mind – narrow corridors and confined office space means that keeping apart from fellow teaching staff and students is going to be tricky. So how do we overcome this?
In the UK, early years and primary students were the first to go back to school at the start of June, with secondary schools and further education establishments being asked to offer ‘some’ face-to-face teaching. The UK government are eager for students to go back into education as soon as possible, focusing on the benefits of peer interactions for mental health, as well as allowing parents and carers to go back to work.
But the amount of students actually back in school is low and it seems that staggering the amount of individuals in an educational institution at any one time, is essential for stemming further outbreaks. Research from The Guardian shows that schools opening throughout the EU has not triggered a rise in new COVID-19 cases – however, these schools, across Denmark and France, have implemented much stricter measures, including only 15 students per classroom and socially distanced play outdoors. An image of a school in France that had outlined individual playing ‘squares’ on their school playground perhaps showed a bleak view of what could come to other schools.
From a higher education perspective, universities may place students who are on the same course in the same accommodation to limit mixing with others and risk of spreading infections. A set of guidelines has been created by Universities UK, which offers higher education providers at least some resemblance of a plan, or at least some considerations.
The UK government has actively advised against the use of face-masks or coverings in schools and education settings, simply stating that better hygiene measures should be introduced, such as washing hands and wiping down surfaces regularly. For many educators in primary settings, this can feel like a losing battle, with younger children still learning how to use the toilet themselves, let alone washing their hands for 20 seconds at a time, and not coughing or sneezing over other children. There’s also questions of whether the art of deep cleaning falls to the responsibility of the teacher – who already has enough on their plate.
In parts of the world, such as east Asia, face masks have been routinely used by individuals for years, as a precaution to stop the spread of germs from one person to the next. It’s simply seen as good manners. In Bangkok, Buddhist monks in training have been provided with face visors in order to continue their studies. But with no blanket decision by educational settings on whether or not face masks are mandatory, it seems we’ll continue to see these fluctuations throughout the world.
Successful educational settings can follow these steps to ensure the start of a successful school year, following lockdown:
Things to address:
With a £1bn fund announced by the UK Government to help children in England ‘catch up’, schools here are faced with the further challenge of establishing how to identify those with the greatest need on their return to school in September. With limited guidance from the Government at the time of writing, schools may well be reliant on their edtech products to help them to identify the students who are most likely to benefit, and should also consider how to track the impact of their additional spend to help them develop catch-up plans for the future. This is something Kinteract can always support you with, so get in touch to find out more.
As always, stay safe.