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An opportunity to reimagine education

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

As COVID takes a toll on teachers and students globally, it might also be a line in the sand moment that forces us to change the system and its structures for the better.

Last week, the United Nations (UN) released a sobering document on the disruption coronavirus is having on education, stating the world is confronting a "generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities."

Children get their temperature checked and use hand sanitizer before entering their kindergarten, which reopened on 2 June in Chongqing, China. ©UNICEF/UNI336269/Ma

The report’s author explained devastating impacts of school closures on the world’s children and young people. Even before the forced closures the world faced a “learning crisis”, with more than 250 million children out of school, and only 25% of secondary school students in developing countries leaving school "with basic skills." While all school aged children will feel the impacts of current conditions, "learners with disabilities, those in minority or disadvantaged communities, displaced and refugee students and those in remote areas are at highest risk of being left behind." The report stressed that getting kids back in school while balancing health threats is crucial. In the meantime, whether in prep or completing a PHD, students of all ages are struggling with digital divides which in turn expose socio-economic inequity. While there’s a danger that for older and especially at-risk students, some may not return when classrooms reopen.

The return to remote learning in Victoria last week has also shone a spotlight on the toll that this disruption is having on teachers (and parents). A Griffith University study gained rich responses about the sudden closure of schools, transition to online learning, and the difficulties of negotiating social-distancing and increased hygiene maintenance. Teachers who participated reported relentless workloads, mental and physical health impacts and poor management and governance decisions. University staff, facing large scale redundancies on top of changes to teaching environments thought to be facing similar pressures.

While COVID-19 brings about a period of great uncertainty, the rapid shifts seen across education providers shows us how education might be reimagined in the future. While any opportunities arising from the COVID-19 period must be evidence-based and research-informed, the UN explains “we have a generational opportunity to reimagine education”. To achieve this, what’s needed is investment in digital literacy and infrastructure, an evolution towards learning how to learn, a rejuvenation of life-long learning and strengthened links between formal and non-formal education. At the same time, supporting teachers and communities, drawing on digital tech, modern curriculum and flexible delivery methods is key.

Molly Bruce


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