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What can COVID-19 teach us about strengthening education systems?

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Four ways the COVID-19 crisis could change the teaching experience for the better

 

COVID-19 has brought countless new challenges to teachers and education systems across the world. Teachers have had to adapt and evolve rapidly in response to school closures. 

As schools reopen in a world where lockdowns may be more common-place, teachers have been forced to create and employ new ways for educating children. In this new teaching reality, it is essential to review roles and responsibilities as well as the rights, protections and wellbeing of educators.

Experts are beginning to point to ways that COVID-19 will be the catalyst to create more sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies, and education is a bedrock of those. 

Here are four ways the crisis could change the teaching profession for the better:

 

New digital skills will equip teachers for the future

As the virus spread and schools closed, teachers had to adapt quickly to an online model of teaching which was new to many. Inequities in connectivity and access to technology, resources and digital support has made the experience different according to school, country and even subject. Often teachers were given insufficient training, support or resources.

Teachers have reported the challenge of their own as well as students’ digital literacy and access to online learning. For many, it was a sudden swerve into an unknown world with a lack of clarity over how different online tools could interact with learning. The skills they have acquired in the past three months have prepared them for an increasingly digital future. 

It was not an easy initiative to take", says Shaila Sharmin, a fellow at Teach For Bangladesh. “We didn't have any resources as we were not prepared for this long lockdown. We had no skill regarding video editing. In spite of the challenges, we made it happen.”

 

Teachers have a new resilience

One way of strengthening the support for new ways of education delivery is leadership as well as dialogue with the school and peer support networks. Teachers report gaining more confidence through communication with their colleagues, as well as with parents. 

 I help parents and family with tips and suggestions on how to organize the home study routine. I also offer guidance on how to help students understand whether they have managed to reach all the learning objectives", says Débora Garofalo, a technology teacher in the public education network at the São Paulo State Education Secretariat.

It is vital, then, that teachers are listened to and their concerns heard as new forms of education are developed.

Developing support systems with colleagues and sharing technical knowledge and expertise has improved online teaching skills as well as building community at a time of stress and isolation.

Teachers report that peer learning has been a key element of developing online methods. Sharing solutions and what has worked for different teachers will help educators build networks and a more resilient way of teaching.

What makes it manageable is the fact that we are in it together", says Anne-Fleur Lurvink, a secondary school teacher, from Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

 

Resources gaps have been exposed

Resources are central to strengthening the future of education and preventing a generational crisis in response to COVID-19. Governments will now be under more pressure to protect education funding and rethink how teachers are motivated. 

Teachers have proved that they are the front line workers “who hold the system together” and so they need support and resources to help them do their jobs. Protection of physical health and safety as schools reopen must be a fundamental right. Teachers may be facing challenges at home as well as professional upheaval. Therefore offering support and resources for psychological well-being and mental health as well as professional help will be important as the crisis continues. 

 

Respect for the profession has grown 

Calls to seize the chance to address the education crisis that many countries were already experiencing before the pandemic are rising. Parents having to homeschool their children has given many a new perspective on what it takes to educate.

Suggestions of how to improve teaching includes greater support for the teaching profession, protecting teachers from burnout which can lead to absenteeism and leaving the profession, enhanced communication and connectivity and making digital platforms open source and free rather than run by private companies. Schools and education systems which engaged the most with parents, teachers and students are showing signs of increased resilience. 

Another area is evolving curricula to represent what is relevant to the world today and its inhabitants, during a climate and biodiversity crisis and at a time of science denial and misinformation

As COVID-19 has shown, the wellbeing of the planet and the health of humanity are inextricably linked. Teachers and the education they provide are integral to a more sustainable future.

Cover photo credit: Dan Gaken/Flickr

This blog is part of a series of stories addressing the importance of the work of, and the challenges faced by teachers in the lead up to this year’s World Teachers’ Day celebrations.