Maker's Red Box 2020. 06. 05. 09:32
The first-ever T4 global teachers’ online conference brought together over a hundred thousand teachers from all over the world on 31 May. In the midst of a global pandemic with all in-person events cancelled, the biggest online educational conference of all time featured speakers like the OECD director for education and skills, ministers of education and Malala Yousafzai’s father, himself a renowned teacher and education activist. Over the past few months, teachers and communities have joined forces to keep schools going in the face of unprecedented challenges. The verdict is in: we need to move beyond traditional educational models and focus more on teamwork, autonomy, well-being and tech savvy.
If Covid-19 has underlined anything, it’s the fundamental role schools and teachers play in society. Let’s face it: most of us have been taking them for granted and have just realised that life simply cannot go on as normal without them. Children can’t develop crucial skills, parents are unable to earn a living or carry on with their work lives, and social inequalities begin to rise. The value of the personal connections between teachers and students has also been overlooked for far too long – and taken as a given.
“This crisis has brought teachers back to the centre stage as one of society’s most valued professions,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, talking about what she called “the greatest shake-up in education in a century”.
It has never been more obvious that after the pandemic, the new normal should be first and foremost based on the well-being of teachers and students.
“The reality is that only about 45 percent of students were able to access most of the curriculum,” revealed Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, as he presented a new study on how Covid-19 is changing education. “That’s where you see inequalities creeping in. For the students who had the technologies, who had parents supporting them, who had the cognitive, metacognitive skills and the motivation, the resilience, this was liberating and exciting. But for young people who did not have access to the technology, who do not have supportive parents and most importantly, who used to be spoon-fed by teachers, learning little chunks, and didn’t like school in the first place, remote learning obviously didn’t do much good.
The crisis has revealed the social fabric of education as well as the critical role teachers play in not only knowledge transmission but helping students find what they are good at and encouraging them to go after that.
Online education worked much better where teachers had greater agency and were used to project-based teaching. Sadly, students in more traditional educational systems did worse.
“Teachers know that curricula are going to change, the school ecosystem needs to change, even our concept of learning design needs to change,” pointed out Vijita Patel, Principal of Swiss Cottage School, Development & Research Centre, stressing how we should place teachers, students and parents at the heart of this process. “What we want to make sure is that any decisions that we make now are actually preparing us for any future adaptations we need to bear in mind.”
To be ready for the future, teachers need more autonomy and support. As Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a teacher and education activist, explained: “This pandemic gives us an opportunity to think and to revisit our education systems where teachers have been limited to classrooms only – and they don’t look beyond that. A teacher is somebody who leads their community and gives leadership to students as well.” Case in point: during the crisis, teachers all around the globe have been knocking on their students’ doors to bring them computers or smartphones so they can access the learning materials or just to ask them how they were doing.
We should use this unprecedented time to pivot and realign curricula and adopt new methodologies to address the real needs of teachers and students. The problem is that we’ve been clinging to old models that prevent them from thriving. At Maker’s Red Box, for example, we’ve shared our story-based STEAM methodology with hundreds of teachers over the years. An overwhelming majority of them were excited to find a meaningful way to engage with technology and children. We might even want to rethink how classes are set up and let children of different ages learn together in smaller groups. This way they can take on changing roles as mentors and mentees, which would boost not only their confidence but also essential interpersonal skills.
There’s a lot of buzz around education technology but without careful planning and a solid pedagogical framework, any kind of technology is just “added glamour”, as one of the participants warned. Swapping paper for tablets can be expensive and on their own, they will hardly bring about any real change in the learning process. Nowadays, most of our curricula is stuffed with lexical knowledge rather than skills. It’s time we changed that and shifted the learning process toward learning by doing. Most of all, technology should become an integral part of learning, not just an add-on.
Koen Timmers, an award-winning educator, author and speaker, told us about his inspiring Climate Action project where students from America and Africa worked together to build a solar power suitcase and then shipped it to Africa to provide free electricity to students.
You can ask students to memorise definitions of solar technology or you can ask them to solve a problem, which to me is more powerful,” he added.
We will need 69 million new teachers by 2030 to provide education to the ever-growing global population. But in order for this to happen, teaching as a profession must become more attractive and meaningful. This is only possible if we go through with the changes educational systems all over the world so desperately need. If there’s one thing the crisis has shown us is that we already have great solutions. It’s time to collaborate across borders so we can share them and reap the benefits.