Education that meets the needs of the ‘new normal’

Naimish Gohil, founder and CEO of Satchel, talks lowering the barriers to access of high-quality tutoring

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the way education is delivered. With social distancing requirements leading to fewer opportunities for teachers and students to meet face-to-face, the pandemic has disrupted students’ access to the quality teaching, life skills lessons, careers guidance and work experience they would normally expect at school.

However, the necessary adoption of online learning and its growing acceptance by teachers, students and their parents has created a way of giving those students a chance to catch up on what they’ve missed out on. And with the future still uncertain, it may prove valuable in years to come.

An education gap

It’s been widely acknowledged that the sudden shift from classroom to home-based learning during lockdown exacerbated the education gap. Although teachers turned online to continue delivering lessons, students weren’t getting the face-time they were used to.

Tutoring, traditionally a way of helping close any gaps in learning, is typically carried out in a one-to-one session between the tutor and their student. But COVID-19 and the attendant social distancing requirements have impacted this too, with work experience being yet another casualty of the pandemic. Work experience has suffered as well. Usually undertaken by Year 10 students in the summer as a way of exploring potential careers in industries they find of interest, most of the placements scheduled for this year were cancelled by employers due to concerns around the pandemic.

And, with schools focusing on matters such as whether or not GCSEs and A-levels are going to take place and, indeed, if and how they themselves could and would reopen, the traditional approach to providing careers guidance has also largely been neglected.

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Schools have since returned to some sense of normality, but the future is still far from certain. With the pending threat of another spike and tightening restrictions, the possibility of face-to-face contact with teachers, tutors, counsellors, and advisors isn’t guaranteed.

But a solution to these issues exists. Recently used to deliver curriculum lessons, students and parents can turn online for tutoring, careers guidance and work experience, too.

Democratising learning

Short burst classes for all curriculum subjects, taught by real teachers, are now available online to help students catch up on the learning they may have missed during lockdown. Careers guidance is also available, with professionals from the most traditional to the most novel industries talking about their experience, and the various routes that can be taken into their particular role. And there are lessons on life skills, too; on topics such as confidence, assertiveness and mindfulness, which are important for young people growing up but aren’t typically taught in school.

Essentially, classes such as these are democratising learning.

Tutoring companies, for example, will often charge between £20 and £40 per session. While these online classes aren’t carried out in one-to-one sessions, they’re either free of charge or at an ultra-low cost (around two or three pounds each). By giving students the option to attend the classes live or watch them on-demand at a time that better suits them, we’re giving them a sense of autonomy, putting their learning in their own hands.

What’s more, with a fresh and exciting timetable each week, it’s easier for students to pick and choose the lessons they find most interesting and relevant. By minimising the time spent searching for a class, often on YouTube or elsewhere, this can remove a significant barrier to learning. And, by presenting them with a range of lessons on curriculum subjects, life skills and career guidance, this approach can open students’ eyes to new opportunities they hadn’t previously considered.

An ideal environment

Providing students with access to these additional classes and services is especially important in the current climate. It’s been virtually impossible for students to access the careers guidance and additional education support they’ve needed since lockdown began in March.

But the impact of COVID-19 has seen a shift toward an acceptance of digital learning, and an increase in the use of online tools to enable students’ ongoing education. It’s an ideal environment, therefore, to give students access to the educational, life skills and career guidance opportunities they may have missed out on in recent months. Making quality learning available online at an affordable price, and at a convenient time, along with expert guidance on careers and life skills, will help today’s young people on their journeys through secondary school and the wider world beyond.

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