‘Teaching needs to adapt in order to protect’

Atif Mahmood, CEO of Teacherly, believes schools must invest in new means of education delivery that minimise risk

Over the past few months, life has changed dramatically. The pandemic thrust the global population into a state of uncertainty, and although the rhetoric around the crisis has shifted in recent weeks, there’s a sense that life will continue to be different for some time to come.

The UK government is keen to get the economy moving again and is encouraging individuals to go back to work if they can, whilst also suggesting that schools get back up and running with some new social distancing measures in place. But the debate and backlash surrounding the decision to reopen schools has revealed that most people are not ready for this step to be taken.

Educating the future generation is crucial, and it’s important that children don’t miss out on learning. As such, there’s little question as to why the government wants to get pupils back into the classroom. However, what’s clear is that concerns over safety are prevailing and that priorities are changing; if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to put our health and the health of others first.

For some sectors, lockdown has posed little or no threat to their ways of working. Thankfully, there are many professions well-equipped and prepared for remote and agile working. Enterprise has demonstrated that it’s able to adapt in order to protect its workforce. But for teachers, the system within which they currently operate means they have not been so fortunate, and lockdown has been extremely disruptive consequently. This has shed stark light on the fact that the current model of schooling is not designed to cope with any kind of flexibility – something that desperately needs to evolve.

“This has shed stark light on the fact that the current model of schooling is not designed to cope with any kind of flexibility – something that desperately needs to evolve”

Talking progressively

Whilst the current situation is unnerving, it presents the education sector with a unique opportunity. Education has been forced into delivering new ways of learning and teaching, and many have seen real value in doing this. Currently, parents and teachers are united in their concerns over health and safety; so much so that many are more open to innovative solutions than ever before. With this being the case, more progressive discussions are emerging about the future models of education and the possibilities for change.

For example, we’re seeing more people open to potential new models whereby a ‘hybrid’ style of education could become the norm. A hybrid model typically integrates various models of teaching; in this instance, blending in classroom education with remote, online education simultaneously. Rather than building more typical school infrastructure over the next few years, perhaps there is more benefit in building co-learning spaces; where different schools can use just one building to engage in more flexible teaching and learning.

Focusing on student progress rather than exam results

In a similar vein, the pandemic has inadvertently called into question the relevancy of exams and has shone a spotlight on the issue of student progress, as well as overall wellbeing. What’s become most important in recent months is ensuring children and young people don’t fall too far behind and that they are coping; many students may be experiencing an unusual amount of stress and anxiety given the current situation. As such, the industry should be open to providing students with new opportunities to develop behaviours related to areas like resilience, empathy and strength. Understanding student progress with these skills involves monitoring successes, achievements and being more fluid with the learning day to fit with the needs of children as individuals. This is more easily achievable through a hybrid model of in-classroom learning coupled with online teaching.

With priorities shifting, it seems the pandemic has caused society to question the structure that is called ‘school’ and whether this is fit for the needs of today. Embracing change and re-evaluating systems should be encouraged.

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