As the global pandemic was taking grip on our lives in February, a group of friends started wondering what this may mean for public services the world over. It wasn’t long after that entire public education systems started shutting down and this is when, we, as friends, decided to come together to consider the many aspects connected to school closures, which not only included how home-schooling and technology works, but, importantly, also about the widening of inequity.
These Zoom calls provided a safe space for discussion and exploration, and the honesty that system leaders brought to these meetings resulted in ideas being share devoid of politics or ideology, which itself felt like a watershed moment.
They spoke about issues such as school feeding programmes and what works, they talked about well-being and what’s being put in place for children, the discussed how to open schools up, again. They even explored whether this crisis presented opportunities for wider reforms.
I also convened a call with teachers, where I heard stories from the front-line that angered me. On that particular meeting, and in the few days after, I’d been reflecting on what I heard and decided that the concern wasn’t just about the immediate circumstances we face, but also about what the future holds for us. In common parlance, teachers were asking what the so called ‘new normal’ means for them.
Given I used to host the Global Education & Skills Forum, some of my teacher friends encouraged me to convene a virtual conference for teachers that attempted to answer that question. Our initial instinct was to bring just our friends together for this conversation, but given that technology now allows us to reach all corners of the world, I decided that we’d try to make this a global conversation. Why not?
Covid-19 has, at least in my opinion, for the first time, resulted in large swathes of the world – whether you are in the global south or in a western industrialised country, to a common experience. What that means, and I heard it for myself in several calls I had convened, is that a learning from one part of the world could be applied to another context.
In the absence of system leaders having any precedents to fall back on, I felt that providing teachers a platform and voice could be an incredibly powerful thing to do. Why shouldn’t teachers set the precedent, after all they’re at the front-line and dealing on a daily basis with such difficult issues! Let them set the pace.
That’s how T4 was born. We decided to focus on these four areas (hence the name): teacher well-being, teacher collaboration, teacher leadership and teacher technology as these were the areas that teachers were most often mentioning to me. Since launching the conference just two weeks ago, I am astounded with the level of interest this event has generated.
I’m really looking forward to hosting the event next week. I hope you’ve registered. I’d also be very grateful if you could take this poll as it’ll inform my remarks at the event.
We’ve gone from the initial panic around school closures to solving for many of the problems and challenges that have been thrown up as a result, whether they be the very serious issues connected to inequity or about pedagogy for online learning. I sense we are now headed towards having a conversation about what the ‘new normal’ looks like for the education sector.
Before we get there, we have to focus on how best to reopening schools and this is not just a matter of opening the school gates and continuing from where we left off. The closures have had huge issues, namely the learning loss that has taken place in the time that our kids have been off school. To pretend otherwise is a folly.
IF YOU WERE EDUCATION MINISTER, WHAT WOULD YOU PRIORITISE?
I was challenged this week to think about how in the context of budgetary cuts and a looming recession, how we could still play catch up effectively, and also consider the longer term reforms that need to take place to ensure education systems are fit for the future. No easy task, let me confess. Where do we even start?
I’d like your thoughts on what you would spend a hypothetical budget of £100 on three key priorities… please leave a comment below.
I also read that the Gates Foundation are concentrating their funding and efforts on Covid-19 and in the context of education, are looking to fund interventions that explore how we do online learning. Is that where we should focus?
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE KIDS, RIGHT?
Aashti Zaidi of the Global Schools Forum invited me to a Zoom call for their membership organisations, which I attended as an independent observer to hear their experiences of Covid-19. Interestingly, their membership spans those in the NGO sector as well as the for-profit education sector and I was interested to hear if government’s were taking into consideration the vital role that many of these providers have in these contexts. You can read their post here on their recommendations on how best to support them.
Education is, generally, highly ideological and in these times, we need to come together to ensure that we do the best for everyone.
They will be reviewing & selecting applications on a weekly rolling basis starting from 1st May until end of May, with successful applicants notified throughout. They will also be looking for inclusive solutions for marginalized groups (the disabled, displaced, refugees, girls, etc).
> Pivot conducted a survey of 3,500 teachers in Australia and New Zealand, and these were some of their results:
80% of teachers and school leaders believe that students will need extra instructional support when they return to in-classroom learning
70% of teachers say they have increased their planning time
90% of teachers say they want student feedback on their teaching
They say that boredom leads to creativity, so I’m delighted to share a photo of the hat my daughter made from an IKEA bag, apparently, it’s quite a fashion statement! Pleased that she channeled her creativity.
I’ve become increasingly worried about what happens to the education sector once lockdown is lifted. I don’t just mean returning to school, but that the so-called silver lining that this crisis has shown us will pass us by like so many opportunities in the past. This is mainly for two reasons:
With the looming recession, education budgets, like almost everything else, are going to be cut, which is the exact opposite to what is required to build the knowledge economy. The key question for me is how we make the case to protect funding, which is essentially a political decision in most countries. There is no question that the extra economic stimulus that has been injected into our economies will have to be paid for in some way, whether that’s through cut, raising taxes, or finding new sources of revenue. What I am absolutely certain about is that our Heads of Government and Finance Ministers will make the decision on what happens in education, and we really need to pray that they understand that the investments they make today are for the longer term.
Many have commented that changes that we are experiencing are irreversible. I’m not too certain about that. The structure of society and how we live and work have a huge impact on how education is also organised. The home-schooling / remote-learning experience of today is not sustainable and the boom we have seen in ed-tech could easily also reverse when we resume normal service and working hours. The big caveat is, of course, unless Ministries of Education the world over decide they want to embrace new learning technologies and make them a core part of how they see the provision of education, and there are great examples now from around the world where progress is being made at pace. What’s required is leadership from the private and public spheres to create a space and investment where subjects that are normally taboo can be explored in depth.
Professor Rose Luckin of the UCL Institute of Education asks for your help in completing this survey which should help us make sure we learn from this experience so that we can better support teachers, learners and the EdTech community post-lockdown.
Last week, we hosted a meeting on Teaching in the pandemic which over 200 teachers and system leaders took part in. A lot of discourse in education happens without teachers being involved and for this reason, Senator Esteban Bullrich and I wanted to bring them to the table and hear not only about their experiences but learn from the solutions they are putting in place.
Here are some takeaways:
Empathy and wellbeing have to be at the heart of all that we do for our students, families and communities. To do that, we must empower and support our schools and teachers with the resources they need now more than ever, as Yasodai Selvakumaran from Australia said.
Hard hitting but… Nadia Lopez from New York explained that she’s realised that equity is a choice. Not by those who have been disenfranchised by poverty, but those in positions of power to create policies and allocate funding that would give schools the budgets they require to meet the needs of their students.
We need a greater investment in services that education psychologists provide, Marj Brown from South Africa spoke about the importance and need she has realised in these times on the need to provide psycho-social support to students.
On assessments, Jim Tuscano from the Philippines posed an interesting question asking whether they are fit for purpose in an online learning environment. He also asked a great question on how primary learners can be taught online… still looking for answers, so please contact me if you have thoughts. Jim wrote this blog post after our session which captures what was said.
David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International spoke about collaboration, not competition, across organizations being key when it comes to what tools are available to students and teachers and cited Cameroon, Uruguay, Norway as examples around the world of systems making efforts to align resources, plan effectively at different levels.
From India, we heard from Akshay Saxena who commented how quickly people have come together through rapid innovation. His organisation managed to pull together open source content from Grade 1-12 in just a few weeks, reaching about 40% of students. Cheap data availability has aided this process. The one thing he would ask the government to do is to provide free data bundles to students.
Jiang Xuequin from China told us because of China’s success in edtech, there are two issues they are now facing – one being how do you build intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. When you’re not in a class being driven by your peers, what happens?
In Belgium, Koen Timmers told us resources are being pulled together to get laptops and data free for every child. But, how do you use technology well if you do have access to it? He went on to say we need synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities through tech for guided and independent learning. Different ages and subjects require different approaches as well. Edtech is not just about delivering content.
Special education needs leader from the UK, Vijita Patel, reminded us that the process of learning in virtual schools is anchored in relationships. Especially for students with unique needs, these relationships are critical. Vijita also fleshed out these three priorities: (a) formative assessment: families as co-constructors; (b) agility of curriculum: do students understand this new normal? This is the most significant learning opportunity; (c) teacher well-being – the pressure to give students what they need.
Armand Doucet from Canada concluded our call and built on his advocacy for the profession given the challenges being faced today.
Also, very thankful to music teacher Jimmy Rotherham for ending our call with a song. Watch this to the very end. We shall overcome with a little help from our friends.
Alex Beard has been commissioned by the BBC to produce a three part radio series called The Learning Revolution which looks at the future of education, featuring the leading thinkers and most radical practices in teaching, technology, and more. Part I is on Knowing. Alex wrote a great book a couple of years ago called ‘Natural Born Learners’.
Mosharraf Zaidi from leading Pakistani think tank: Tabadlab drafted this report on the impact of Covid-19 on education there, which I am grateful for.
Music shares of the week:
How amazing was the Andrea Bocelli performance in support of Covid19 victims last week? I was so honoured to have hosted him a couple of years ago for the Global Teacher Prize ceremony. Watch my interview with him below.
I really enjoyed watching parts of the One World Together At Home concert on Saturday eve. It was great seeing the diverse acts from all over the world come together. I really enjoyed the Rolling Stones set (the one with the air drumming:)