The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we view education world-wide. Perhaps it is the forced change that education has needed in order to re-imagine thinking in the 21st century. Online learning will never have the heart connection, professional relationship and sensory feeling that face to face interaction generates. Even as schools do their best to provide online support, the students miss their friends and the social interaction with supportive teachers.
In the US, many schools have already made the decision to close for the rest of their academic year. In South Africa, we wait patiently for the Minister to address us as to the unlocking of schools and what it means both academically and economically.
Maria Litinova, a researcher at the Scientific Interchange in Turin, Italy is quoted as saying that, without a vaccine “There is no such thing as a safe reopening.”
However, with many countries, including South Africa, desperate to re-open the economy, what will schools look like?
The Keller Education team have jotted down some ideas, which we feel will need to be looked at by School leaders and executive teams.
1. Health/hygiene step up
Children are renown for being playful, bouncy and touchy – just as they are meant to be. Keeping over 500 children ‘hygienic’ is easier said than done. Our classrooms are overcrowded and personal hygiene is not always up to standard, irrespective of the social class. Schools will not simply be able to place soap in the cloakrooms and a hand-sanitiser at the door and pray that students are squeaky clean.
Stringent rules and regulations will need to exist regarding thermo-temperature checks of teachers, students and support staff on entering the building. Covid-19 testing, repeated instruction regarding personal hygiene and teacher training from health organisations will be required.
Regular half-hourly wipe downs of all classroom surfaces with effective and Government Health approved and supplied sanitisers, is a non-negotiable. Educators will constantly need to teach and embed social distancing routines. This is going to be extremely difficult in crowded schools and in changing weather patterns where students may need to remain indoors because of the weather.
2. Reduce Class Size
In South Africa, it is not uncommon for a state-owned school to have 40+ students in every classroom. Large numbers in small classrooms is a recipe for disaster. Schooling is like day care. It provides a safe place for children so parents can engage in the economy.
Depending on the classroom size, social distancing could reduce classes to only 15 students. The challenge is: What will the rest of the students do when the 15 are at school? Who will oversee them? How will their parents engage in the economy if they are completing tasks at home? Will children from the same family be co-ordinated to attend and if the day is shortened to allow platooning – how will industry manage the workforce disturbance? This is a massive challenge in South Africa and possibly the reason why there has been silence from the Education Department.
3. Online Learning must continue
The reasons are 3-fold:
- Many Students will not come back to school due to fear of virus contraction. A Facebook page was created called “My child is not a guinea pig” and these sentiments are shared by many parents around the world. We may only see 60% of our school students returning if the re-opening of schools is implemented. Those not returning need to continue learning and we need to have a system in place to ensure that the children aren’t neglected due to their parents’ decisions. But even if 60% return, the class size will prevent effective social distancing.
- The shorter day may mean that students will miss out on time to work on tasks and complete assignments or projects (particularly in high schools). The remote learning platforms must be efficiently designed to ensure a high level of interaction, participation and regular feedback. Students must have the ability to battle with problem solving and upload work to the system from home. Schools should put in place systems where data packages are available for students without internet connectivity. Inequity must be resolved.
- There is a HIGH chance, without a vaccine, that schools will be re-closed shortly after opening. With a spike in infection expected after schools re-open, schools must have all structures in place to deal with another total schooling shut down. One school in Cape Town had such a well planned remote learning system, that after lockdown was imposed, they were able to start online learning in full swing the very next day.
4. No Sport, no assemblies, no line-ups and more
All Sporting practices and fixtures will probably be cancelled for the foreseeable future. In South Africa, the Rugby Union has already cancelled age group competitions for the year.
School Assemblies, which we believe were always crucial family time to connect, share stories of success and receive news/updates will be cancelled to reduce the gathering size of no more than 50.
Many schools start their day with a lineup/roll-call. Some use this time for religious prayer or meditation. This, too, will have to be removed from the school timetable. Another crucial aspect of the school calendar is parent-teacher interviews. Parent-teacher interviews will need to be digital.
Kids will be devastated by the lack of sport, they will feel an intense lack of connection to the school family and parents won’t feel that they are connected with you, the teacher.
Zoom Calls and Google Classroom, the latest fads in education, will need to be seamlessly implemented on a number of levels to enhance connection during this time. Provision of data to the underprivileged students will be essential so that they can participate on smart phones.
(check out our Facebook/instagram page for tips on how to enhance your Zoom call experience as a teacher/student)
5. School calendar
What will the school calendar look like after all this lost time? Will the Winter June/July holiday be completely removed or shortened? A draft paper suggests it could be cut to just one week.
Will students automatically progress to the next grade? Will the state have the innovation required to adapt the 2020 Matric paper accordingly due to the lost time? We await an announcement from the Minister.
Our feeling is clear. The 2020 academic year must be re-designed to avoid additional stress and anxiety. Solutions must be found to make grade progression between 2020 and 2021 seamless. Matrics will need special dispensations.
We are living in uncertain times. The only way to chart a course through these waters is with deep thinking, flexible decision making and ensuring that the CHILDREN are put first.