Opinions abound in the world of education, regarding how far “behind” our students are falling.
But perhaps it is time to reconsider the validity of our current exam-style assessment structure, and to broaden our understanding of how to measure what is really important. For those students finishing their education in this current time, it seems unfair to have no authentic ending, based on all that they have learned, no way to demonstrate their achievements. Perhaps this is the time to change our thinking.
Of course, there are, and will always be, crucial life-skills and essential understanding that needs to be explicitly taught, and learned. The question is how much is essential and what is really of value for student learning?
“We have to be prepared to reassess and redefine expectation.”
Our students have experienced the most disrupted period of education in modern times, possibly ever. We have to be prepared to reassess and redefine expectation – not to “dumb-down”, but to evolve the fundamental reasoning behind what we teach, how we teach it and why we believe it is relevant and essential for 21st century learning.
The learning of social skills is key – sharing and working together are essential parts of society, yet the restrictions imposed throughout this pandemic mean that we have to discourage these, in order to protect our community. It will take time and continued effort to help the younger generation understand and to revoke the negative effects of this required self-protection. Stopping a young child from sharing their toys goes against so much of what we believe.
In the short term, if students do not return to “normal” schooling for the rest of this year, they may have missed some 250 or more school days. Schools, districts, countries and curriculum systems have found ways to continue the learning, but with wide discrepancies in quality, quantity and approach. There have been online live lessons, asynchronous set tasks with feedback, or even worksheets to be completed with no contact from their teachers.
Some may have had no access to technology and may even be struggling with life itself. Some will inevitably be considered as “behind”. Behind whom, and in what, we might ask? Students have not stopped learning. None of us truly know the extent that the global pandemic has changed the lives of those around us, and we all need to learn to show empathy and understanding.
“The young people in our care will have lived through history in the making.”
What if, as educators, we took a more open-minded approach? Perhaps we could begin to look at areas where these students may have an advantage. Already, we have considered what a 21st century curriculum needs to include, shifting from traditional subjects, to skills such as collaboration, critical thinking and communication. Add to this the need to build dispositions and attitudes that foster stronger relationships – empathy, resilience, compassion and kindness will be essential to rebuild a sense of community.
Think, for a moment, about the ways that students may be advantaged by this time spent in a world of disrupted education:
- Learning to value family connection, to build empathy and understanding of others’ situations.
- Becoming more independent – finding ways to keep busy, taking up simpler hobbies, reading, creative activities, writing for pleasure, learning to cook.
- Using the skills they have learned, in authentic, real-life situations. Is this not the goal of education, to equip young people for life?
- Beginning to learn the true value of money, or the real need for a job to support family or community, and the way that an economy is dependent on so many interconnected factors.
- Existing in a more confined space with others may have helped see the need for personal organisation, for keeping belongings tidy and clean.
- Noticing the changes in nature, the seasons, the detail in the natural world, discourages taking it for granted.
“Our job is to positively assess what students understand, know and can do.”
No matter their personal experiences, the young people in our care will have lived through history in the making. They will forever remember this time, and it will change their outlook on life.
Our job as educators is to positively assess what students understand, know and can do, and to move away from what they are “missing” or have “lost”. Perhaps now is the time to rethink and restructure, to quantify attainment not merely through narrow, intellectual, academic testing but entering a more broad, on-going and authentic setting for learning.