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John Morris on COVID: An Educational Disruption Or A Catalyst For Change?

AUG 20, 2020 • 10 min read

The COVID-19 crisis has forced school closures in 188 countries, heavily disrupting the learning process of more than 1.7 billion students and curbing educational aspirations of students world-wide, often accompanied by widespread disengagement from the school system.

The impact of the pandemic saw Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and Pearson Edexcel announce the cancellation of domestic and international exam sessions for the May/June 2020 series across all countries. International Baccalaureate (IB) exams were also cancelled. In addition, Advanced Placement Exams, SAT and ACT administrations were moved online and later cancelled.

In NZ, while NCEA exams are not until November, many internal assessment standards have not been able to be completed and NZQA have been forced to introduce several changes to NCEA and University Entrance for 2020. In addition, dates for examinations and portfolio submissions have been delayed to provide students with more time in term 4.

These unprecedented school closures, exam cancellations and modifications continue to have impact on students, teachers, and families. They are also having far-reaching economic and societal consequences that have shed light on student debt, digital learning, food insecurity, and homelessness, as well as access to childcare, health care, housing, internet, and disability services. The impact is more severe for disadvantaged children and their families, causing interrupted learning, compromised nutrition, childcare problems, and consequent economic cost to families who could not work. (UNESCO)

In New Zealand, during Level 4 lockdown 750,000 students were studying remotely in a variety of ways and with variable success. Schools, teachers, parents and students had to suddenly adjust to the digital learning pedagogy and it became very clear that the mechanics of remote instruction are not necessarily always inclusive or equitable.

As a result of Covid, it is clear that education has changed dramatically. The huge growth in e-learning has resulted in the overall market for online education is projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025. Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.

The flux and uncertainty of world-wide change created by the Covid pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the search for more effective models of schooling for the future.

In addition to changes wrought by Covid, new ways of viewing knowledge, new patterns of interaction around the world, new meaning and definitions of the world of work, and the development of powerful new information technology have all combined to utterly disrupt our schooling system.

The chaos that ensued from the necessity for schools, that are traditionally resistant to change, to the “new normal” of remote online learning created urgency and with it an invaluable opportunity for educators to redefine success and question current structures. It forced educators to seek an unusual and diverse perspective and it certainly pushed educators out of their comfort zone. What it also showed was that schooling as we know it need not remain in one stereotyped pattern.

Hence, looking to the future, one development coming out of this period of fertile disorder will likely be a fundamental transformation of the structure of the education system. The idea of having just one education system will, most likely, be replaced by a polymorphic educational provision that will give families genuine educational choice. Bricks and mortar schools, of course, will have their place and rightly so.

However, it is highly likely that even the most traditional schools will need to be proactive and adapt and change. The majority of schools, understandably, still tend to think of themselves as permanent organisations and put high value on their traditions, their ongoing culture, their past record and their accumulating heritage of former students.

But change in the 21st Century is so rapid and adaptation is vital. The world of education, in part as a result of the Covid pandemic, is now at a juncture that could either lead to a return to the “business as usual” model or to a path that leads to new ideas, new structures and new and different imperatives.

As a result, some schools are likely to re-make themselves into shapes which may bear little resemblance to the patterns of a traditional school. The learning world is increasingly flexible and reflective, and change is both desirable and inevitable. While change has to some degree been forced upon us, the key is to use this opportunity to advantage.

One new style of schooling that took the opportunity offered by this pandemic and opened for instruction at the end of April this year, and is in the vanguard of these changes in schooling, is Crimson Global Academy (CGA), a synchronous online high school.

CGA, by its very nature, challenges the status quo of education and is already leading the way with innovation, new ideas and imperatives. CGA is, in the New Zealand context, the original education disruptor and is offering a new model of schooling suited to the current generation of digital natives, thanks to the superb technology developed by the Crimson tech gurus and, of course, the inspiration of Crimson founder, Jamie Beaton.

The students studying in CGA today are from Generation Z, a generation that has grown up in a truly globalised world. This generation is defined by technology which is simply an extension of their own consciousness and identity, with social media being a way of life, and where the term FOMO expresses their expectation of instant communication and feedback. And this is something that is a real strength of our school; our teaching is in real time with live teachers – no pre-recorded videos – and thus feedback from teachers is instant.

The Covid pandemic has also illustrated starkly how globally interconnected we are; there is no longer such a thing as isolated issues and actions. Internationalism and globalism have, for example, produced an international market place which surmounts national borders, and the same lack of borders is now appearing in education. The spread of transnational schooling is a new and growing trend.

Around the world, the leading schools are global; think of Harrow, Dulwich, Wellington College UK, Shrewsbury, Malvern College, Wycombe Abbey and many others. These UK schools have built links with overseas providers of learning. Last year there were 58 UK independent schools that had set up offshore campuses, educating 40,000 students; 26 of these schools were in China and 13 in the Middle East. Great schools are clearly becoming increasingly networked through a rich variety of alliances and interactions.

Being part of a global network of schools is a vital part of the CGA future, one in which our CGA students have a great opportunity to become global citizens through an education and a curriculum that is self-consciously international.

The expansion of CGA into the UK, Europe and the Middle East, which starts on 1 September, is a significant development in the growth of the school. This transnational education in which we will deliver the Pearson Edexcel International A Level programme to students in a wide range of countries will help to promote multicultural, diverse and internationalized outlooks among our students. This curriculum is already delivered to schools in 120 countries and sat by over 3 million students; these numbers will inevitably grow in the future.

Future CGA school leavers will undoubtedly find themselves in an international workplace or an international tertiary institution, and in competition with people from other countries. Their credentials on leaving school must have international currency. It is no longer good enough for students to compare their performances only against those of other students in the same city or country.

Schooling in the future will undoubtedly be less parochial than it currently is in curriculum and assessment, and will be part of an educational globalism in which there will be an international exchange of best learning practices.

Another sure thing is that, despite inevitable changes occurring in schooling, there will still be a need for great teachers regardless of the pedagogy. In this information age, students can access knowledge much more easily but this is not the same as understanding it. This is where great teachers come in: helping students learn how to evaluate, manipulate and apply knowledge. This requires teachers to be subject experts who understand the deep structure of their discipline. It is teachers who foster the magic of learning that builds in students the desire to be the best they can be and aspire to do great things.

On the horizon then, there will be some radical, deep and pervasive changes that will impact on schooling. Remote online learning is just one of these changes and could well be the catalyst to create a new, more effective method of educating students – a new kind of schooling to suit the digital age.

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