“We will lose many things in the course of fighting this virus,” said Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, in a video addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on Australian schools.
“One thing that I know teachers are united on, with their parents, is we don’t want one of those things to be the loss of a child’s education, giving up a whole year of their learning.”
But our Prime Minister’s message is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons, particularly the presumption that learning is mutually exclusive to a school and a classroom.
With respect to Mr Morrison, who graduated from high school in 1985, education has significantly evolved from the days of the ‘chalk and talk’ and ‘sage on stage,’ style of teaching.
Frustrations around education’s purpose and delivery are by no means new and have been brewing for a long time now.
But COVID-19 now presents a unique opportunity to reevaluate and change the way we view and deliver education.
The TED talk by British author, speaker and international advisor on education Sir Ken Robinson is one of the most viewed videos on the platform, with more than 64 million views.
In it he talks about education’s ‘Death Valley’, arguing that “schools kill creativity” and that through a fear of failure culture, students are losing their joy and individuality.
In the same vein, we’ve seen the term Education 3.0 emerge over the past decade. The thinking behind Education 3.0 sees meaning as socially constructed and contextually reinvented, technology as embraced not confiscated, classrooms as everywhere and teachers as everyone.
Another popularised teaching theory is the concept that ‘The World Is A Classroom’.
This holistic approach centres the student and their world, and has been highlighted as a result of COVID-19 school closures.
For example, Melbourne Zoo have set up live streams of animals including koalas, snow leopards and echidnas.
The National Gallery of Victoria’s many exhibits can now be experienced from home with their interactive virtual self-guided tours. They also offer schools free virtual excursions, hosted by an NGV educator via video conference.
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra created a free livestream performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.
Then there’s the incredible work of the ABC Education team who have expanded their ABC Me channel to run educational programming between 10am and 3pm on weekdays, that includes Ecomaths, ScienceXplosion, and Numberblocks.
The move to online delivery
Working from home shouldn’t be seen as ‘homework.’ Yes, physical and metaphorical borders are in place, but we have the opportunity to be more connected with the world and each other than ever before.
Students of today are technologically savvy, critical and divergent thinkers who are more and more becoming active and informed citizens.
They want to know not just what they are learning, but why they are learning it. Giving voice to students allows them to raise their views, concerns and ideas as well as share their experiences and ambitions.
With school closures and students now learning from their homes, now is the perfect opportunity to put this into practise.
But going online doesn’t simply mean talking heads on Zoom or Skype or a day of screen time.
There are countless mediums education now has the chance to embrace.
Take, for example, the concept of the Khan Academy, whose online educational tools come in the form of short instructional videos. The site was started by American educator Sal Khan back in 2006 when he began creating YouTube math videos to help his niece’s homework.
The site’s mission has remained the same ever since, to “provide a free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere.”
Covering a breadth of subjects ranging from science and storytelling, to calculus and computer programming, the website has been successful for many reasons, including its curriculum alignment and links to business and community, including NASA, The Museum of Modern Art and MIT, who all offer content.
But what sets it apart is students can work at their own pace.
Just like the play-on-demand nature of a podcast, students can rewind, skip or stop at any time to consolidate their understanding, in many ways becoming their own teacher.
Offline learning at home
There’s also an opportunity here and now to move beyond traditional curriculum subjects.
Let’s use Google’s ‘20 percent time’ model which offers employees 20 per cent of their paid work time to pursue personal projects.
Designed originally to give staff a full day per week to work on a Google-related project of their interest, the initiative has spawned Gmail, Google Maps and Google Talk, not to mention increased morale and wellbeing.
What if distance learning used this project-based approach for students to pursue their passions in a way that was previously unimaginable at school?
Students for example could create a vegetable garden in the backyard, build a Street Library book box, upcycle clothing into new garments, create a worm composting bin, or make handmade paper from recycled materials.
Using real-life problem solving, these deep learning experiences develop a life-long learning mindset in students and position learning as the application of information, rather than collecting it.
The Australian Curriculum includes key capabilities like critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability, and ethical and intercultural understanding. All of these capabilities can embrace the pandemic as an authentic and enriching learning opportunity that has genuine context.
Learning is a lifelong pursuit and the COVID-Class will emerge more resourceful and resilient, more creative and critical, more empathic and empowered, and as leaders.
The education system must rise to these tests and not just keep up with challenges, but keep up also with its most important asset, its students.
This new era needs to let student voices and agency lead the way, and focus on global connectedness, collaboration and co-creation.
So often educators and government talk about 21st Century learning. Well this is it – right here, right now.
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