The Opportunity for Enhanced Education
It's hard to imagine that over a year ago more than 1 billion students worldwide were disrupted by COVID-19. Most educational institutions have had to deal with many challenges since then such as digitalizing education, upgrading facilities to accommodate new safety measures and learning how to be agile in a changing environment. But with these challenges also come opportunities for a better tomorrow.
The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly altered our education system, changing what classrooms and learning look like on a day-to-day basis. It has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94%* of the world’s student population. Educators have been forced to navigate a constantly shifting landscape, while keeping the health and safety of students, teachers and the community top of mind.
Schools have been forced to reinvent their learning environments, with students and teachers relying on digitalization to continue moving forward. As remote learning, digital collaboration and self-learning become more normal, however, it’s time to shift our attention to the inevitable task of planning for the future. One thing is clear – education will never be the same as it was before COVID-19 and educators will need to think outside the box in order to continue operating safely. Fundamentally, we need to ask ourselves “What conditions must be in place for students to learn, for teachers to teach, and how will leaders across the system adapt to support these conditions?” Since education in Canada is a provincial responsibility, responses to COVID-19 have been diverse and planning will need to be appropriately varied. Our solutions can help you prepare for the future while navigating the current landscape.
Adapting to a Post Pandemic World of Learning
Redesigning Learning Spaces
While we believe that school campuses will continue to be the primary location for learning, as we move forward, finding a balance between educational effectiveness and student safety will be important. When preparing to re-open, you should consider the various people involved and the array of tasks and occupations (e.g. learning or playing) performed in the environment.
Classroom configuration will need to be at the forefront of planning, with an emphasis on the physical environment, mobility, and flexibility, i.e. students will need to be seated at individual desks and spaced apart. Additionally, consider the use of portable equipment and mobile classroom furniture to encourage collaboration while maintaining safety. We recommend incorporating solutions such as:
- Acrylic barriers to shield tables, computer stations, or section rooms
- Reconfiguring table and desk placements to allow students to see each other, teachers, and audiovisual equipment
- Wall displays, ceiling mounted microphones and webcams to support collaboration between remote and in-class students
Emphasize Health and Safety
Schools are more than a space for learning. They are also designed to be safe places for students, and a source for positive physical, mental, social, and emotional health. But, with COVID-19, that safety is questioned.
To foster a safe environment, public health and educational institutions determined the first step was to develop clear protocols and procedures on physical distancing measures, including avoiding activities that require large gatherings, staggering the start and end of the school day, staggering meal times, moving classes to temporary spaces or outdoors, having students attend in shifts to reduce class size and reducing the number of common surfaces.
Moving forward, as we continue to learn about the virus, we know there are other protocols and practices that can help enhance hygiene in schools. Some health and safety solutions you should consider implementing include:
- Proper handwashing and sanitizing stations
- Air purifiers for improved ventilation in buildings
- Increased availability of protective equipment such as masks, gloves and face shields for students and teachers
- Advanced cleaning products for facilities
- Supplies and storage solutions for safe food preparation and handling
- Posters and signage to manage the flow of traffic
Harnessing Digital Transformation
Today's students' as well as faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni - are digital natives, yet the take up of technology in the past was more piecemeal in educational institutions. Schools had (and have) limited resources and countless priorities. Educators struggling with heavy workloads lacked the time to innovate and fears around security, privacy and in-person student teacher relationships put a halt on technological innovation in education. But almost overnight, institutions were forced to adopt digital learning and quickly came to rely on technology whether they wanted to or not.
While early adoption may have been haphazard, we now have the opportunity to rethink how digital technologies can be used to support teaching and learning. Based on our experience with school boards, here are some digital education solutions we think will be a staple in the future.
- Digital Whiteboards
Allow for real-time content sharing and efficient collaboration that can help teachers stretch beyond the streamed lecture format to include live demonstrations and experiments.
- Technology Devices for All
One of the biggest problems of online learning is that some students don't have access to devices, while others don't have strong enough internet connections at home. We think loaning Chromebooks and tablets will be a key element to accessible education in the future.
- Anti-Microbial Technology
If students share workstations, it's easy for viruses to spread quickly. Antimicrobial keyboards and mice can go a long way in keeping students safe as they can be immersed in harsh disinfectants such as bleach and are 100% waterproof.
- Video Conferencing
Maintaining engagement in the classroom can be challenging, regardless of whether students are in-person or remove. A headset with a noise-canceling microphone and a webcam that supports 1080p HD video will ensure the quality of lessons will not be disrupted due to poor audio and video quality.
Here to Support You
The creativity, commitment and innovation displayed by students, teachers, and leaders to providing meaningful and creative learning opportunities has been inspiring. However, the COVID-19 crisis and the unparalleled education disruption is far from over. Our education system will need to continue building on the infrastructure for remote learning, while reconfiguring physical spaces for a blended model.
Planning should be mindful of not only the safety factors related to containing outbreaks, but also the emotional well-being of both educators and students. Decisions related to the future of schooling will need to place protection, care, and compassion at the centre. This will require us to collectively rethink the value and purpose of schooling and move towards reimagining many of the fundamental aspects including leadership, teaching, learning, well-being, and collaboration.
With years of experience supporting Canada's school boards and educational institutions, we're here to help. Our associates can provide insight into evidence-based practices and approaches that can help you facilitate a high-quality learning experience for students and teachers while maintaining the health and safety of all.