The Royal Institute of Colombo hosted a live webinar on 21 June to discuss the effects of the pandemic on education and how educators can adapt once schools reopen.
The panel discussion was moderated by Royal Institute of Colombo Academic Co-ordinator and lecturer Sulakshitaa Thirugnanam, who discussed issues with British School in Colombo Principal Dr. John Scarth, Stafford International School Academic Director Suvin Wettimuny, and Royal Institute International School Academic Director Dr. Nirodha Bandara.
Speaking on the role of schools and educators, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, the panel agreed that the role of physical schools and teachers has become much more apparent, particularly in the case of younger students who are in formative stages of development and learning things like phonics, number relationships, and writing skills. The importance of blended knowledge and specialist teachers has been underlined.
Broad effects of the ‘new normal’ on education
Wettimuny shared that especially with younger children, there will be a strong tendency to return to traditional physical schooling. On the whole, a new norm of the increased use of technology in learning and learning spaces is one to expect.
Teachers will also be using not just new tools, but tools that have now been normalised and optimised to facilitate learning.
The role of teachers in the new normal will also be changing with an added focus on students as a whole, not just academically but also in terms of developing creativity and thinking skills. Methods of teaching and assessment will also be likely to adapt, possibly with more continuous assessment being used more.
Dr. Scarth commented on the evolving role of teachers in the normal and explained that while teachers would also be expected to be more interactive and develop skills, it is also the responsibility of schools to ensure that teachers are given proper training and development resources to be able to succeed.
Independent learning will begin to play a much larger role than before. Wettimuny explained that previously there has been a tendency in Sri Lankan education to do a lot of hand-holding when it comes to helping students achieve goals, particularly academically. The pandemic has forced independent learning where students take responsibility and initiative with their learning and learn to work under minimal supervision.
Dr. Bandara also commented on the rise of independent learning, saying that focusing on independent learning will be very important in the long term because it teaches students important life skills like self-motivation and experimenting through doing – something that is minimised in the current grades-focused system. Through independent learning, teachers become orchestrators, giving students room to discover their passions and set their own goals, which in turn becomes a very important skill in life after school.
Maintaining quality in the new normal
Dr. Scarth explained that individualised learning will need to be paid more attention to, where students are given individual attention to make sure they are learning and growing. Feedback approaches will need to become more continuous to keep students engaged, particularly in a virtual context.
A massive benefit of the p[andemic has been the cancellation of exams and a halt to the exam-driven culture, with the opportunity to relook at how students are currently assessed and potentially work out better systems.
Maintaining social and emotional wellbeing
With schools set to reopen soon, there is bound to be a good deal of anxiety across the board, be it from students themselves, their parents, and even among teachers. While systems will need to be put in place for health and safety, it will be important to make sure students, especially younger students, do not feel rejected due to the lack of physical interaction. Counselling for all, when required, will be an important tool in maintaining emotional wellbeing.
Dr. Scarth commented that one upside of the global culture of the internet is that by looking at what other schools across the world are doing, these systems can be streamlined for maximum impact.
Developing life skills for a post-pandemic world
The panel agreed that developing life skills in students has never been more important, not just on the scale of immediate post-pandemic reparation but on the larger scale of creating functional members of society. Skills like creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication are very important for learners of all ages to learn, both in school and out.
Also very important is to instil the ability to be able to take risks despite the chance of failure, something that is conditioned into the minds of young children, resulting in adults who are afraid to make mistakes.