Capitalizing a crisis

Himani Tyagi

One sector that is witnessing a massive upheaval during the pandemic is education. These are chaotic but tremendously exciting times for educators.

Till date, technology in most schools meant smart boards or the occasional power-point presentations by hard-to-find tech-savvy teachers. It is interesting to watch this forced evolution and contemplate what it means for the future of education.

As part of the team that’s heavily invested in building a robust online teaching-learning platform for the school where I work, it’s also heartening to watch the system steadily transform – one teacher at a time. Teachers are now putting in a lot of effort in making quality presentations, trying to build in polls in their lesson, learning to respond to chat queries while instructing, creating online assessments, providing feedback and many other such tasks that require them to be technologically competent.

Without doubt, it is an enormous learning experience and will increase the efficacy of the delivery of content and also measure the outcomes achieved.

Real-time and data-driven feedback for teachers and learners
One important feature of online education is that you can instantly get to know how effective your class was. Using polls or quizzes, you can instantly generate and measure the learning outcomes. With the instant feedback, you can then strategize and change things for the better. I have noticed that students love it when they immediately receive the results of their performance. This precisely is the reason why the video game industry is thriving! Young people immensely enjoy the thrill of immediate consequences. Both the teacher and learner receive real time feedback on their every-day teaching learning.

Digi-tools that empower teacher for impactful content delivery
Explaining something as exciting and visually stimulating as the solar system through a blackboard lecture or even a YouTube video is unfair to students in this day and age when children have access to apps like solar walk that can take them on a virtual space tour. Learners can take virtual tours of almost anywhere in the world and beyond. This can turn a subject like social studies into an exhilarating exploration. There are numerous wonderful apps, games and resources that can completely revolutionize the classroom ambience.

Non-judgmental Formative Assessments
The term ‘assessment’ immediately generates fear of being judged. The way assessments are conducted implies that we do not trust our learners; we believe that unless we monitor them, they will use unethical means. What if we rely more on formative assessment as compared to summative assessments – and work on making them fun, engaging and more relevant to the present times? With all the information available at the click of a mouse, testing their memory is not a good idea. Let’s engage, debate, discuss, play with our learners while they learn and get assessed.

Teacher mindset
Teacher Professional growth and learning is a much discussed topic amongst educational leaders. In many countries especially in India, the field of education itself lacks real life context. Not only is there a blatant disregard of the fact that the world is already light years ahead, education in India has been completely oblivious of what a 21st century student needs. Online trainings and conferences have been the norm for a long time in corporate organizations but education was slow to warm up to it until COVID-19. It has opened up a world of ideas and resources for the educators. Professional development is happening through webinars where very high quality global exchange of ideas happen. It’s interesting how a teacher in a small town in India is now influenced by the Dean of Education in Harvard University, while her idea inspired an educator in Finland.

So, virtual education seems like a solution to all our woes, but is it? Can it replace our traditional face-to-face teaching-learning model?

When I think about my school days, all I recall is friends, fun, laughter and a few amazing teachers. Chaotic hallways and sports ground during recess, sounds of children laughing and talking, school is a space energized with dreams, aspirations, hope and relationships. Peer interactions at a young age form the foundation of an individual’s identity. There is something magical about that pat on the back that a teacher gives to a student on giving a correct response. Such powerful moments of connection and trust are the bedrock of sound pedagogy. The idea of a physical space to get together is irreplaceable. It’s about being human.

In the pre-adolescent and adolescent phase, students are mostly governed by emotions. Self-regulation and executive skills are still in the process of developing in these critical years. Of course, there are exceptions to this general rule. For most students it is difficult to stay put in front of screens for more than an hour unless they are engaged in a variety of tasks that require them to get up and do things, interact and converse with their friends.

Along with learner agency, children also need structure and predictability. Busy, working from home parents may not be able to hold children accountable. One cannot walk away or mute oneself, cannot disconnect and disappear in a physical classroom.

There is no dearth of scientific literature citing the mental and physical ill effects of watching the screen for long hours, be it television, mobile, video games or social media platforms. If education also happens online it will complete the vicious cycle severing children’s ties with whatever is left of the real world. Prolonged exposure makes children sedentary, hurts their eyes and also their mental well-being.

What we need is a hearty blend of the two. Solutions will come from the integration of educational research and pedagogy with cognitive neuroscience and technology.

Being a coach, I believe that asking powerful questions is the first step towards finding the right answers. A few powerful questions to trigger thinking:

  • How does learning happen across different age groups?
  • How can teachers plan lessons judiciously to blend online and offline learning?
  • How can they choose the right blend of tools and resources to create powerful learning experiences?
  • How can assessments be integrated into day-to-day teaching-learning?
  • How can the onus and control of learning be put in the student’s hand?

Exploring the above questions will lead us to the right recipe of blended education.

The author is Head of Academics, DLF Public School, Ghaziabad. She is a certified Professional Coach from the International Coach Federation. She can be reached at [email protected].

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