How do we keep choosing hope in the face of a disruptive era in education? We make a choice and find practical ways to keep rebuilding of course. This piece follows Professor Fernando M. Reimers’ three-pillar framework for building back better in education.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s the one question we’ve all been asked in school. We would answer by writing or drawing our dreams and the results usually range from meaningful to downright funny. Likewise with kids today. Sometimes you even get a different answer every two weeks! Young Aisya wants to be a life-saving scientist this week and a T-rex the next. As educators, we’re fine with that because we know it was never meant to lock kids into a career. It’s to help guide them to aim high, dream big, and imagine their future.

However, in a time where there are major disruptions in education that result in learning loss, instead of questions about dreams; children, parents, educators and whole nations are now grappling with the harsh reality of students’ dropping school, and experiencing isolation and disengagement at an unprecedented level.

In the face of these sobering numbers, it may be tempting to put the notion of dreams aside. But dreams give us hope, and hope helps us not only rebuild what we used to have, but also rebuild our world and our education systems back better.

In his booklet titled ‘Educational Practices Series 34 - Education and Covid-19’, Professor Fernando M. Reimers, Harvard University’s Professor of the Practice of International Education, offers us an insightful 3-pillared framework on how we can recover from the shock of the pandemic and begin building back better.

Pillar 1: Assess the changes at a local level

Just like a catapult, in order to fly far and fly accurately, we first need to pull back and assess how the education context has changed and the needs such changes have created. To develop an effective strategy in educating students during and after the pandemic, Professor Reimers recommends that educators and policymakers must identify specific needs based on a localised assessment. This is because the pandemic has had different effects on various populations of students and on individual schools. Here’s an overview of the areas that assessments should cover:

1. Student well-being and disposition to learn

2. Student access and engagement

3. Teacher and staff-wellbeing, teaching readiness, and provide support

4. Impact of the pandemic on communities

5. Operation of the education system

Pillar 2: Strategise actions based on an informed understanding of impact

We must develop new strategies based on understanding the pandemic’s impact on students, teachers, families, and the operation of schools. Professor Reimers puts forth these 7 areas in which action plans needs to be made:

1. Commit to supporting all learners

2. Develop a delivery platform that balances in-person with remote learning and allows personalisation and differentiation

3. Prioritise the curriculum

4. Accelerate learning and personalise

5. Support student mental health and emotional well-being

6. Assess the effectiveness of innovations that have taken place

7. Integrate services that support students (health, nutrition)

Pillar 3: Building the ability and capacity to implement these reforms

Helping students recover from the learning loss and trauma experienced during the pandemic—and building the resiliency of students, teachers, and school systems to overcome future disruptions—requires increasing the capacity of schools. The capacity to successfully implement reform is so crucial that we cannot assume it or take it for granted. Rather, we must intentionally develop it.

“This means helping educators develop new knowledge and skills, and mobilising other stakeholders who can implement activities necessary for recovery.”

Professor Reimers suggests enhancing capacity in five main ways:

1. Develop the skills of those working in schools and give them autonomy

2. Align and reconfigure roles and responsibilities in schools, so they support an integrated view of student development

3. Build partnerships between schools and other institutions.

4. Leverage parents and members of the community

5. Create networks of schools

Most importantly, as always, look for the bright spots

If these three pillars seem overwhelming, take heart in the fact that good changes are already happening all around us. Despite many losses caused by the pandemic, educators and school communities have innovated many ways to sustain education. These include new pedagogical approaches developed by teachers, new forms of collaboration among teachers, and new forms of organisation and management.

In Malaysia alone, we have seen students getting involved in innovating online learning sessions, free professional development offered to help teachers transition effectively into online teaching, not-for-profit organisations providing programmes that target core competencies, and thousands of free learning content being made available to the public. All to ensure our children are not left behind.

As we commit to supporting each other and building back better, we set the foundations for a brighter future ahead. Together, let’s help our children keep their spark alive so they can build their dreams and imagine their future.

More details of the three pillars can be found in ‘Educational Practices Series 34 - Education and Covid-19: Recovering from the shock created by the pandemic and building back better’ by Professor Fernando M. Reimers.

Read the full article in English here and in Malay here.

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