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The Legacy of the Pandemic on School Education


G. Balasubramanian is currently the editor-in-chief of ‘The Progressive School’ magazine. He joined the Central Board of Secondary Education as a Joint Secretary and has worked in several capacities in Academics, Examination, Confidential and Administration branches of CBSE. He has also held the additional charge of the Chief Vigilance Officer of the Board. He has been instrumental to the introduction of several innovations in curriculum of CBSE which include frontline curriculum, Communicative Approach to Language Teaching, Information Technology, Alternatives to Homework, etc.


In this article, Mr. G. Balasubramanian speaks of inculcating emerging technologies in the classrooms, and the positive impact it will have on children.

 

Back to school! With fear, suspicion, a sense of discomfort and calculated risks, the gates of schools are reopening! There is evidence of some psychological conflict between ‘being there’ and ‘being away.’ Every stakeholder of the system wants to be careful that they do not gravitate any unnecessary or negative criticism after the decision of opening the school.

Many have raised the doubt – whether the schools will be the same as they were prior to the pandemic. What would be the impact the school organizational structure for the next few months or a year till normalcy is restored? What would be the pedagogical processes now and later? Will it have short or long- term effects? Will our outlook to schooling and learning undergo a change based on the experiences of ‘learning from home’? What kind of legacy will COVID leave on the school systems?


“Legacy is not what we leave something for people. Legacy is what we leave something in people” says Peter Strophe, the strategic thinker and analyst. I think it is true. The impact on the psyche of the people appears more significant than on the extraneous systems.

I consider the following as significant impacts of COVID in school systems:


1. Recovery from fear and sense of insecurity will continue to haunt the system for more time


For long, all members of the society have suffered from fear and a sense of insecurity. A few of the dimensions of the fear have been, Monophobia – the fear of loneliness; Chronophobia – the fear of Time and space; Emetophobia – the fear of falling sick: Haphephobia – the fear of touch; Agoraphobia – the fear of public places; Xenophobia -the fear of the unknown.

In a school situation, all the above traits of fear do operate to varying extent. Hence, the comfort level of the learners to have freedom to learn, freedom to move and freedom to collaborate will be extremely low. Restrictions of several types in force in schools will impact the quality of relationships, lead to more isolation in work and negatively impact the self-esteem of the learners. The school systems need to predict the possible challenges they would face and find answers in consultation with experts in social psychology.


2. Feeble and fragile core learning structures will demand support through scaffolding systems


The customised learning structures of the last several years in the schools has been replaced by more laisse-faire approaches to suit the convenience, meet the emerging needs and to project the picture to the leering community that ‘all is well’! However, there is no denying the fact that the core learning structures have become fragile and feeble, impacting both the quality of pedagogy and the quality of learning. Interventional strategies using technology have met some basic needs to quench the thirst for information to meet the exigencies of intended examinations, rather than as nutrients for knowledge or for long-term learning experiences. The school systems would find it difficult for a year or two, to synergize the old and the new, to develop their own hybrid or blended models, good enough for the resources they have at their disposal, both physical and otherwise. More learning scaffolds and bridges of learning experiences will find their way as market products.


3. Focus will shift to learnability with freedom to learn


The learning culture of students has been totally modified by the impact of COVID. Schedules of learning, focused learning strategies, processes supporting developmental learning, reinforcing learning curves, experiential learning strategies and socio-cultural inputs to learning have been distorted in the last one year and more. On the other hand, learners found it convenient to learn whatever they could, wherever they had an access, thus making their learning contextual and informal. In this process, they developed new learning connects, identified new personal interests, and found nutrients both to their freedom of learning as well as their learnability. The impact of these new experiences and pursuits will continue despite the demands of the formal learning system. Further, their interests in the formal learning systems could be slightly diminished because of their persistence to the interventional model, leading to some predictable conflict between self-learning and instructional learning.


4. Customary reasons contributing to learning stress will give way to newer patterns of learning stress


There is strong evidence to show that there is a considerable decline in the learning stress among the students during this period. Though the reduction in the quantity of content to be learned, compromises in the quality of pedagogy, and more relaxed and liberal assessment systems have contributed to this decline in stress, the most relevant reason appears to be less of supervisory systems that put demands and psychological pressure. Their subdued voice reduced the anxiety level and the pressure on performance. Being comforted with such experiences, there is every likelihood of the learners seeking more relaxed ways for testing their quality and quantity of learning in future. Their individual learning curves could find larger deviations and skewing as compared to the standardised learning curves for the cohort. Rehabilitation processes must be put in place for a short time.


5. Relationship management practices in school systems will have new designs


The school relationship has several dimensions. Relationship between management and staff, relationship between the head and the team of teachers, the relationship among the teachers, the teacher- student relationship and the teacher-parent relationship. All the above have been significantly weakened by COVID. The negative factors that have contributed to this include mistrust, sense of doubt, mutual fear, fear of judgment, lack of empathy, isolation and separation, inadequate emotional engagements and the fear of survival. The poor quality of academic engagement decreased the value of the relationship management. Building strong relationship profile in the post-COVID scenario would require a reasonable amount of time as things are not going to be in place to ensure proximity and collaborative engagement. School heads would do well to have continuous discussions with school counsellors to put in place a plan of action that focuses on planned collaboration to strong relationship practices.


6. More synergy between formal learning and informal learning will become a necessity


Diffusion among operating procedures always leaves mutual impact over each other. In the emerging scenario, the learners have been exposed to technological platforms for learning which goes well with their relationship with the digital world. No wonder they are called digital natives. Hence, when they get back to their regular classroom, learning through digital platforms will certainly be sought for to varying extents depending on the socio-cultural geographies. Teachers also would have obtained certain level of comfort in handling some of their concepts much better with technology. Hence, certain amount of diffusion between the classical models and the emergent models will become a futuristic proposition. Alongside, more integration of formal and informal modes of learning will be the trends of the future.


7. Parental interventions with schools will be more intense seeking accountability, transparency and credibility


In the last year and half, parents have been partners to their children in the process of learning, thanks to the compulsions they had with their ‘home-office’ modules. They wittingly or unwittingly were witness to the online learning processes of their children. This had some positive as well as negative impacts. This gave some opportunities for them to interact with the teachers and schools with their observations, comments and suggestions. While these suggestions did help the schools to become more agile, alert, methodical and accountable for their processes, an overdose of such suggestions which were learner specific, had to be taken with a pinch of salt. No process can be completely pleasing or gratifying to all the stakeholders. However, the future might see such interactions more intense, impacting and penetrating, calling for better transparency, accountability and credibility from schools.


8. Deep learning will remain marginalised with focus on surface activities

One common observation about the current model of pedagogical delivery across the globe, has been that the deep learning opportunities have got marginalised – both due to exterior reasons, as well as lack of personal motivation on the part of the learners. This will indeed have an impact on the kind of competencies, skills and productive orientations of these learners over a period. The instability of the learning systems currently and the uncertainties associated with the future do indicate the challenges to deep learning processes for another year or more. Surface level learning of concepts just to meet the current needs to go through fabrications of assessment which are weak, would be the order of the day. The legacy of the COVID mindset would be based on more on sympathy rather than empathy.


9.Fiscal recovery will take more time than expected


The legacy of the COVID has already created a mindset of self-pity among many people, whether there is a case or cause for that. The psychological comfort they get out of this mindset is acting like a roadblock to their power of resilience. This has resulted in low revenue generation, expenditure and investment styles. In a number of cases, even parents who can afford the education of their children are hesitant to spend, including the payment of school fee. There is credible evidence to show that the fiscal systems of most institutions have suffered. The schools in the private sector would certainly continue with this trend for a year or two.


10. Low profile engagement of educational institutions would impact promotion of social dynamics.


Given the psychological, academic and fiscal environment, the schools will largely be on a withdrawal mode from their social and brand engagements for a year or two. It is likely to impact a spectrum of activities which are usually performed in the school to give opportunities to their children to display their talents. There is likely to be a conscious withal of many of these activities for two years. This will impact the social dynamics of the school. Schools would have to wait a bit patiently and do some planned exercises to rebrand themselves, not only to gain the previous stature, but to reposition themselves in the new climate. Positive design thinking may be required to meet this challenge.


“All things are ready, if our mind be so,” said William Shakespeare. It is time to get the mind set!


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