I have spent a lot of time thinking about what is currently happening in our society. A lot of fear and anxiety has sprung up when I contemplate Covid-19 and the short term affects it has had. However, I feel as though I’ve been so consumed with whats happening now that I haven’t spent a ton of time thinking about the longterm future. There is so much uncertainty with what teaching and learning will look like in the fall, and even more when we consider what it might look like 5 years from now.
I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by educators in my personal life. My boyfriend is a teacher, several of my close friends are teachers and admin, and my mom has worked most of my life in an elementary school as a counsellor and social worker. As a student myself I am also affected. It feels like a scary time when no one seems to have the answers about what the future might look like!
I think teaching and learning this fall will look very different to anything we have experienced in the past. There are a lot of different ways that teaching and learning can resume; delayed or staggered starts, completely online, alternating days or even none of the above. I think if anything positive comes from this it will be a push towards technological communication and learning that sometimes is lagging behind in the prairies of Canada, and I think those advancements will be important and here to stay in the long term future of our society. However, one of the biggest challenges that I think will come from this shift to online learning is a lack of engagement. How can we build and foster a school culture if we can’t have school activities? How will teachers connect with the new students in their class if they can only interact online? How will students create relationships with one another? Will students look back fondly over the unique circumstances they were put in or will they feel robbed of school experiences?
Truthfully I don’t have the answers for those questions, and unfortunately I don’t think others do either. It’s a complicated issue. There are challenges that each learning group will face, but also advantages. Younger students will likely be able to adapt more easily. They are already learning through technology in a completely different scope than most of us have experienced. However younger students also need more assistance in their learning which may unfortunately fall on parents, some of whom will not pick up the slack. Older students are learning valuable independence skills that they will use for the rest of their life, and they are more capable of doing so. But as I mentioned above, they are also being cheated out of experiences that are equally important to their development. Students across the board may be missing that social learning piece if there is no way to replicate it in an online community.
One important learning opportunity that will come from these changing times is authentic learning. While I’m sure there are some students who have been sitting at home and playing video games, there are also tons of others who are participating in their world in a way they might not have before. Farm kids might be out helping on the farm more than ever. Other’s may be learning how to cook or bake for the first time. They might be connecting with their families, learning how to keep their room’s clean, and helping the adults in their lives in ways they couldn’t previously. There are of course many wonderful skills that learners can be experiencing beyond the classroom, and now is the greatest time to do so. These are skills they will be using for the rest of their lives. So many student’s struggle with that leap from highschool to university (myself included). Maybe this is an opportunity for children to gain an understanding of how to learn more independently.
This is also a great time for teachers to adapt. Lessons may need to be more skill related. Students may need more freedom and choice in their assignments, and especially in how they present their learning. Parent’s are more engaged in the learning process than they have ever been. Through supporting their child and connecting with their children’s teachers, they are more aware of the day to day, and seem to feel more of an obligation to be involved in their child’s learning. While there will certainly be some far reaching consequences of this time in history, I am also optimistic that a lot of good can come as well, if we embrace it.