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The past few months of lockdown have, for many students, probably been ones of uncertainty and a fair amount of frustration. The abrupt closure of schools and Universities back in March meant that millions suddenly found their formal education on hold and students and teachers alike had to become ‘virtual learning’ pros overnight.
But now that the sun is beginning to poke through what seemed like an immovable corona-storm, and with some schools beginning to reopen, this might be an apt time to ask what we have learned from our weeks of cooped up home learning.
Naturally, the quality and effectiveness of home learning across the UK will have been dependent on a number of factors; the resources and technology available at home, the time working parents have to dedicate to guided study, and of course the students’ own learning styles. I am sure that there are many students (and parents!) who are counting down the seconds until the school gates swing back open, hoping to forget about this muddled and unproductive experiment in virtual education. However, others may be asking what we can take away from ‘lockdown learning’, and how we can map this into the mainstream school system.
One thing that home learning has made us reflect on is the culture of ‘short termism’ within our schools. The current system is geared towards preparing students for national exams in Year 6, 11 and 13. As a result, many students feel under pressure to cram for an exam, but may quickly forget what they have learned in the aftermath. With these exams called off due to the pandemic, pupils at home have needed to find a new motivating factor to encourage them to continue learning. Being able to motivate yourself and regulate your own learning is an important life skill, and schools (and tutors!) should be encouraging students to take more control over their own learning and interests. Education should go beyond getting an A*, and students should be given more independence and time to delve further into subjects they are passionate about.
A second take away for me has been that personal relationships do still matter in education. Of course, as a tutor, I am biased, but I believe that having someone to motivate you, encourage you and to bounce ideas off is hugely advantageous. Those teachers and University professors that took the time to speak to me outside of classes, or who were willing to answer any and all questions I had, are the people that had the biggest impact on my learning. Both peer to peer and student to teacher connections have been curtailed by Covid, but moving forward, schools and tutors alike could be more deliberate in ensuring that students are receiving effective 1:1 support in order to help them learn.
Finally, technology has been invaluable to our lockdown learning. Students, tutors and teachers have all been sharing online learning resources, and have been forced to get to grips with new education software, interactive whiteboards and video content apps. ‘EdTech’ is constantly evolving; pupils can now interact with their peers worldwide, upload homework via a portal, or learn physics by immersing themselves in virtual reality. It is crucial that we embed the use of such technologies into schools and at-home learning, and that they are available to all students, in order to build an education system fit for the 21st century. Today’s workforce is facing huge technological disruption, and young people must be equipped with the necessary tech-skills to stay ahead of the curve.
Challenging ‘short-term learning’, building personal connections and encouraging the use of technology are just the start of what I’m sure is a long list. What have you learnt about your own style of learning or tutoring throughout lockdown? If you and your family have found the past few months a considerable challenge, then I have my fingers crossed for you that the easing of lockdown is just around the corner. But it’s also important that we learn from this crisis, so that when we are (eventually) released back into the real world, education doesn’t simply return to ‘normal’, but seizes this opportunity to improve.