As life slowly starts returning to normal under Level 1 of the Covid-19 lockdown, the experience gained over the past few months, during some of the most challenging times faced by parents, schools and teachers, has presented an unexpected silver lining – the opportunity for a renewed trust and working relationship between all these parties, an education expert says.
“Life as we know it, as it was before the reality of Covid-19 entered our existence, will almost certainly never be the same again, and that is very much true for education as well,” says Jenny Coetzee, former principal at Crawford La Lucia, and now Managing Director at Crawford International School Kenya, part of the ADvTECH Group, Africa’s largest private education provider.
She says that before Covid-19, education mostly started when a student entered school gates, and was largely considered to be the sole responsibility of the school and educators.
“What the experience of these last few months have shown us – and the situation was very much the same across most of the world, including in South Africa and Kenya – is that there is much strength and value to be found in the development of a cooperative trust relationship between schools, parents and students,” Coetzee says.
She says the famous quote by leading global education policy expert Judith Billings could not be more apt right now: “Children are the priority. Change is the reality. Collaboration is the strategy.”
“The transition from contact learning to distance and online education was initially a challenge for parents and students. Yet despite the challenges, we witnessed much growth as children, parents and teachers engaged in online learning, or other methods of delivery where online learning was not possible.
“While online teaching and learning is different to the face to face interaction, many schools were able to continue with the curriculum because of the support of parents and the dedication of teachers and students in the virtual classroom.”
Coetzee says that apart from working towards the set goals of the curriculum, educators also saw the emergence of new levels of communication, collaboration, digital learning, computing development, critical thinking and creativity – all 21st Century Competencies which children need to master to get them ready for jobs of the future.
“Going forward, the triangular relationship of student, teacher and parent must not be left by the wayside, but rather be nurtured to ensure this moment is seized and built upon, to the benefit of every child’s educational journey,” she says.
“As we now see and realise, our previous version of normal might never return in the same guise again. We don’t know what waits for us in the future, but it is becoming apparent that learning in future must be able to incorporate a blended model – a hybrid of classroom and online – at short notice, while maintaining academic excellence,” she says.
Coetzee says the uncertainty of recent months showed that education must in future be prepared for the possibility of new unforeseen local or global emergencies.
“We have to be prepared and ready to build the independence of our students and the resilience of our teaching models in this fast-changing and unpredictable world. Clearly, our children’s education can’t be suspended each time we are faced with turmoil and uncertainty, which experts predict will be the norm rather than the deviation in years to come.”
So, when considering the child’s educational journey then, parents must choose and commit to those schools which have shown that they are resilient and adaptable and able to deliver regardless of challenges. But more than that, this new paradigm requires a new collaboration and commitment to success regardless of external factors between schools, parents and students.
“Parents must do their research carefully and commit to their school of choice. Children need to see and believe that their parents have confidence in the chosen educational path, so that they can have the confidence and discipline to do the work and internalise the learning regardless of externalities or changes in delivery methods.
“The importance of building long-term relationships and supporting each other can’t be stressed enough in this environment, as the alternative – moving from one institution to the next because of perceptions of the grass being greener elsewhere, will be massively counter-productive not to mention disruptive to a child’s educational journey.”
Coetzee advises parents to do their research very carefully before they enrol their child at any educational institution in future.
“Parents must be sure that the curriculum will open as many doors as possible for their child, that the values of the school reflect their own, and that they are happy with the quality of the offering in terms of academic excellence, regardless of the method of delivery. And when the commitment has been made, there needs to be trust, respect and follow-through from all parties.”