The saying ‘never waste a good crisis’ has been attributed to many but I like to believe that Winston Churchill was the originator during the second world war. That war spawned new inventions including computers, radar, the ball point pen and superglue which changed people’s lives just as much as the geo-political changes that followed the war.
We are too early into our current Covid crisis to know what transformational changes will result but we already know that how we live, work, socialise, teach and learn has changed utterly and suddenly, at least for the medium term. Are these changes temporary or more permanent and what are the positive educational reforms that we can take forward to the post-Covid period?
When the children were sent home from primary school, teachers and parents scrambled to put alternative teaching strategies in place with the kitchen table becoming a makeshift classroom. Zoom and Microsoft Teams brought the teacher into the kitchen classroom while parents tried to fill the gaps. Wonderful apps for reading (Epic and Reading Eggs); fun based assessment (Kahoot!); physical activity (GoNoodle); and Irish (Séideán Sí agus Clár Luathléitheoireachta) had their usage multiplied. Large-scale use of these tools will be the future normal.
The major issue of the crisis for post primary was what to do about the Leaving Certificate? After the on and off saga we have finally settled on the calculated grades system. Following decades of debate on the merits of the Leaving Certificate, all of a sudden we have an entirely new assessment system. Although nobody wanted this to happen in this way, an assessment based on students’ performance over the whole senior cycle (and earlier) will now be made for the first time. Even the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) who, in normal times, are opposed to teachers marking their own students have said the learning from this exercise will inform future strategy.
The current model of higher education has existed for a thousand years and in truth very little has changed in that millennium. The early academies had a limited range of disciplines and they were all physical locations that professors and students attended (and often also lived within). Since March faculty and students have been forced off campus and have been embracing online learning like never before.
Of course online learning is not new and Open University in the UK and Hibernia College in Ireland have been in the vanguard but all universities and colleges have developed their online offerings to some extent. For most universities online learning is to support on-campus learning or for a different cohort of student such as part-time students. With the sudden closure of campuses, professors and students have been forced online in order to complete their degrees and many have recognised the advantages, although they would have appreciated more time to prepare for this transformation.
The positive lifestyle changes that online learning have allowed include time and cost saved commuting, accommodation savings and more time with family and friends. It seems likely to me that beyond the current crisis both students and faculty will spend much more time working from home and time spent on campus will be to do only those activities that cannot be done from home. This will also have implications for campus accommodation as students will not want to block book and may instead be only looking for one or two nights per week.
For now, all has changed in the world of education, changed utterly.