Over recent years our kids and teachers have been under increasing pressure. Over-stuffed specifications and examinations with rigid mark schemes have changed teaching and learning…and not for the better!
So how does Covid change our understanding of teaching and learning?
- Children get an enormous amount of work set by school. This is a great way to show parents just how much the school system has changed! Most parents are also amazed by the level at which our kids are expected to work.
- Children start to log on and complete their favourite tasks first showing us that they are capable of some independent learning.
- Children and parents work together to complete longer and more complex tasks including making arguments, developing ideas and understanding more difficult concepts. This is where useful learning can take place…but
- THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT PARENTS AND KIDS CAN’T DO EASILY WITHOUT SPECIALIST TEACHERS.
- We stop and reflect. Some of us might think: SHIT! I DON’T KNOW IF I CAN DO THIS!
- Then, the realisation: WE DON’T NEED TO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS!
- School learning can be narrow. Home learning is also pretty important…
- On a basic level: can our kids wash their hands properly, make sandwiches and do chores?
- Go outside and marvel in nature?
- Fiddle and build stuff out of what they already have?
- Fix things in the house or paint?
- Maintain relationships over the telephone or use technology to keep in touch?
- Understand the Biology behind Covid?
- Calculate the maths behind budgeting?
- See how we’re all connected by globalisation: similar and different?
- Use art, music, drama and humour?
- Read widely?
- The list goes on…
So I’ve not been too hard on the kids. Fortunately, they seem pretty resilient. All their needs are met and they’ve got loads of resources at their disposal. We’ll do what we can because children WILL learn, they are brilliant at it! For now the future is uncertain and our kids will need tools to deal with that: to live sustainably, responsibly and respectfully, meeting their basic and higher needs with hard work, creativity and good humour.
In recent years our children have been silenced whilst teachers have been banging on about how to pass exams. In some places this has had a hugely detrimental effect on the mental health of teachers and pupils. This effect is less likely to happen to the children of the elite in private schools where there is less pressure to follow the National Curriculum and no fear of OFSTED.
At the same time there has been a movement undermining the professionalism of teachers and a rigorous script to follow for those who remain in the classroom (reader, I left). Being a teacher, especially in many of the prescriptive and punitive academies, has been a thankless, soul-destroying occupation. The strict pedagogy of right and wrong seems such a crazy way to curtail discussion, particularly for those of us in the arts and humanities. And how does it equip children to find their voice and place in an increasingly complex, dynamic and changing world?
Whilst for many of us, memories and school and learning have a golden or rosy quality, we don’t all need or want the faux Govian-experience of education forced on state schools in the last decade.
My personal experience of education was probably pretty average or just above. I went to an enormous mixed comprehensive in Cheshire in the 1980s with around two thousand other pupils. My teachers were a mixed bunch, many of whom had gone to University in Manchester or other red-bricks in the 1960s and 70s… so today they might be described as radical hippies (who knew stuff) and they certainly wouldn’t hold with the prescriptive nonsense that teachers of today have to deal with. We did lots of coursework, fieldwork, group work and a fair bit of mucking about. We held debates, gave talks and scribbled in rough books. There were occasional strikes and strong Union action at the time so after-school and lunchtime activities were out of the question. My parents can’t remember me ever doing any homework. This didn’t stop me from achieving, far from it. Blessed with wise parents, adequate (sometimes good) teachers and a fair amount of confidence, I breezed through examinations and managed to secure top grades without breaking in to a sweat or bursting in to tears with my mental health intact. Just in case you are wondering, it wasn’t a fluke, I managed to go on to University and gain a First Class BA Hons in English Language with Linguistics despite my non-Grammar schooling!
Thankfully there’s a growing recognition that we will need to re-group our thoughts and attitudes towards education after Covid. Let’s learn from period of reflection that the lock-down has provided and build a system that is more flexible and useful for our children and future generations.