A policy dialogue on “Emergency Preparedness of Schools” was held by the Education Forum Sri Lanka (EFSL) on June 5th, 2021, via Zoom.
Full Video: PD#16, 2 hours 32 minutes (In English)
- Current situation and the future, Argentina – Dr Silvina Gvirtz, Former Minister of Education, Buenos Aires Province, Buenos Aires | Video
- Education policy in the era of Covid-19, the case of Israel – Prof. Izhar Oplatka, School of Education, Tel Aviv University | Video
- Pakistan’s strategy for emergency preparedness, Ms Baela Raza Jamil, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, Pakistan | Video
- English schools’ response to Covid-19, Dr Katya Saville, University College London, UK | Video
- Emergency preparedness of schools, Mr Gareth Manning, Think Global School | Video
Panelists gave a vivid picture of the situation in each country and concluded with their own take on emergency preparedness. First, we present a set of recommendations abstracted from their presentations and present each country context next.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS:
- Do not forget that the right to education applies in emergencies as well.
- Mainstream emergency response actions and budgets; Link emergency responses in education to existing social protection programs.
- Make plans for equitable access to digital infrastructure, but do not rely on the Internet as the main mode of distance education in the short term. Connectivity and access to online content takes time
- Restructure education systems, including curricula, pedagogy, assessments, and education administration such that teachers and students can seamlessly move from school-based education to distance education and vice versa:
- Provide devices and offline digital content for students; At a minimum, ensure that all children have textbooks and workbooks in hand.
- Focus on basic subjects such language and math, encouraging teachers to teacher other content through evocative tasks and project-based approaches, and paying more attention to social emotional learning (SEL).
- Give agency to children to become self-directed learners.
- Improve the rigor of school-based assessments such that they can be credible substitutes for national exams, and identify ways of rewarding schools for success in imparting SEL.
- Communicate the importance of delegating education delivery to schools or peripheral authorities and focusing on policy coherence to national level decision makers.
Observations of panelists about the situation in Argentina, Israel, Pakistan, UK and Globally are as follows:
Dr Silvina Gvirtz provided an overview of the impact of the pandemic across Argentina, emphasizing its varied effects in different parts of the country. She presented the situations of students with varied levels of access to education – from those who have been participating in hybrid education, to those able to access virtual/distance education with adequate devices and connectivity, to those who have had no contact with their schools since the onset of the pandemic. Almost 1 million children were seen to have lost contact with their schools, emphasizing the extent of inequitable access to distance education within the country. Commenting on the future of the education system, she noted that well-known policies that currently exist include those pertaining to technological infrastructure (to ensure that students have devices with content as well as connectivity) and the dissemination of textbooks and other printed materials, which would be just as important. She stressed that schools and the education system as a whole should be reorganized.
Professor Izhar Oplatka commented on the “unstable policy” presented by the Israeli government in response to the pandemic, noting that the response was confusing, poorly organized and unsystematic. Students in grades 1-2 had have of the class in school for 3 days of the week, those in grades 3-4 had 18 students in one classroom, grades 5-6 had 2 days in school (with 18 students in a class) and classes over Zoom, and those in grades 7-12 had 2 days in school as well as Zoom classes. However, 30% of students in grades 1-2 did not participate in Zoom classes, 490 000 students cannot connect to the Internet, 34% of parents reported having insufficient hardware, and underprivileged families struggled to print study materials. He noted that more attention will have to be paid to students’ emotional well-being returning to classes, emphasizing social value and group cohesion as a way to maneuver the trauma of the pandemic.
Ms Baela Raza Jamil stressed that emergency responses should be mainstreamed in policies, planning, budgeting, and implementation so that they could be an integral part of the education system. She commented that technology support needed to be scaled up – not just for education and learning but for preparedness with health and social aspects also. Non-pharmaceutical initiatives have to be tested and mainstreamed. She noted that although the MoH has been giving out standards for basic facilities in schools, once you measure them, they’re woefully short. Looking to the future, it is important that there exist budgets for innovative initiatives, irrespective of the pandemic. This will require systematic changes, as often these are left to development partners. It’s important to ingrain them in the mainstream. It’s important to make budgets for emergencies become recurrent mainstream budgets because there will be more emergencies in the future. There also need to be budgets for content development, training of the work force, and emergency preparedness, pre-service and in-service. It’s important that students be given agency so that they become self-directed. A better communication strategy needs to be developed with all stakeholders- especially parents.
Dr. Katya Saville noted that one of the big issues that arose during the pandemic in UK was how cohorts that had sat for exams had the validity of their grades and achievements questioned. She noted that one potential outcome of the pandemic situation could be expanded discussion on an exam system overhaul. In England, the Government released funding for secondary school students to access laptops. However, no such program was created for primary school students. During the first lockdown, there were issues transitioning to online learning. However, some children thrived with the online method- being more independent and pursuing their own learning. There was, however, fragmentation of learning with some children learning well online with adequate resources and others struggling without- especially in vulnerable areas. There were more welfare referrals with children in chaotic homes struggling to manage without going to school. Overall, the pandemic saw teachers’ confidence with online learning improve markedly. Students are now more routinely provided homework online, which has been much smoother to manage, and having been through this one, schools are now prepared for other emergencies.
Think Global School
In the case of Think Global School, there was no learning loss because no standardized way to measure learning in the first place. The school uses a flexible, adaptive curriculum with teacher-designed place-based experiential modules.Student are supported to design their own learning- they are provided advisory, mentoring, counseling SEL support. The school has designed digital modules on misinformation and critical media literacy, mental health, design thinking and service learning.
He noted that to support all children in the short-term, it’s important to prioritize the curriculum. For cumulative subjects like maths, we need to help kids develop personal plans to master missed concepts and skills through feedback loops. For non-cumulative subjects, we should reduce the content and connect concepts to the world for relevance.
Children should be also self-directed in choosing what it is they want to do with their lives. We should be helping them learn how to learn, which happens through a process of trial and error and making choices. Children are massively deprived of making choices. A low sense of control can lead to chronic stress and behavioral consequences so we should give kids more control. The school system collapse and mental health fatigue both have the same solution- we need to help kids make meaningful choices about their own education. We should position them to have more agency- to be better at learning how to learn so that they can adapt in the future in situations like this.
AS for assessments, If children could autonomously learn and be given credit for their learning, there wouldn’t be as much learning loss and we would have had better mental health outcomes. We need to see a proliferation of alternative models with experimentation and research. We need to prioritize helping kids learning how to learn – design and assess their work for credit as well as to put more focus on social-emotional learning.
It’s also important that we decentralize school authority, and invest in teacher development, Internet access, and EdTech.