by Rachna Joshi on March 10
It is no surprise to say that COVID-19 has had huge repercussions on education. Most conversations have been concerning children’s well-being and ‘missed’ learning, widening social inequality, as well as a huge digital divide. All these factors impact on the gap between those with more privileged backgrounds compared to those without.
A variety of reports and studies have begun to explore the impact of COVID-19 and we can begin to look at what the future educational landscape may bring. Interestingly, Professor Stephen Heppell, proposes an alternative narrative, considering the historical shifts every 75 years over the last 200 years. He asks us to listen to the children that are presenting with resilience and unequivocal adaptability in the changing world. When conformity and stability is the norm, adults and the rest of the world panics when this is disrupted. However, for the Reception children I teach, this is what the world has been like for a quarter of their lives.
I hope to reflect on some of the key learning that has come out of the peaks and troughs of COVID-19 and multiple lockdowns. I hope to encourage you to also reflect on how you have adapted your practice over this period and what you might take into the changing landscape.
“Education does more than respond to a changing world. Education transforms the world.” (UNESCO)
Key Learning 1: Putting children’s well-being first
Early Years practitioners are familiar with the term ‘unique child’ and remembering to always start from the child and their needs. We continue to apply this in the COVID-19 context, by putting children’s well-being first, basing this on the knowledge that children will be able to manage the best when they are emotionally ready to learn. We also apply the unique child concept when considering how each child’s remote learning experience will be different.
The majority of the media reported educational news with a focus on ‘catching up’ and ‘closing the gap’. Perhaps we need to think about this in a different way. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon, or maybe it’s not a competition at all! There is a deficit model narrative of children being left ‘behind’ – what is this in comparison to? Every child is ‘behind’, just as every adult has ‘done nothing’ for a year, we’ve been halted in time, but do the school closures need to be viewed as a binary negative or positive? We can’t erase the pandemic by forcing children to catch up to arbitrary measures of learning. The pandemic has been a rollercoaster, some children may have had positives and negatives similar to how many adults may have experienced the lockdowns. We must be careful that deficit models do not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children have had a variety of experiences, but we are not giving them credit where credit is due; children are much better at managing change, in fact some children are probably managing better than we are!
Returning to the unique child and realigning values and focusing on the individual needs of that child is how we transition into the next part of this journey. This is where we must start.
Key Learning 2: The importance of relationships and connections
Working with young children, we are familiar with the importance of positive relationships as outlined in the EYFS statutory framework. We also know that the lockdown relied heavily on the relationships that we had developed with families. These are a vital part of our practice, but even more so during lockdown when our communication reaches children indirectly through parents and how they may be able to support their child at home – the importance of the school community was reiterated and highlighted here. A lot of the support, remote learning lessons and activities were carefully considered, relating to whether parents would be able to deliver this at home. However, many parents discussed the difficulties they were facing with workplaces being less empathetic of the pressures of home learning and working full time. Phil, from Early Excellence discussed how the best thing that some families can do is have a conversation, particularly with those children who need more support with interaction and language development. The abundance of stories being recorded by teachers enabled children to listen to a story and provide families with a short rest bite if needed! However, children also need something to talk about – and finding ways to have small experiences at home or outside supported language and interaction.
Another important aspect of relationships was how we continue to develop children’s friendships and connections with their peers. Some settings used live lessons to encourage these connections; and from discussions with colleagues these were the most enjoyable sessions – particularly with primary aged children. Over time it was clear to see that engagement was increasing with the motivation to see their friends. Utilising children’s interests and passions – knowing your class and what they enjoyed – supported the developed connections and relationships and encouraged engagement and learning, with a focus on the characteristics of effective learning where possible. Often with live lessons I always felt grateful to be invited into children’s homes, and children were just as interested in seeing the inside of my home too!
Key Learning 3: The possibilities of technology
Whilst technology and remote learning may have had its pitfalls – low engagement, poor motivation, excessive screen time etc – technology became the tool to deliver the curriculum and continue communicating with children and developing a sense of community. Ofsted’s report discusses the idea of keeping learning simple, and focusing on the basics, considering careful pitching and building upon our knowledge of our children. I also began to question what an enabling environment looks like in the remote learning context and whether remote learning is synonymous with online? When considering technology and the further possibilities? Microsoft recently published a document encompassing the changing pedagogy in relation to technology and digital tools.
Using technology at home provided staff with the opportunity to be creative with their teaching. The technology also helped to fine tune teaching, through an element of self-awareness when creating videos or voice recording. Teachers were setting work and allowing children to complete these tasks in their own time, pace and with individual support if required. Children had agency of their own learning and were utilising family members and household items in order to apply their learning or complete tasks. Staff had to relinquish control, and this ended up opening a new way of viewing children – as competent, active learners.
My lessons can be carried out in children’s own time, this supports their independence, and they are in control of their own learning.
Reflecting on the lockdowns has helped to consider what the future might look like, and how we can strategically encompass the shifts that have occurred this year and keep the positive changes to embed into practice. Education is going through a shift, where, in each setting, there is an opportunity to review how remote learning has impacted children and pedagogy. Consider the wider strategy in line with your principles and values and how this hybrid may look for your setting and practice.
Further links and supporting articles:
- Stephen Heppell: https://www.heppell.net/default.html
- Ofsted Report: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/remote-education-research/remote-education-research#pedagogy–keeping-it-simple
- Microsoft Education Reimagined report: https://edudownloads.azureedge.net/msdownloads/Microsoft-EducationReimagined-Paper.pdf
- Early Excellence Webinar: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/822302069406867982
- Guardian article: https://amp.theguardian.com/education/2021/jan/23/after-covid-will-digital-learning-be-the-new-normal?utm_term=Autofeed&CMP=twt_gu&utm_medium=&utm_source=Twitter&__twitter_impression=true&s=03
- NESTA research: https://www.nesta.org.uk/data-visualisation-and-interactive/levelling-maths-during-lockdown/
- Nuffield COVID-19 studies: https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/research/covid-19#projects