Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future – is the theme of World Teachers’ Day 2020, held every year on October 5 since 1994. The day commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. This Recommendation sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions.
The current crisis that we’re witnessing is the COVID-19 pandemic which has massively affected every sector. From the economy to education, nothing is spared from exiting their daily operations. In a recent survey conducted by the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne, the experts explored the impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning. The study, led by Dr Natasha Ziebell from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, received more than 1200 responses from teachers to understand how the rapid shift to online and distance learning has affected them.
Focusing on aspects like the challenges faced by the mentors and learners, teachers’ views on educational progress and social development, emotional impact due to isolation, the progress of students during online classes, and the experience of primary and secondary teachers, they found many interesting details.
According to Dr Ziebell, even though educators had it tough, they successfully managed to shift to remote learning platforms by improving their ability to deal with technology, something they weren’t equipped with earlier. It was made possible by perseverance and support from the fellow staff members. (Ref: https://ieusa.org.au/examining-the-impact-of-covid-19/)
While juggling reading, planning assignments, taking online classes, evaluating homework, and everything in between, teachers have undergone a massive psychological change they weren’t cautioned about in the beginning. With new adjustments that messed up with their personal space, teachers have reported experiencing anxiety and a loss of interest in work.
We might have gotten ourselves ten years to fulfil the vision we’ve set for the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education towards 2030 but before that, we need to assess at what cost we’re going to declare this achievement. Recognising teachers and their hard work is a noble act but reflecting upon the severity of the current situation while they strive to reach our common goal is a far-fetched dream at the moment. So while we appreciate them leading in the crisis, we also need to open our eyes and delve deeper into how they’re leading us during the crisis.
As Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO, recently said, “We have seen their dedication during this unprecedented situation but we have also witnessed their insecurity and deprivation, since the daily work of teaching literacy, however essential it is, receives too little recognition.”
On the other hand, if we think about it, it was the COVID-19 outbreak that may have pushed us towards a common style of global learning that's powered by technology, something some of us are yet to call the future of the education sector.
Believe it or not, the digital transformation is here to stay and while it’s already begun to transform the expectation of the students and educators, we need to understand how it will affect our future in the long run. With so much competition in the ed-tech sector, manual methodologies that we don’t want to give up on, new assessment tools and different mindsets altogether, will we be able to reimagine a high-quality and equal learning experience in the future for all?
In Dr Ziebell words - “We saw many teachers get creative in delivering highly specialised lessons, to boosting their digital literacy, and increasing communication with parents and guardians about the needs of students. The switch to remote learning was rapid and the response from teachers and parents was remarkable, but what the teachers have identified are important considerations as the COVID-19 situation evolves and in the event that there is return to remote learning. It also exposed how vulnerable children can slip through the cracks of the system – particularly when some teachers reported students refusing to even turn on the camera and report for their classes.”
According to UNESCO’s recent figures, as of mid-April 2020, 1.5 billion children and youth were affected by school closures in 195 countries, from pre-primary to higher education.1.3 billion learners in 186 countries are still unable to attend school. Sadly, reimagining the future and designing a roadmap using technology as our main defence still looks like an exaggeration to many. Educators and guardians want to wait to get back to ‘normal,’ but does that mean we’re simply delaying our progress and widening the educational gap even more?
To visualise the SDG4 - “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” – according to UNESCO, we need to equip educators who lack basic ICT tools in their homes.
In many places, teachers also found themselves unable to continue education because many households lacked the technology and connectivity to allow students to learn online. Globally, for instance, approximately 50% and 43% of learners, respectively, lack computers or the internet in the home. Teachers themselves are under significant strain and many lack a network and system of psychosocial support from education leaders and the greater community. In many cases, teachers often have the double duty of looking after their own children at home while trying to teach online and facilitate the continuance of education and learning. (UNESCO)
Right from their creativity to their individuality, everything is at stake in the teachers’ life. Until we find reliable solutions, we cannot expect our teachers to keep leading us and create a better future.
Interestingly, in Senegal, UNESCO and the Global Education Coalition members Microsoft and Huawei supported 82,000 teachers and 5,00,000 students to continue education. UNESCO is supporting training for 200 teachers to be ‘master trainers’ and Huawei is giving devices to improve their connectivity.
In Lebanon, UNESCO is supporting the production of communication and education resources targeting teachers and parents (brochures, videos and guides) and capacity building for the Ministry of Education in the fields of ICT and education benefitting 50 coordinators to date. 280 video lessons are being acquired for the online platform of the Ministry, which will reach 1,000 schools and 200,000 leaners throughout the country.
In Samoa, Vodafone is mobilizing US$7.5 million to offer free access to education data for 60,000 learners and teachers. Orange is providing free internet access to accredited learning platforms in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Similar packages are forthcoming in Botswana, Cameroun, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Madagascar, an initiative due to be extended to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. (Source: https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-showcases-education-responses-covid-19-crisis-general-assembly)
Closer home, we have got the Indian govt. that launched SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds), an integrated platform for online courses, using information and communication technology (ICT). It’s developed by the Ministry of Education and AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) with the help of Microsoft and is equipped for facilitating 2,000 courses. The platform offers free access to everyone and hosts courses from class 9 till post-graduation.
In short, if we want to continue the education of our children during these unprecedented times and beyond, it’s wise to rely on online platforms today and tomorrow. Gone are the times when Facebook and WhatsApp were considered immoral online communities. Today, teachers, along with their students, have changed the ‘course’ and are utilising these media to get more innovative and intellectual.
Further, UNESCO suggests that the stakeholders and development partners should look into the recent crisis and see what they can do to better the current situation. This includes redefining the role of the teachers at classroom-level, school-level and community level. (source: https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/wtd-2020-concept-note-en.pdf)
Classroom-level leadership (Micro): This refers to both face-to-face and virtual classrooms. This leadership level considers the interaction of teachers with their learners where teachers’ authority and competence are central. The teacher makes decisions regarding teaching methods and pedagogical approaches, interpreting the curriculum, sequencing learning, facilitating learning, monitoring and assessing outcomes in specific subjects and other cross-curriculum learning outcomes, based on knowledge of students’ ability levels, talents and challenges. The teacher goes beyond adhering to narrow role definitions but leads the teaching-learning process by being innovative and making impactful decisions. Teachers’ leadership at this level also applies to their decisions about the selection of ICT tools, learning management systems and online learning platforms, OERs, social media, radio, or TV, to support the teaching-learning process and meet expected learning objectives, whether in distance learning situations or as part of a blended approach.
School-level leadership (Meso): Teacher leadership at school level represents additional responsibilities, such as performing administration and management tasks, serving on committees (e.g., improvement committee, patronage of clubs), and pedagogical experts. Teachers and others with responsibilities at this level lead on the identification and selection of virtual learning platforms, e-learning software, textbooks, and other teaching-learning materials to be used on a school- or district-wide basis. As pedagogical experts, headteachers and other classroom teachers are uniquely positioned to lead on articulation and implementation of distance learning preparation plans to enable continuity of education during times of crisis. Through these roles, teachers align professional goals with those of the school, share responsibilities for its success and contribute to shaping its culture. Senior and experienced teachers mentor or coach juniors and peers, participate in the local community of practice, and encourage students and colleagues to learn and do things differently, thus serving as catalysts of change, and confronting obstacles to achieve the school mission.
Community-level leadership (Macro): In addition to teachers’ leadership role to ensure internal coherence between curricular components (i.e., learning objectives, subject curriculum/syllabus, teaching methods, textbooks, assessment rubrics), they can also ensure external coherence between curriculum and societal needs. The notion of curriculum as a contract between society and education actors helps to ensure i) coherence between interdependent education sub-sectors; ii) consistency between different stages (early childhood to tertiary and lifelong learning), and iii) forms of education (general, TVET, non-formal, informal). This framework is important to define teachers’ leadership roles and the contribution they can make to achieve the community’s and society’s desired social, economic, and cultural aspirations. Teacher leadership at the community level is often demonstrated within district-level coordination structures that have been put in place for the purpose of school accountability efforts such as teacher appraisals, performance evaluations, and school inspections, as well as individual and whole school professional development opportunities and management of teacher career structures. During the COVID-19 crisis and school closures, community-level grassroots demonstrations of leadership can also emerge where teachers develop organic solutions to mitigate educational challenges confronting communities when classrooms and school-level arenas are compromised.
Conclusion: This World Teacher’s Day, let’s determine to protect our teachers and their right to teach, and guide them towards a better future while they're busy making their next class a productive and unforgettable experience. Presently, the solution is to empower them from the inside by providing moral support and appreciation and on the outside, loading them with digital weapons to combat distance/virtual classroom glitches.
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