With school districts in some parts of Canada drafting plans to reopen, it’s time we ask: What have we learned about education from the days our school buildings were closed?
We might say we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic that there’s a lot more good out there than we’d have hoped to imagine – a lot of creativity and generosity. New curricula, content, resources, platforms, tools, tips, techniques and technology are being developed – and much of it freely shared.
These quick pivots have been accomplished as schools and families adapted from classroom-based to home-based delivery of education.
Will this experience change our perspectives on teaching and learning, once life gets sorted and school buildings open? What will we learn from this period of … well … home-schooling?
One American think-tank has already declared, “We’re all home-schoolers now.”
But that’s just not correct.
Inherent in home-schooling is the realization that time and space can be used differently in a child’s education. In a 2015 review of the research literature on home-schooling in Canada, my Cardus colleague Dr. Deani Van Pelt wrote:
“Opportunities provided by technology and possibilities afforded through changing perspectives on teaching and learning combine to create new conditions and prospects for educational delivery in the 21st century. Since home-schooling is an approach to education that inherently offers its practitioners flexibility in use of time and space, this education sector may have some policy lessons to share with classroom-based schooling as it adapts to future opportunities.”
Pandemic academics teach us that classrooms still matter by Michael Zwaagstra
Education during COVID-19 isolation hasn’t offered flexibility in use of space. So that’s one strike against considering it home-schooling.
Another key distinction exists.
Home-schooling is, as Van Pelt also wrote, education that takes place primarily outside a large institutional setting, where “parents take final responsibility for the selection, management, provision, and supervision of their child’s education program.”
Conversely, teachers were and are the ones designing and largely delivering the learning taking place in homes because of the pandemic. They’re just doing it digitally and not in person.
So it’s e-learning, right?
Pedagogically, no. Nor is it online learning, virtual learning, mobile learning, distance learning, distributed learning or even blended learning.
Some are rightly calling it “emergency remote teaching,” as the primary objective is to provide temporary, quick access to instruction and support.
But the curriculum and learning plans are not designed for online delivery.
The education we’ve experienced during school closures is characterized by its lack of opportunity to plan and the huge pieces of the educational ecosystem that are missing. At this point, it’s still crisis management.
We’ve jumped straight to how to teach students, given the COVID-19 circumstances, without answering the why. That’s understandable, but the why must come first.
Why education? What are we after?
To quote distinguished Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Students are more than students. Students are people.”
Personhood, as the great educationist Charlotte Mason discovered, is the first principle of education. It’s the central reason education is so important. Education is about who a child is today and who that child is becoming. And it’s about what difference that becoming makes and will make on the individual and society.
It’s about journeying together, for the common good.
The journey is different for every person. The best school, curriculum, or pedagogy for one person or group may not be the best for another. So why do we keep trying to force kids into the same big educational mould – especially now that we have the technology and capacity to do things differently?
Can the economic shutdown and the immense pressure it has inflicted on education budgets not provide us with an opportunity?
Through this lens, perhaps it’s time we reconsider what can be learned from home-schooling and its potential to nourish deep human flourishing.
Perhaps it’s also time we re-imagine education, in all its diverse forms, and how a truly pluralistic education ecosystem benefits all, not just a few.
Now is the time to refine our education programs’ design and delivery so innovation, adaptability and creativity aren’t just features of our disaster response, but how we educate every day.
David Hunt is education program director and B.C. director at the think-tank Cardus.