Posts Tagged ‘teaching under lockdown’

Failing the future: COVID-19 and schools

August 19, 2020

This retired teacher is profoundly grateful not to have been working under lockdown, either at the chalkface or from home, and is in admiration of anyone who has. I have tried to imagine how I might have taught and managed a full teaching load and run a department under the circumstances, and failed. I have, however, been reflecting on what has been happening and not happening, according to what has been reported in the press.

I am saddened at the thought that students in year 11 and year 13 had such an abrupt and unsatisfactory ending to important stages in their lives, and are uncertain about how their futures may (or not) be affected by the disruption. I wonder why the government has not finally grasped the nettle and taken the opportunity the occasion has presented, to bring an end to university applications based on predictions rather than actual exam results. Having undermined faith in teachers’ professional judgement and set schools in competition with each other, predictions are now highly unreliable for many different reasons. I see no need to comment on the recent farcical sequence of events surrounding this year’s public exam results: it speaks for itself.

What surprises me most of all is that no-one in power has addressed the potential for further disruption: everyone is meant to be back at school in September, whether this can be done safely or not (and that’s another thorny issue). But what if there has to be another national lockdown in winter? Or a series of local lockdowns, of varying length and at different times? How can any system of student assessment through examinations be carried out fairly under such conditions? There used to be a lot of collective expertise in the profession about continuous assessment and moderation – I know, because I was heavily involved in it – but that has all gone.

Is is possible to set up a system whereby exams might be taken in students’ own homes, with sufficient inbuilt security to prevent cheating and personation? I don’t know, but someone should surely be investigating.

What about all the students without access to IT at home? Laptops have been promised for months but none or few delivered. Can a basic device with an OS and software only for school use not be designed and produced, and be enable to work on 4G for those students without broadband at home? This might go some way towards levelling a very uneven playing field; again, I have no notion that anyone is working on this case.

I can imagine that individual schools will be devising protocols for briefing their students fully come September about how things will be done in the event of further disruption, insofar as the schools themselves have been informed…

I have always seen education as society’s investment in its future citizens, as well as individuals’ investment in their own future. And we as a nation have been trying to do that on the cheap for far too long. That’s without thinking about the broader picture, the building of curious, educated and intelligent people, with an interest in knowledge and culture for its own sake, because it’s a good thing; as a nation, I think we’ve thrown that one right out of the window.

Back to lockdown: as a teacher, how could I share a love of books and reading at a distance? How could we discuss the novels, characters and ideas, the issues that they raise, not being together in the same room? More difficult, how to communicate grammar and spelling, analysis of texts and more? How to draw out and encourage the quieter ones, and allow them their moment in the sun?

Even under ideal circumstances – whenever were they? – and with the best of intentions, things can slip. At home, many students will find better, more interesting and more distracting things to spend their time on: who will keep them focused? A parent has to be a parent first, not a teacher, and teachers are trained in their craft, as many parents have been somewhat surprised to realise over the past months.

What I have written comes from the perspective of a secondary phase teacher, where the task is harder because there are so many subjects and input is required from so many different people; I have the impression that some wonderful things have been happening in primary schools because so much comes under the remit of a single class teacher who is able to have more of an overview of the planning of what is taught to their pupils.

I said earlier that I cannot imagine how I would do all this, and yet I realise that it all must be done. I have the picture of a government that isn’t really bothered enough, doesn’t care enough and isn’t competent enough to make the good happen. And so I fear the consequences of the selling short of several years’ education, and what the reactions will be of those young people when they realise just how badly they have been treated. We are not a poor country, and our future citizens deserve a hell of a lot better.

%d bloggers like this: