The Future of Education Post-Covid
Just after the lockdown was called off, I visited a friend and colleague who lives nearby. I visited because I felt a certain guilt that a lot had happened, and I had missed out on something. It was something that eluded me at that moment. Consequently, I hurried to my friend’s place, to catch up on whatever was left of this crumbing world. She offered me garden eggs and peanut butter. She did not forget to acquaint me with how difficult it was to get the kola, and that meant I had to eat it with gratitude, even if I was not a fan of garden eggs. In between our conversation and laughter, I realized that what I had missed was the noise of school, the troubles of having to remind my students that they were students, the stress of waking up early, and more importantly, I missed the constant fear, that the things I do or say, the decisions I make can affect the life and choices of young people, who have come to depend on me.
As I walked home that evening, I realized how much toll the pandemic has taken on all of us. Our students are not left out, and no matter how we want to look at it, the days after the pandemic would be characterized by pressure, so much pressure that I cannot begin to mention. This then begs the question, what is the future of education after this pandemic?
There is no gainsaying that the future of education is in jeopardy, that a lot of damage has been done, and so much has to be done to restore our education system. That is, if anything is left of it. In reality though, the future of education is only but a future: uncertain, unseen, neither bright or hazy, unmade. Therefore, this trying time could also be an opportunity for all the stakeholders of education to make it into what we want it to be.
One of the benefits of this pandemic is that it has given us a long break, and this long break has allowed us to see clearly the weaknesses of our educational system, and how badly the sector has retrograded over the years without any kind of intervention. I suppose that if we mean any good for our children, then the period after the pandemic should be for restructuring. According to Paul Reville in the interview he granted the Harvard Gazette, he pointed out that
“we do not simply want to frantically struggle to restore the status quo, because the status quo wasn’t operating at an effective level and certainly wasn’t serving all of our children fairly.”
He also suggested that the best that can come of the covid-19 pandemic is a new paradigm shift in terms of the way in which we look at education, and for Nigeria, this is equal to total restructuring.
First, we must realize that education in Nigeria is not as homogeneous as we think it is and we may want to find ways to harmonize it. Learning occurs differently in learners, considering a lot of factors that may play diverse roles in the education of a child. However, all class sets are expected to have a level of homogeneity in what they are exposed to and what they learn at any given time. But in Nigeria, and significantly during the pandemic, learners of the same class are not exposed to the same quality of education. There are children from more than modest homes, who cannot afford the online lessons that affluent children have at the moment, and we cannot even say for sure that learning through the online system is effective or at the same scale, since there is no standard test to evaluate the performance of learners so far. Our first task therefore, should be finding ways to harmonize teaching and learning after the pandemic. Reville has also argued that in order to learn, children need equal access to health care, food, clean water, stable housing, and out-of-school enrichment opportunities, to name just a few preconditions. He further suggests that we have to reconceptualize the whole job of child development and education, and construct systems that meet children where they are and give them what they need, both inside and outside of school, in order for all of them to have a genuine opportunity to be successful.
Next, the curriculum should be reviewed to a more flexible, more reliable and more practical blueprint. We must bear in mind that education is worthy, if it is relevant to the time and the society. Before the pandemic, some aspects of the curriculum had become outdated, and during the pandemic, it was almost impossible to teach some aspects of the curriculum through the online platform, because of the rigidity of the topics. This should be reviewed. Curriculum planners and developers should review the curriculum in line with what other nations are doing, and to suit our national needs.
Again, novel teaching methodologies and strategies should be adopted. Teaching and learning in an average Nigerian classroom should move beyond a set of rules, principles and instructions which the learner must imbibe, to set of opinions and ideas the learner can formulate. This would in turn equip the learner with the most vital skills needed in a post-pandemic era, which includes precision in decision making, adaptability and most importantly, problem solving.
Teachers appreciation and development programs should be adopted as integral parts of our educational system. Never think that the internet substituted teachers during the lockdown, because it only facilitated them. The place of a teacher in the education and well-being of a child can never be over eulogized. Andy Hargreaves confirms this when he says that teachers are among the unsung heroes of the Covid-19: preparing resources and guidance for remote learning, dropping off school supplies in plastic boxes, connecting with kids and their parents to make sure they’re OK — even while many have kids of their own at home, and they should be appreciated for this.
Seminars and workshops should be organized for teachers and learning facilitators, to equip them with skills needed to guide learners in a post-pandemic era. Again, Hargreaves observes that although governments may be anticipating upcoming austerity, we will actually need additional resources. We will need counsellors, mental health specialists and learning support teachers to help our weakest learners and most vulnerable children settle down and catch up. Additionally, there ought to be ready alternatives, backups, and substitutes for the classroom, like the internet and the media. Outside classroom events like inter-school and inter-state competitions, quizzes, excursions, tours, should be encouraged in schools, so as to rekindle interest and passion in learners and also motivate them to achieve as much as they can in their chosen areas of study.
Then, a new system of evaluation should be adopted. Exam bodies like WAEC, NECO, JAMB, and even classroom teachers should understand that the mental health and well-being of the learners, as individuals and assets should be given priority. Hargreaves rightly points out that after weeks or months at home, students will have lost their teachers’ face-face support.Many young people will have experienced poverty and stress. They may have seen family members become ill, or worse, die. They might have had little chances to play outside. Rates of domestic abuse and fights over custody arrangements have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many children would have lost the habits that schools teach them — sitting in a circle, waiting for turns, knowing how to listen and co-operate. More than a few will exhibit the signs of post-traumatic stress. A lot would have spent hours looking at smartphones and playing video games and the learning gaps will undoubtably widen between children from poorer and well-off homes.We should therefore not be interested in Paper performance alone, but pay attention to the holistic wellbeing and growth of the child.
In conclusion, the future of education has been threatened greatly by the covid-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic has also provided us with insights and great opportunities for development, and it is left for stakeholders to amend and restructure education into a more efficient program for our children and the society. This can be achieved if vital aspects of teaching and learning, like the curriculum, teaching methods and strategies, and even evaluation methods are reviewed.
Andy Hargreaves,What’s next for schools after coronavirus? Here are 5 big issues and opportunities, Boston College. April, 2020
Paul Reville,Time to fix American education with race-for-space resolve. The Harvard Gazette,April, 2020
About the Author
Adaeze Michael is aNigerian teacher and writer. Her works have appeared in many notable magazines in Nigeria and the diaspora. She was a finalist for 2019 TFCN Prize for Literature, and received an honorary mention from Union bank Nigeria, in the we rise challenge, for her contributions to education and learning during the covid-19 Lockdown.