As US author and educational specialist, Thomas Hatch nicely puts it, “the future always lies slightly beyond our imagination”. Yes, there is nothing quite like the presence of 2021 that we are all currently experiencing. Many of us never thought that we would have the privilege, or lack thereof, to live through a global pandemic – but here we are.
Despite the many swift adjustments that we have had to make to our daily lives, we have adapted. Against popular belief, humans can adapt to change, regardless of their discomfort or resistance towards it.
This is evident within the educational sphere globally as schools have had to revert into crisis mode to ensure that students complete their curriculum, teachers get through the curriculum and parents remain calm for the future of their child’s education.
But does this change mean we have to move all schools online? If not, what does this ‘change’ look like?
Enter The Realm Of Change
As many countries have synchronically moved in and out of hard lockdowns, many schools have opted for online educational approaches, whereby online Zoom, Google Meet, or MS Team classrooms have been the closest thing to what Hatch calls “the conventional classroom”.
Considering the online learning environment’s formal recent introduction, anti-conventionalists and online business moguls took the gap to reinvent the “new and improved teaching and learning model” – that being the opening of various online institutions specializing in remote learning.
The global pandemic has provided a time for people to revisit their life choices, prioritize their time, and more importantly decide where they want to be spatially and what they want out of life itself. While many adults have had to resort to working online from home, children and teens, although not particularly able to rethink life choices, have increased their time spent using technology, thus making technology a fundamental part of their existence. Yes, technology has proven to add an immense amount of value to a child’s education, but a child’s need to receive instant gratification is something that needs to be considered during the process of change. Is it completely necessary to revert directly into a completely new realm of education?
How Does Change Affect The Environment?
Now more than ever, models of alternative learning have pressured those “conventional school models” to reinvent themselves and provide a space that does not only provide a space for curriculum-based learning but also for real-life ‘doing’ to be introduced.
Hatch reiterates that change does not always have to be drastic, but rather can be a gradual process of migration from what is, to what was dreamt of. Schools who decide to use this period in history as a platform to launch change within their institutions need to do so with caution.
Although the online learning space might seem like a desirable venture for some institutions to participate in, it is important to remember the structure and supportive ‘togetherness’ that conventional school environments provide students with.
For many students facing barriers to learning, participating in the online realm can not only be technically challenging but also extremely stressful. Although institutions may offer individual online counseling sessions or extra online learning support, this does not translate to the same kind of in-person treatment provided to students struggling with their academics at conventional institutions.
Barriers to learning students should always be considered during a process of change. Hatch explains that the pressures of academics within an educational system places more pressure on the development of a child within their environment. He further argues that limiting the academic time during a school day and providing students with a chance to interrogate life skills and activities outside of the classroom, will lead to better individuals leaving school.
Despite this ideology sounding rather appetizing, the current South African education curriculum, specifically in the Further Education and Training Phase, leaves little to no room for adjustments and play. This makes it exceptionally difficult for students to have time during the school day to engage in anything other than their textbooks. This heavy curriculum makes it especially difficult for those students facing barriers to learning.
So What Does This Change Model Look Like?
Forget about the online learning environment for a minute and let us discuss what conventional schools could do to provide a space for learners to become critical thinkers.
For one, the classroom environment does not have to be limited to the conventional classroom structure. Why not make the learning environment a comfortable space that mimics a combination of work and play. Place chairs and desks in group cubes to provide for collaborative learning. Create a ‘chill’ area for learners to breathe in once they have completed their tasks. Create an environment that is visually appealing by enhancing the colours in the room and trade the blackboard for interactive Smart Boards.
Similarly, use the content-heavy CAPS curriculum to your advantage and encourage educators to provide regular interactions with experts within the field of study to the students. Encourage students to engage in activities early on in their school career that they feel passionate about such as robotics, coding, or dancing. The school can gauge from the students what interests them and then create a program offered to students whereby they could be provided with courses to complete that would help them in their developmental progress as well as assist them when they want to enter the work field.
Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day
A good leader, dedicated educators and a management team who is willing to provide the relevant resources needed to make whatever change it is the institution believes is fitting, is on the right track to transformation, however this will not happen overnight. Decision-makers need to remember that those who have to put their idealised change into practice are those on the ground and if the educators are not supported or guided and believe in the process, then the institution’s espoused vision will not become a reality.
During the current educational climate, change does not necessarily mean jump ship and head for the online world. Rather adapting the conventions of the current school practice to provide a space for students to engage with their peers in an environment that does not solely resemble a curriculum, but provides, as Hatch suggests, “niches of possibilities” that link the classroom with the real world.
by Melissa Cohen