International press review on pedagogical continuity #1

For several weeks now, schools and higher education institutions have been closed in most countries of the world. UNESCO, which monitors the international situation, is keeping track of these impressive figures:

  • 1,575,270,054 affected learners
  • 91.3% of total enrolled learners
  • 191 country-wide closures

While the French President has announced the “gradual” reopening of schools from 11 May, I propose that we look back over the last few weeks of “pedagogical continuity”, with a few lessons from the world… and finally many points in common between the countries observed.

This article is part of a contributory watch, and I should point out that I am not a journalist.

If you spot an inaccuracy, or if you have additional information, please contact me, and I will add to this article. Thank you for your kindness.

Unpreparedness of education systems

It has been one of the big failures in France. The Ministry of Education had said that we were ready to ensure “pedagogical continuity”. On the social networks, teachers were more sceptical, to say the least. The first week then proved them right: multiple saturation of digital solutions, teachers’ overwork, students dropping out of school, and so on.

It is important to note that this unpreparedness was not limited to France, but rather global, according to the foreign press. In the United States, as in England and Canada, solutions were quickly found in response to school closures. There was little anticipation, even though several countries first closed for a week to give their teachers time to get organized, while teachers only had a big weekend in France.

[…] While Mr. Carranza urged “flexibility and patience,” he also saluted teachers, administrators, parents and students for “rising to the occasion.”. “We are literally flying the plane as we’re building the plane,” he said.

Mr. Carranza, schools chancellor in New York City

The best prepared have already experienced it (so to speak)

Some countries are doing better, however, particularly in Asia. One might think that this is thanks to their formidable technological lead. And missed. The reason they’re doing better is because they’re used to… …typhoons and anti-government protests. In Hong Kong, which has had an eventful year on both fronts, teachers have used their experience to provide comprehensive educational environments that go far beyond distance learning. And their experience is primarily pedagogical, not technical.

We are well used to delivering home learning in a suspension for typhoons, which is typically one to two days. During the protests, we started using more videos, and afterwards reviewed delivery of home learning across our schools Laura Tyson, director of community relations at Kellett School

Laura Tyson, director of community relations at Kellett School

It should be noted that Asian typhoon episodes usually last two days, which makes them short breaks. It will be necessary to see how distance learning has been conducted over a longer period.

I had already written that, for my part, I did not find it shocking that education systems had been caught unawares by the introduction of exclusively distance education. No one could anticipate the exceptional situation we are experiencing.

Limitations of distance education

Source of this meme: Makeameme

Another observation shared throughout the world is that moving from face-to-face to distance education is not an easy task. Most actors go even further: “pedagogical continuity” is a false promise, absurd even given the emotional state of their students.

The only merit of online courses – and that’s good enough – is that they provide intelligent entertainment for students. Asking for more from these devices would be pedagogical nonsense.

Martin Delplace, French teacher in Belgium

Then, teachers very quickly realize the limits of distance education, both technically and pedagogically. And fortunately, many institutions call it back to unburden their colleagues.

Let’s acknowledge that the quality of education will not be as good in alternative formats as it is in the pedagogical model we’ve actually planned for. That is OK as well – we are just trying to survive

Jim Mahler, CFT vice president and president of the CFT Community College Council

Technical and pedagogical limits

Technically, there are many similarities: the difficulty of the platforms to hold the load at the beginning, the equipment problems, which vary from one family to another but also from one teacher to another, and the ease with which students can use the institutional tools or not.

A laptop computer, an Internet connection, a server, a range of digital applications cannot, by any means, replace the school as a living environment, let alone the field work of teachers.

Réjean Bergeron, Essayist and professor of philosophy at the college level, Montreal

Pedagogically, teachers around the world also share many observations. Firstly, it is not enough to apply distance learning methods that work in the classroom.

Then they explain that education relies on a lot of interaction between teachers and students, including feedback (the student’s response to the teacher’s question). All these forms of engagement are impossible to reproduce at a distance without real mastery by the teacher and a certain habit on the part of the students.

The same applies for teachers. “I can see students taking notes and give them immediate feedback when I am teaching [face to face] at school but I can’t do this during online courses,” said Xie, who added that engagement between teacher and student online is “almost zero”.

Jessie Xie, a 24-year-old high schoolteacher living in Chengdu city

Finally, they all point out that education is not just the transmission of knowledge or exercises from teacher to pupil. It is also a place for interaction between students, for socialization essential for development, for sports activities, and so on.

Social inequalities

Clearly, not all students have those living conditions. Photo de Annie Spratt sur Unsplash

A third global observation is that the crisis is bringing back to the surface the stark reality of social inequalities.

These inequalities are multiple:

  • Access to the Internet and functional digital equipment
  • Ability to follow a distance learning course in proper conditions: being able to isolate oneself in a room, having parents available
  • Ability to master the school uses of digital technology (send e-mails, connect to the ENT, download PDFs).

Depending on the country, other problems, less academic but nevertheless determining in the course of a child’s life, are added:

  • Food insecurity
  • Domestic violence
  • Children’s anxieties related to the confinement and the parents’ professional future

In England and the United States in particular, many school teachers are terrified for their students.

I’m exhausted and miserable and deeply scared for so many children. The ones on the edges of gang life, at risk of exploitation, in unsafe homes, and with little food in the cupboard. I shut my blinds, hide in the corner, have a cry and then pull myself together.

Anonymous headteacher

The return of the “digital divide”

The difficulties of using digital tools for distance learning, often simplified under the term “digital divide”, are the subject of many articles.

The first findings from our as yet unpublished 2019 data confirm teachers and principals see family poverty as a key factor in accessing technology that students need for learning. More than 80% of teachers thought students’ socio-economic circumstances impact on their access to technology needed for learning. And one-third of teachers directly observed that children living in poverty had less access to technology than their more well-resourced peers.

Amy Graham, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, and Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy @ UNSW Sydney

It should be noted that these three countries are usually considered as countries where educational digital is highly deployed. Notably China which is often cited, in the world of Edtech, as a model to follow.

In the next international press review, three new topics will be addressed: The situation in higher education, the role of teachers in the crisis, the multiple digital platforms that have been set up.

The image on the front page is a screenshot of the map presented on the UNESCO website.

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