The impact COVID-19 has had on education, and especially online education, is undeniable. In a matter of days, we witnessed the biggest distance learning experiment in history. Teachers around the world digitised their content and changed their whole class dynamic in just a few days, something that takes months of full-time work in a normal setting.
Hastings School, a prestigious British School in Madrid, gives us a first-hand account of the momentum caught by distance learning during the months of the lockdown, and how the future of education is tending even more towards this new educational model which coordinates and combines on-site and on-line learning.
On-line learning is playing a fundamental role in education and its success is unquestionable, demonstrating that it can cover certain aspects of on-site learning. Even so, Hastings considers that there still exist certain critical areas of on-site education that cannot be replaced for various reasons. First, for smaller children the ability to work independently is much more limited. Secondly, for all young people face-to-face human interaction is irreplaceable when it comes to the subtleties of education: sensing when a student does not understand, motivating students, generating excitement and a sense of buzz. Thirdly, interaction is vital for both student and teacher well-being. And we must not forget that the children with most disadvantages are those most prejudiced by not being on-site in the schools.
Technology was already changing before the lockdown was declared but the change has been accelerated and will play a fundamental role in many educational aspects. Learning will more become personalized as the software programmes become more sophisticated. At Hastings School both Primary and Secondary students are already using Artificial Intelligence which gets to “know” the student and target questions at the appropriate level. As the students get better the questions get more difficult. The pupils can access these materials after class to review them and make sure they have understood. And finally, the pupils can also access an incredible range of resources: for example, they can try out different environments, experimenting what it would be like to be in the Amazon Rainforest or Pompeii, using virtual reality.
So much of what a teacher does is not simply delivering material but involves getting to know students, understanding what motivates them, boosting their confidence, challenging them etc. So, we must not overstate the level of change. Teachers will undoubtedly harness technology effectively, but much will not change.
Neil Tetley, the Principal of Hastings School, assures us that the key question in education has to remain “What makes great teaching and learning?” and then a subsequent question is “How do we harness technology to help us achieve great teaching and learning?”. Technology in itself is not the answer, but it offers amazing opportunities for us to drive forward education in exciting new directions.