“THE WHISTLE blew to signal the departure of the cruise-ship Education into uncharted and unfamiliar waters on September 1. The passenger list included the Ministry of Education, principals, teachers, students, and parents. Sadly, many of the passengers were not packed or prepared for this sailing. This dream voyage exceeded everyone’s wildest imagination.
“The captain announced we couldn’t go back and were expected to pick up items at the various ports as we journeyed on. Indeed, no one was sure how this voyage is going to unfold nor the destination or amount of time this journey will take. Uncertainty, fear, apprehension and anxiety were some of the baggage accompanying many of these passengers.”
The foregoing sounds like a literature excerpt for a CSEC student. As a reader one would be anxious to see how this story unfolds. However, this is not fiction – it is as real as it could get and teachers are not only onboard but are expected to play a key role, driving a process they are mastering as they go along.
Some are overwhelmed and out of their depth, perceiving the task as being almost unsurmountable given the variables of the equation. There are more questions than answers with leadership almost clueless as to how to proceed. Insufficient training and preparation, inadequate resources, unclear and ambiguous instructions as well as insufficient guidance are some of the refrains emanating from the broad spectrum of the education sector.
Teachers are now forced to dig deep into their pockets and consciences, recommitting to their social contracts while relying on their dedication to task, training, colleagues, and their union. Like never before, teachers are forced to learn from and with each other, planning, collaborating and consolidating resources.
The concept of professional learning communities has been given new meaning and importance in this era of uncertainty. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education is once again preoccupied with looking good in the media, compelling school officials to provide teacher and student “attendance data” daily for a process that is plagued with numerous variables and relies heavily upon the generosity, goodwill and trust of teachers.
Parents are also floundering around – booklists, devices, internet – as they continue to work and worry about being able to aptly supervise their children in this new environment. Parental involvement in schooling has assumed new dimensions.
Some parents have not ceased working – our unsung heroes who stepped up particularly during this pandemic – medical staff, police, fire, army, public servants, supermarket attendants, pharmacy workers, postal and sanitation workers, to name a few.
These are people for whom we all will forever be indebted for their service. They are also some of the parents who have to now ensure that their children are “students” at home, recreating the disciplined guidance of the school environment.
Already there are expressions of exasperation and burnout emanating from many parental quarters as they juggle their professional and parental duties. As they empathise with teachers, there must be reciprocity.
Many students are confused and mostly unfamiliar with this mode of learning, especially those who may be differently abled, have special needs or have no access to the necessary equipment to ensure meaningful engagement.
This new reality admittedly will take some getting used to but it also allows us the opportunity to create some long overdue working possibilities for growth within education, as well as the opportunity to establish non-traditional forms of evaluation that place greater emphasis on higher-order cognition. Traditional high-stakes examinations will not adapt to this new normal and should not even be attempted.
Fortunately, being products of a tech generation, our “screenagers” seem to be adapting quite well, mastering the use of devices much quicker than the adults. However, the dangers of obscene intrusions, excessive screen time and the underdevelopment of interpersonal and other affective skills are issues which must be uppermost in the minds of both parents and teachers.
This is a time that demands parent/teacher collaboration more than ever before. Patience, forbearance, and empathy are required on all sides as the learning takes place together. The traditional approach has exposed education in all its antiquity.
From here on teaching and learning will never be the same – beyond every dark cloud is a silver lining. As with all new systems and processes there will be many hiccups and stumbling blocks as we navigate this road together. Let us see where this ship will ultimately set anchor.