As the school year ends, students and teachers need to recommit to real classrooms
Now that the school year — one of the strangest ever — is nearly over, it’s time to think about what has happened to education during the pandemic.
By April last year Covid lockdowns had forced 1.6 billion children out of schools and universities worldwide. This was a cause for joy in some quarters. In May 2020, New York governor Andrew Cuomo questioned why physical classrooms still existed at all, and he announced that Bill Gates would help rethink education in the state. Across LinkedIn, posts proliferated claiming that a “long overdue” marriage between education and technology had finally arrived.
It was notable that most of the people celebrating these changes were not those on the sharp end of them — students, or even teachers.
In the UK, the Government was quick to fund digital technologies in schools. By April 2020, it announced a plan to provide free technical training in Google and Microsoft education digital tools. More than 6,500 primary and secondary schools in England signed up. Since then, some 2.4 million new user accounts have been created for the two platforms.
For secondary school children, remote learning became an uncomfortable way of life. An A-Level student who began studying in September 2019 will have spent a quarter of their course learning from home. And now, during the so-called “pingdemic”, a further million students — over 14.4% of state-funded school children — have once again been confined to their homes in the last week alone.
As a Year 13 student, my personal experience of online learning leaves me convinced that it can’t replace real classrooms. Yes, we were able, just about, to continue our studies during the pandemic. But pupils in all age ranges struggled with the impact of the digital classroom. Many felt isolated. Many felt unable to communicate properly with their peers, or their teachers. Our school tried its best, yet many of us us felt inadequately supported.
So I was not surprised to read a report by ImpactEd that showed how damaging remote learning was last year. The report found significant challenges in three areas: student motivation, teacher workload and student wellbeing. In fact, only 34% of surveyed UK pupils had felt actively motivated during remote learning, with the majority “neutral or actively disinterested.”
I know this is exactly how I felt this last year, dealing with the constant threat of school closures, or working on a laptop at home. All in all, as the school year comes to an end, every effort needs to be made to ensure use of online learning is minimised. Young people have faced their own peculiar and heavy burdens during this pandemic. For those of us who are leaving school now, much has been lost that can’t ever be recovered.