Quarantine in secondary education: what went wrong, lessons learnt and best practices

It is obvious that the education system will not be the same as before COVID-19

Photo: Depositphotos.com/AlexPilipenko

Due to the coronavirus, quarantine has forced most of families around the world to stay at home in self-isolation, including Kazakhstan. All of a sudden millions of families were put into a situation where regular education changed to distance learning. No one knows when the pandemic will end and we can go back to the normal. However, it is already obvious that the education system will not be the same. Here are some observations about our education system: what went wrong, how other systems react and what we can collectively do to improve the situation.

Many parents were shocked on April 6th due to heavy information load that came from different sources – 15 messenger groups, large number of 10-minute TV lessons, 10 types of homework, etc – and this is only for one child. One can only imagine what happens with the families with more than one.

Another issue faced by teachers and parents living in rural areas is the limited access to broadband Internet (or absence thereof). Despite the fact that many have mobile Internet and a computer, this access is not enough to ensure high-quality viewing of video lessons and learning through online classes. As many know, we have 48% of children who live in rural areas.

Weak preparedness of all of us. Despite the fact that the spring break was extended and there was time for preparation, three weeks was still not enough to solve the short and long-term issues that have accumulated over the years of independence. Excessive bureaucracy, weak communication mechanisms between central and local authorities, and absence of a feedback system from the regions were stumbling blocks for sufficient preparation of all the stakeholders.

Recommendations:

  1. Do not use “one size fits all” solutions throughout the system. It is necessary to diversify educational solutions to a particular "client", adapt the solutions to the conditions and needs of a particular class, school, district, as well as the age of a child. Higher the age, less control and daily “checking in” is needed. Lower the age, less requirements to connect to classes or homework need to be mandated. It is important to assess resources parents (whether they have individual computer or Internet) and teachers (whether they have ICT skills and at what level) have.

  2. Avoid accommodating the same volume of curriculum to a distance learning format. We need to lower expectations and requirements for principals, teachers, parents and children. While many families are trying to figure out how to function in a “new normal”, how to work from home, when the family “weather” in the house is already cloudy, students and their parents do not need extra stress on their part.

  3. Provide socio-emotional support to all stakeholders instead of chasing the race “teach to the test” or curriculum standards. Why was it necessary to require 100% attendance in such classes as physical education, industrial arts or compulsory viewing of television lessons, if they are available on you-tube channels anytime? Many probably saw a video of a crying teacher from the rural village who is “looking for” Wi-Fi on the street? We all, more than ever, need psychological support. For example, Ministry of Education in New Zealand published Guidelines for families to provide socio-emotional support to kids and how to eliminate stress during the pandemic.

  4. «Learn, learn more, learn forever» – from the neighboring countries who effectively deal with the new norm – from Russia, Turkey, or Eastern Europe. For example, the instructions from the Ministry of Education and Science of Latvia state: “It is essential to understand that the teacher and the student do not need to constantly communicate via Internet, it is important that the student can ask questions, find out the details of the homework and does not spend all the time with a device! It is also important to remember that that new materials and the need to study them will only complicate the learning process”. It is therefore not clear why new TV lessons had to be recorded, spending time and money, as it was obvious they would not be of a high quality. There are already a number of great resources that are used internationally. Russian E-School website provides important resources not only to a teacher, but also to a student and parents, and is super user-friendly. Another example, the minister of education in Turkey speaking to the parents stated: “Give the children a chance to get bored. When that happens a child develops curiosity and hunger to learn something new”. Can someone imagine seeing our students bored?

  5. Test new solutions and conduct rigorous research on what works. Any policy decisions made in OECD countries are based on evidence, not on someone’s opinion. New experimental research methods need to be conducted at the policy level (such as impact evaluation) to assess which solutions are effective at the national level, which are not, and where funding should go. Impact evaluation has been implemented in education and social protection sectors around the world.

  6. Transform a bureaucratic system into flexible and agile one. It is obvious that the countries supporting transparency and accountability in policy decision making processes on a regular basis were successful in building an effective education system during the corona-crisis. To better respond to constant changes and stakeholders’ feedback, our system needs to become less bureaucratic and based on decisions made from the center. It is not enough to respond to stakeholders’ concerns in a “manual mode”, a comprehensive rigorous system needs to be built.

  7. When the “fire” is smothered, it is important to develop a Contingency Plan – a detailed action plan what government agencies and other stakeholder groups need to do to bring our education system to a new level. This can include fast-track internet connection to rural areas, ICT skills training of a high quality to the teachers, development of mechanisms through which parents, students and teachers can provide timely feedback to improve face-to-face and distance learning.

Our world will not be the same after COVID-19. Our expectations and aspirations for education will not be the same either. Despite all the difficulties, it is a great opportunity to make important conclusions what can be improved in our education. If the virus did not take place, we would have probably stayed in our comfort zone and continued a regular routine. Virus came as a wake up all which uncovered weaknesses of our education system that need to be resolved in an urgent matter.

Aliya Bizhanova, Almaty Management University researcher, OECD consultant

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