Let’s keep our children safe from the G.E.R.M when they return to school
This piece came from thoughts after using my printer. Stay with me. I was asked to print off my neighbour’s daughter's school work for the next 3 days. They had problems with their printer. Not a huge thing. Simple. But I was struck by the level of detail, the range and the obvious care that had gone into preparing this document, which extended to 33 pages.
So I start by saying thank you to the teachers who are working to make life as normal as they can for their students.
Covid-19 has exposed the frailties of our education system and the inequalities of it and our society. The work being undertaken by teachers to provide some form of meaningful activity is impressive. But it raises issues of access, the relationship between home and school, and the need to look at why we educate?
Ensuring young people and families have access to devices and the internet to be able to gain virtual access to materials set is the most basic requirement. This can be solved with inexpensive or even free devices for our students. How do we pay for this? What is the consequence, long term, of not paying for this? The simple answer is a section of our community that will be disenfranchised from education.
Once we have devices, we then have the issue of the format or platform used to deliver the “education”. It is clear that this is currently disjointed with schools and colleges using different learning platforms - Google classroom, Microsoft teams, Zoom etc. The cocktail of poorly defined school autonomy, inequality in resources and reliance on only some individuals skills within an organisation has played a significant role in our current situation. Clarity, training, time and purpose are missing from our common education online learning strategies.
There is also a real problem for parents in all of this. Not only with regards to the provision of equipment mentioned earlier. But in skills and knowledge in how to deliver this new experience for their children.
But underlying all of this is the structure of education we have allowed to develop over time. This has been laid bare with the cancellation of exams for students across the stages of education. So many of our young people have spent years preparing for high stakes, one off exams by which they will be judged. For many, if not all, this has left a huge gap and no real end to their studies. But why has our young people's experience of education and value been distilled down to such small periods of their lives and the high stakes gamble of exams?
In addition, the experience of teachers has been driven by the same narrowing of definitions of success. Grades are everything. Levels, attainment, performance against numeric indicators determine pay in many countries. They can determine the outcomes of careers here.
So where has this commoditisation of our education system, young people and our educators emerged from? The answer is the development of the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM). By converting the experience of education to numeric, and importantly measurable and standardized outcomes, it can be controlled and turned into a commodity just like any other. Remember that the world wide “market” in education is estimated to be around 1.1 trillion dollars. A lucrative pot.
One feature of the GERM, perhaps ironically, is the use of Artificial Intelligence to deliver and measure outcomes. Teachers' growing experience of tracking software that needs to be fed with constant data is an example. And the undefined autonomy and drivers of the free market are amplifying this narrative. So we have a dichotomy between needing education to be online, and the drivers behind extending online education. Another issue to be addressed with vision and understanding.
Parents are finding that delivering the school experience at home at best difficult, and often impossible. So they resort quite rightly to parenting with some learning. And then worry about their children “falling behind”. And here we are again. Our children reduced to a level, a number, standardised. And this does not fit with our experience of being a parent. My children, your children, are not standard. They are uniquely beautiful, intelligent, funny, grumpy, talented, cross at times, happy for no reason and a myriad of other emotions and behaviours. Please remember this now and into the future. You cannot school at home. You can educate. That may be different, but still and has value. And access to online resources must not be simply to give access to commercially driven education resources in the name of maintaining “standards”.
An education system that seeks to limit the way we measure success must learn from the experiences we are going through. Transferring a failing system into the limited environment of home will never be successful, and certainly not equal. It is time to look at the system. Not just the individual carers who may be struggling to balance work and educating. Worrying about targets that are not really understood. Or the “catching up” to targets that are more to do with allowing the business of education to flourish rather than the minds and emotions of our children.
This piece from an article in the Washington Post has stayed with me:
One thing that has struck me is how similar education systems are. Curricula are standardized to fit to international student tests; and students around the world study learning materials from global providers. Education reforms in different countries also follow similar patterns. So visible is this common way of improvement that I call it the Global Educational Reform Movement or GERM. It is like an epidemic that spreads and infects education systems through a virus. It travels with pundits, media and politicians. Education systems borrow policies from others and get infected. As a consequence, schools get ill, teachers don’t feel well, and kids learn less.
As we move out of lockdown and into the new normal. Let’s remember there is more than one GERM to protect our children against.