A ‘global experiment’ in education and pedagogy

The past months have forced educators to reflect upon their practice and quickly adapt to a changing educational environment.  For some, moving to online teaching was a simple extension of what they were already doing, while for others it has been a journey of discovery.  Students have also been forced to adapt quickly and change the habits that have been formed over up to 13 years in education and attending school.

International studies are showing that the experiences during this time are far from equitable, often highlighting differences between the socio-economic background of schools, regions and countries as infra-structure and access to technology has been critical. In New Zealand we have been lucky compared with many countries. However, for those students whose laptops, modems or remote learning packs are now only just arriving, weeks after they have returned to school, the potential impact on their education is undeniable.

What is important though, is to focus on the positives that we can take away from this ‘global experiment’ in education and pedagogy.  While it did not work for all, many students have provided feedback that they found the flipped classroom approach to be very productive. They enjoyed being able to plan their own learning time, no longer restricted by a set timetable. The ability to work undisturbed for two-three hours on one task, then when they were ready switch to another subject not only allowed the development of time management skills, but more importantly provided an opportunity for deeper learning to take place. Many also now have the confidence and know that when they leave school, be it to go on to university or to take up a workplace, they have the ability to deal with the challenges they will face and can self-manage their work.

Globally, much of the talk has been around the importance of relationships and connections in education, as this was one common area that students and teachers alike missed about being in a school environment. It has highlighted the work of Abraham Maslow and how his work The Hierarchy of Needs is a fundamental underpinning to all pedagogical approaches whether in a physical or virtual classroom. If these needs are not met with our students, how can we expect them to be effective learners?

According to Maslow, before a student can hope to tackle demanding cognitive processes, such as learning new skills or acquiring knowledge, they must first fulfill their basic physiological needs. It’s just no good trying to get a kid who’s tired or hungry to learn that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. (To be honest, it’s probably hard enough to get a peppy, well-fed student to pay attention to that.) Add to all that the fact that half of them didn’t get to sleep until after 2am and may only have eaten a bag of chips for breakfast. And then we get frustrated with them because they’re not giving their full attention.

We have been presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reflect, globally, on education; to ask questions around how we structure days, what is really important and also ensuring that our students have the support and feel well prepared to be effective learners. The students of today have different opportunities before them, the expectations on them have changed, and for many how they like to learn has changed compared with those of 10-15 years ago. We need to ensure that the educational models and practices that we provide them, not only here in New Zealand, but around the world, are meeting those needs and enabling them to achieve and flourish.