In geographies surfacing from the first wave of COVID-19 cases, the social contours of countries have been left at very different points of varying challenges, from descending degrees of economic despair to fear of famine. What is clear is that we will not be returning to where we were. In Italy, 700, 000 youngsters under the age of 15 are at risk. Those most affected are from families whose parents lost temporary employment.
Children of undocumented workers and the new geo-social classes without benefits from special subsidies or public aid are stranded. Previous pandemics point to girls in developing countries as being most at risk of not being able to return to school. How are schools to be reopened? How do children resume learning? Schools are places of scholarship, pastoral care, compassion, protection, and social services, without which mothers who cannot work remotely, are unable to resume working.
Prioritized-Selective-Reopening of schools is an operational strategy to help cut class sizes and keep learners dispersed. Norway has prioritized reopening ECCE and primary schools to allow parents to restart work. Germany targeted scholars in transition years. Identifying ‘student-segments’ with specific needs is an alternative. Those without internet service and devices and who rely on schools for academic and wellness benefits (including nutrition) can return. The terrain is uncharted and requires modifications to both staffing logistics and mind-sets
The three ‘Rs’ to reopen schools are: ‘re-enrollment’, ‘revision’ and ‘resurgence’. Re-enrollment has implications for poverty eradication. Many scholars may never return to class out of parental apprehension, student drift into the workforce to support unemployed parents, or student disengagement after exasperating remote learning experiences.
Pupils who actually resume studies, even if they do not return to a school setting, will need remedial work to refresh concepts, especially those attending schools that struggled to roll out an effective remote learning scheme of work. Those aided by benefactors who purchased software licences for the entire school, also experienced challenges with the initial setup for remote teaching with proficiency. The challenge is to build a curriculum grounded in rigour, recursion, richness, and relations that can be enacted inside a walled garden of ideas prepared for a resurgence and remote delivery. Resurgence heralds an approach primed for multiple waves of closures and reopenings. This in turn necessitates an agile blended learning environment. Some institutions have created new positions on the establishment for online curriculum designers.
The unbundling of content into smaller bits that disaggregates the curriculum for streaming across portals not unlike Spotify is anticipated. ‘Labels’ or institutions can configure a personalized playlist of content from as many teachers as are available. The content can come from teachers anywhere, but standardized for quality by Degreed – a Central Bank of Credentials – or by Credly, a credentialing platform. It is the age of Amazon in Education.
Students can post instant feedback on platforms not dissimilar from TripAdvisor and can get suggestions on what content others may have selected from features not unlike Amazon’s personalized product recommendations, Netflix’s suggested movies to watch or Pandora’s next song to stream. Students may even find teachers the way Facebook or LinkedIn help users to find people they may wish to connect with or to learn from. Collaborative filtering will be the undercarriage of this personalized content management system. Tutoring Bars of teaching teams can guide learners as they solve problems and work on cross-discipline projects. Schools are identical in one way: they are rich with talent. Next is simply what we imagine it to be.
The suddenness of the present constructive disruption of schools has exposed the risks of cyber threats and interruptions largely as a result of low levels of investment to safeguard privacy. Some areas for stepped-up monitoring include remote-learning platforms and collaboration tools, networks for malware, and monitoring student and teacher endpoints to catch data-related incidents.
Security and technology risk teams at schools must design and implement safe remote-learning protocols including scaling virtual private networks (VPNs) for data transmissions by students and faculty implementing multifactor authentication for learning applications, enforcing antivirus software, limiting access to learning applications to verified student and staff, and ensuring adequate cloud storage for recorded classes.
Some schools have created a COVID-19 technology update service that highlights VPN and multifactor authentication protocols. Others are building capacity through tutorials about phishing and malware attacks. Others have responded with bespoke resources that inform the learning community about cybersecurity resources. Some are improving ICT Help Desk capacity for testing and clarifying incident-response protocols, and confirming the security of third-party tools used during teaching.
This transition raises many concerns related to access and equity. Some homes have no computers; others have one device but two children. Internet service providers are not yet convinced about the business case in rural communities. Without connectivity, many children may slip further behind than they were before the crisis commenced. The instant logistical challenge is to guarantee that all scholars have the tools and the technology they need to learn remotely. The digital-divide can only be narrowed by a substructure of switches, routers, modems and towers. Information highways are needed and they must be patrolled.