Crafting New Pedagogical Pathways in the Face of COVID-19
COVID-19 crept upon us surreptitiously. There were simply no warnings, no signs. Our brilliant political, medical and educational minds had no time to think about what lay ahead and to prepare the ideal response to the virus. Nor did we realise the extent of the death and destruction it would cause.
The effects are so enormous that countries with weak economies and poor leadership are in danger of becoming indebted to everyone, with high levels of unemployment and overwhelmed medical and educational departments. COVID-19 must feel like World War III to them.
There have been many predictions about how education will be affected and none has been very encouraging. Had we lost a week or two, the effects could have been overcome by extra work by teachers and learners. But five weeks or more create nightmares for leaders in education. Our overcrowded school curriculum, with its voluminous content and the lack of vertical demarcation, will certainly present curriculum-for-change planners with insurmountable complications.
Yes, we have technology and distance learning. But our country is not completely technologically literate. And the postal service is on lockdown too. While lessons are being prepared daily for learners using Zoom or Skype, most learners do not have access to computers or data on cellphones. Teachers themselves may not be sufficiently trained to enter into the realms of remote teaching. All educators must begin to worry, because COVID-19 will reveal that having a teacher in every class is a luxury and this could be a glimpse into future classrooms.
So, where do we go to from here? The suggestion made by Professor Jonathan Jansen of Stellenbosch University and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, that all learners from Grades 1 to 11 be promoted to the next grade should apply only if our learners do not return to school in 2020. They would have completed part of the syllabus and could continue once the COVID-19 dust (or droplets!) has settled. If learners return to school then they could, with support, engage in formative and summative assessment tasks. Final examinations form only a fraction of summative assessment under normal conditions, and education managers could decide on the suitability of these examinations within the context of 2020.
In the meantime, and if the lockdown is prolonged, support can be leveraged from our State-run media broadcasters. SABC could dedicate one television channel and selected national radio stations to broadcast lessons daily. While all homes may not have televisions, one can assume that a larger percentage have televisions rather than computers. Therefore the medium of television for teaching and learning is doable. Although completion of the syllabi is unlikely, a significant portion could be covered and it must be agreed that COVID-19 took away the opportunity of engaging fully with the curriculum.
This is where the input of Professional Learning Committees could make a difference. Select those aspects of the curriculum deemed essential and devise a changed curriculum around those selections.
Parents need to play a crucial role in this scenario. They should encourage their children to be constructively engaged. This can be via television, radio, the internet and books. Parents could co-create rosters with their children to plan periods of schoolwork, leisure, chores, and exercise. We need to tap into the generosity of big businesses to support the production of learning materials which should be made freely available and developed based on learning as an enjoyable, mentally stimulating, relevant experience.
Parents could try to understand the child before embarking on tutoring. Children in higher grades may need parental supervision, and material and psychological support. Parents could enable the establishment of networks with tutors, teachers and other learners to support children in higher grades. But we do sympathise with parents with more than two children as their situation could become quite difficult.
Materials which are developed (by teachers and subject advisors, where possible) should comprise short, unambiguous tasks. Progression from simple to complex, and concrete to abstract concepts, should be central to the planning of tasks. Consideration for multiple intelligences and linguistically diverse learners is crucial in the development of materials. The use of exemplars with memoranda, to enable self-assessment and learning in a stepwise fashion, would be useful while it would be wise to steer clear of long-winded activities which could be cognitively inaccessible for some learners and could bore others, creating an aversion for work. Feedback in the form of marking memos should be provided with detailed solutions or explanations. Learners must be able to grasp this easily.
The establishment of a call centre or hotline, staffed by experienced teachers who can take calls from learners and respond via email to questions and queries raised by both the learners and parents, would be a key support measure.
YouTube videos from Khan Academy and other reputable sources, are powerful online teaching resources.
Class and subject teachers could form WhatsApp groups with their learners and have weekly interaction. This will ensure that learners feel psychologically connected to the school.
The time has arrived for a pedagogy which is adaptable and can accommodate and assimilate the fluctuating contextual circumstances we are in. Teachers could seize this opportunity to recast their roles as innovators of curriculum ideas that suit a remote teaching and learning context, while learners should be encouraged and supported to adjust to these innovations.
Several freely available courses are available for teacher training using online media, and teachers could re-learn how to teach by tapping into these resources.
The world is changing and so must our ability to adapt. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) movement is, to some extent, seen as an artificial response to the changing times. The response to COVID-19 unleashes the realities that exist at grassroots level. Our expansive research has not considered the fact that while certain sectors of this world have moved on to technology beyond the ken of most people the vast majority of citizens have been left behind.
COVID-19 has rendered our pedagogic inadequacies visible. But the pandemic has also generated spaces for education institutions and learners to think and work differently.
It is time to flex our pedagogic muscle and tackle challenges until we finally cross that winning line. And we will.