A Reimagined Education System
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the schooling systems around the world, and Saint Lucia’s own has not been spared. The changes have come at a frenetic pace. Students and teachers have had to adjust to a remote learning culture overnight; education officials have had to plan whether and how to reopen schools amid changing epidemiological circumstances while all the while providing support systems to students academically and emotionally. The scope of the challenge has thus far left little time for deeper reflection. However, this crisis has created an opportunity for broader change and can allow us the opportunity to step back and create an improved education system for all children beyond the pandemic.
The numerous lockdowns over the past ten months have forced Saint Lucian students to learn from home, resulting in a dramatic increase in the use of online tools, such as videoconferencing and learning-management platforms. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and even exacerbated many of the inequities in the schooling system: challenges of schooling from home, availability to devices for remote learning, quality of internet connections, and the effectiveness of education tools used by teachers.
Move toward mastery-based learning
Personalized, mastery-based learning which focuses on an instructional approach where students need to demonstrate a deep level of understanding of a topic or subject area before progressing onto another topic or subject area is ideal but reach very few children. Technology has made the model even more compelling, enabling personalization at a level that’s impossible to achieve in the traditional classroom. We have numerous standardized examination in the Saint Lucian education system but it is unclear whether the examination results are used by students and teachers to improve learning. Do we personalize curriculum for students based on their Minimum Standards Performance?
Smart adaptive-technology programs such as ALEKS, Cerego, DreamBox, HegartyMaths, Khan Academy tools, Realizeit, ST Math, Squirrel AI Learning, Up Learn can integrate instruction, practice, and provide feedback to allow students to work at their own pace. This will allow the average student to only move on when they have fully grasped the material. Those programs have shown particular promise in mathematics which is a critical area lacking in the Saint Lucian educational system.
Saint Lucia will need to invest in software solutions for remote and hybrid learning. The onus on leaders will be not to simply focus on physical buildings (as our current politicians do) but to plan for a future of blended personalized learning in the classroom. Saint Lucia will also need to look at ways to reduce the cost of devices, software and internet (possibly leverage MiFi devices) necessary to support remote learning effectively.
Support children holistically
Research has shown the correlation between mindsets and academic performance and the recent shift to remote learning has made this even clearer. Students with high levels of self-motivation, persistence, parental support and independence have thrived, while others have struggled. This has widen the gap between the haves and have-nots and unless this is addressed, we will limit career prospects for a significant number of children. Furthermore, the emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of the need to address anxiety, depression, and other mental-health issues that impact children’s learning. For example, KIPP Foundation charter schools have developed a character framework featuring the seven character traits most predictive of academic success: zest, grit, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity.
Help students adapt to the future of work
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated workplace automation as employers continue to automate tasks to reduce costs and minimize the spread of infection. Even jobs in the hotel sector which may have been thought to be executed only by humans have become more automated and performed by robots. Saint Lucia should not continue on assuming that tourism is the exclusive path for development as repeatedly advocated by the current government. COVID-19 has shown us clearly how fragile tourism is and any tourism recovery is years away.
It is critical that our schools help students adapt to rapid changes in the workplace and other impacts of rapid digitization, from ethical standards and cybersecurity to the impact on health, forensics, and many other parts of the economy. Computer programming and digital literacy are becoming core skills and should be incorporated as early as possible (reference’s England’s computer science curriculum).
Businesses and persons in the diaspora can also be critical partners in helping students develop job-ready skills. A model of this is P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) where students earn a high-school diploma and an associate’s degree while gaining work experience with industry partners. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, IBM announced the launch of Open P-TECH to expand the reach of the program further, enabling students aged 16 and older to register individually for classes in topics such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing.
Invest in new models of teacher preparation and unbundle role of teacher
Teacher preparation and development needs major improvement and there needs to be more linkages between schools and the real world; similar to the linkages between medical schools and hospitals. Educators need to expand their understanding of what it means to be competent in the 21st century: not replacing traditional learning but complementing it. Additional support needs to be provided to teachers perhaps leveraging scripted lesson plans that could improve teacher competency. How has this current administration improved teacher competence?
School systems can examine the areas in which teachers spend their time; and free them so as to spend more time on high-value activities that require deep teaching expertise and relationships. The stress of remote and hybrid learning is already catalyzing some systems to rethink teacher roles and allocation. In the short term, such reimagining may involve teams of teachers, with some providing remote and others providing in-person learning. It might also involve new roles and have some teachers focus on remote learning. Let us explore all possible models for education delivery.
Rethink school structures and policies
Education systems now has an opportunity to rethink the school structures that were designed in the 18th century with a focus on the physical infrastructure. It is clear that school calendars organized around a long summer break aren’t ideal for learning.
Perhaps the COVID-19 crisis can be a catalyst for innovation. This can include scrapping grade levels altogether to promote proficiency-based learning or adjusting their school calendars. Remote learning can be encouraged on certain days for students who have the parental resources that can support it. This would allow teachers to have more time with students that may need more assistance. Education systems will need to work out innovative means to reclaim the considerable lost learning time resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are certainly a number of educational innovations and possible interventions and many of those changes are untested or associated with only emerging evidence. While we do not want to experiment with our children’s futures we do not want to continue with failed experiments. Where should school systems start? Bold education systems can take an agile and research-based approach, running opt-in pilots in collaboration with parents from today.
Very few Saint Lucians have the financial means to afford private school and rely primarily on the Government of Saint Lucia for the education of their children. The Saint Lucian Education System must be reformed or restructured to reshape their models to deliver a better education to every child. We need the government and the Saint Lucian public to emphasize education and reimagine it.
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