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This is the first piece of our “Insight into Education” series by Lisa Parrock, where she discusses the impact of the late Ken Robinson’s impact on the vision of educators around the world and this mindsets relevance to the current global educational climate.

Sir Ken Robinson was an inspirational man in many respects, especially in the field of education. With his passing recently, I took some time to think about his vision for education. He envisioned many things for education, one of which was that ”education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” Because of the Covid-19 virus, many schools around the world have been closed this year and had to move their learning online. I decided to look at the impact this type of learning might have had on the vision of Sir Ken Robinson.

Move towards personalised learning
Taking learning online has created definite progress towards a personalised learning model. Students are able to work at their own pace at home, moving faster or slower through content and learning activities, depending on their current understanding. Many teachers have been providing their students with a variety of resources, be it video, text, visual or other interactive resources, which means that learners can engage in learning in a variety of different ways, and that there is no standard way they have to engage with their lesson content. Many students receive regular feedback on their work – as this is one of the few ways teachers can really check in on their learning – which means they can use that feedback to improve and adjust their learning in their own time.

Rethinking teaching strategies
For many teachers, their whole world was turned upside down by the school closures. This meant that teachers had to completely rethink their core teaching strategies, really focus on what is important and find innovative ways to help their students. Instead of just hustling and bustling and going through the motions, teachers had to decide what the most important parts of their curriculum are and they had to find new ways to help their students understand these parts. As teachers, we don’t often have the time to reflect on our own teaching practices, but this crisis forced us to do that. Necessity is the mother of invention, and this pandemic forced many teachers to look at strategies like inquiry-based learning, which takes students on a journey through different learning pathways, giving them choices in activities along the way. This gives us the potential to start rewarding students for learning skills they truly need after school, rather than regurgitating facts they could have Googled.

Autonomy for students
Without the administration and chaos of a school day, students have to develop a lot more independence in their learning. There is no teacher checking in on them constantly, and most students don’t have a parent looking over their shoulder 24/7. This means that these students are developing a critical skill that they will need once they finish school – independence. This also creates the space for teachers to spend more on time on strategies such as project-based and inquiry-based learning, which allows students to to explore their curiosities, move at their own pace and develop their passions and interests.

Digital divide
One of the biggest challenges to a transformed vision of education that has been highlighted by the pandemic is the “digital divide” – the extreme inequality that exists between people in terms of resources in most countries around the world. How much of an advantage does a student have who has reliable internet access, his or her own device, a quiet place to work, sufficient nutrition etc? In contrast, imagine a student whose only device is a mobile phone that is shared in the household, limited or no internet access, as well as a small home shared with perhaps ten family members and barely enough food. The pandemic has highlighted how important these resources are for students to be successful in their education and how much work there is to be done as a society to truly transform education. Can we claim a transformed education system if it is only transforming for some?

The social nature of learning
Lev Vygotsky, a developmental psychologist, claimed that social interaction is the origin and engine of learning. This means that in some way, children need a form of social interaction to learn valuably. Students often learn by talking to their peers, or collaborating in groups. All of this is more difficult to craft in online learning, and it takes a lot of effort from the teacher to create opportunities for collaboration and social interaction online. However, the pandemic has highlighted the value of personal connection and how important it is for students to connect with and work with their peers, both to improve their mental health and to improve their learning. If we look at some of the skills that are essential for students in the 21st century, such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking and communication, students have so many more opportunities to develop these skills when interacting with their peers. During remote learning, teachers can create opportunities for students to interact virtually, either through various discussion platforms or video conferencing tools.

Teacher Professional Development
Teacher professional development is not often prioritised by schools or districts, perhaps because of time or funding constraints, but having to move to online learning has once again shown the importance of such opportunities. Most teachers want to learn and during the past few months there have been thousands of resources and webinars created for teachers, by teachers. However, most teachers have had to learn these new skills in a very short period of time, and under quite stressful circumstances. If we truly want to transform education, teachers need more opportunities and incentives to attend valuable professional development during the normal course of a year.

I believe it was Winston Churchill who said “never let a good crisis go to waste”. I hope the Covid-19 pandemic makes us take a look at all the different elements of our education systems, and that we don’t just “go back to normal”, but create a new normal. Perhaps in this new normal we can move a few steps closer to Sir Ken Robinson’s view of education and a few steps closer to an education system that truly serves our students in the 21st century.

Lisa is a Writer, Educator and EdTech transformation coach from Cape Town, South Africa. As a Google for Education coach and advocate, Lisa has unique insight into the impact that Google for Education and its implementation into Educational environments has. Not only from a practical standpoint and how this impacts the learning tools available in the school but the mentality and mindset that if fostered, can so greatly enhance the learning of students and teachers.  
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