Education Post Corona

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Education Post Corona

We have seen massive disruptions to education in the era of cornoavirus. Schools in many parts of the country have been closed, and are likely to remain closed even longer. That is going to disrupt not only this round of education, but what happens next time a crisis like this happens?

To understand where we go, we have to understand where we came from. Our educational system arose from the Industrial Revolution, to essentially train children to be good factory workers as adults. The reason they have large amounts of time off in the summer time is because at the time, large majorities of the population were in rural areas and these children were needed to work on the farm. Now most of the population is urban and our industrial economy is changing.

This model was a top-down method, where the teacher's role is to instruct the children and provide information. Piaget contended that children instead learned best when they constructed their own knowledge, and Vygotsky contended that children learn best when experienced members of their culture help them to learn tasks that are culturally relevant. Contrast that with what goes on in schools today. High school students constantly grumble and wonder, "when are we ever going to use this stuff?" The honest answer in 90% of the cases is, you're not. This model also suggests that there is a firm separation between what goes on in "school" and "not school." So as we respond to changes, what does this mean? How do educators assist young people in taking charge of their own learning and making relevant contributions to society?

We will need many innovative ideas. And no, forcing all education into an online format where children fry their eyes watching their teacher on a TV screen and exacerbating the problem of digital addiction in this society does not count. What will these innovative ideas look like?


Here's one viewpoint from Britain:


We cannot continue to have a system that has nearly 3,000 children with special educational needs and disabilities lacking a permanent school place. We cannot continue to have an exam system that leaves a third of pupils labelled as failures.

The use of education as an ideological and political football that fails the most vulnerable must end. We cannot continue with a toxic exam system that is based on rote learning and an out-of-date curriculum chosen by whoever happens to be the education secretary, and an exam system that has been responsible for a dramatic rise in child and adolescent mental health illness.

We have got to stop the testing hamster wheel that burns out children. We cannot continue to allow 16-year-olds to sit 33 hours of GCSE exams, when education and training continues to age 18 and beyond.

We must end the fixation with A-levels as the “gold standard”, just because they’ve been around a long time. Our education system must recognise the achievements of all and must not continue to label those who take a vocational education route as less worthy or less valuable, or their qualifications less rigorous.

We must end the education “market” and the game playing, end the practice of schools competing against each other for pupils, results and league table places.


No more dorms in Alberta universities:


First-year University of Calgary students who were destined for dormitory-style residences will now be moved to apartment-style residences to allow for better physical distancing due to COVID-19 — but the move comes with a price increase of $3,000.

The University of Alberta has also decided not to offer dorm-style rooms this coming year, only offering shared apartments or single rooms with bathrooms at about $2,000 more a year on average than the cheaper accommodations.

The University of Calgary's website says it has chosen not to use traditional dormitory-style residences this fall because of the shared washroom facilities, and that first-year student communities would be established in buildings with two and three-bedroom suites.

Perhaps a worthwhile idea whose time has come. Of course, I'm sure the higher price tag for students is justified, and that the university would never try and capitalize on something like a pandemic as an excuse to charge people more money. If Lethbridge can pull that off without charging extra money, why can't Calgary?

Douglas Fir Premier

I just received notice from the non-credit university program for homeless and low-income folks which I've attended for years has been cancelled for at least the fall semester. Beyond the loss of the course itself, I'm sure this will be devastating news for quite a few longtime regulars, as many have come to rely on it not only as an escape from everyday isolation, but also for the hearty and nutritious meals served prior to the weekly discussion groups.

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

Oh that is really sad to hear Douglas. I was shocked to learn from a friend who is now teaching at Carlton University that the once long standing policy of letting citizens over 65 years old attend university for free (not sure if it was non-credit or not but probably) had been discontinued some decades before. I was looking forward to taking advantage of such a program - hoping it was universal and applicable across the country.


Yes, also sorry to hear about the university cancelling the low income program, that sucks.   

I agree that COVID has presented an opportunity to rethink and rework public education, but I must confess to a somewhat crushing pessimism about how it will play out in Ontario in the near term.

In public schools in Toronto, teachers are being asked to prepare for several senarios:

1.   full reopening

2.  rotating schedule, students come in for 1 week, then do school from home for a week, so as to allow social distancing within the classroom

3.  fully remote

There has been a little new funding (more accurately some previous cuts were reversed) to help prepare for this, but no new funding, resources or training for teachers.   My partner is a high school teacher and she and her coworkers are freaked by the lack of information, resources, discussion, anything.   I don't know that we have a government, under the Ford in particular, and perhaps under neoliberal capitalism generally, with the capacity to act on any basis other than their free market ideology and instinct for self-preservation.    I expect another conservative media push on privatized education as things come apart at the seams in the fall.


I'm so sorry to hear this, Douglas. It really goes to the idea that there are so many aspects of public health that are intertwined with one another. I can't imagine how devastating that must be for the people who have come to rely on those services.

Douglas Fir Premier

Thanks, all!

If anyone's curious, here's a piece from a few years ago about the program. It also mentions UBC's Humanities 101 program, with whom - if I recall correctly - Catchfire was once an instructor.

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

That article is so uplifting. I am originally from Ottawa and I had no idea that St. Paul University and U of O had set up the Discovery University. How enlightened and beautiful. Makes me even sadder about its closure.

Catchfire is certainly missed on this forum by me. Great guy with a huge heart.


What does screen-free remote learning look like?


As school districts across nation make plans for the fall semester—with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forcing varying degrees of reliance on remote learning—scores of education experts on Tuesday sounded the alarm over the very real threat to students posed by increased screen time.

The warning comes in a new statement (pdf) that cites risks to student privacy, the potential entrenchment of controversial educational technology (EdTech), and students' need for authentic and human engagement.

"With no end in sight to the pandemic, school leaders would do well to remember that remote learning does not have to equal online learning, and to emphasize offline approaches to support children's wellbeing and learning," said Faith Boninger, Ph.D. of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder's School of Education.

Boninger is one of 70 experts that signed onto the statement authored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's (CCFC) Children's Screen Time Action Network. The call is also backed by three dozen advocacy groups including the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Badass Teachers Association, Boston Teachers Union, and ParentsTogether.

The groups say their message applies "whether school is in-person, remote, or some combination thereof" and suggest educators eye with suspicion claims from the companies that sell educational technology under the guise of personalized learning. As the joint statement explains:

Seizing an opportunity to capture a larger portion of the $10 trillion global education market, for-profit EdTech vendors are selling families and policymakers the false premise that EdTech products offer effective and budget-friendly ways to learn. In reality, the products are costly to purchase and maintain, and frequently crowd teachers and staff out of the budget. The products also ensnare students, whose data and brand loyalty are harvested, and who often become targets of relentless marketing efforts. These efforts include the insidious practice of upselling, through which students and their families are pushed to purchase premium versions, thereby exacerbating inequalities among students. Equally important, these programs reduce the roles played by creative, compassionate teachers in educating the whole child.

"Learning happens best in the context of human relationships and is lost when the balance is skewed toward online platforms," the groups argue.


Yes, I miss Catchfire very much.


This is a trend that I hope continues:

"The phone is [ringing] off the hook and I can't even keep track," said Chris Green, a former classroom teacher who started the outdoor school eight years ago.

He and his team have added seven new programs this year, all of which have been filling up. They've also partnered with a local Montessori school to offer a full-time option, where around 30 kids, split into two groups, will spend half the day in a classroom and the other half outdoors.

"For me, it's always made sense to have kids outside," Green said. "And now it makes double the sense, because it has now shifted from an educational and developmental initiative, to a kind of preventative public health initiative."


Indeed, the appeal of open-air activities during the COVID-19 pandemic is rooted in science. Dr. Linsey Marr of Virginia Tech studies how viruses spread through the air. She said COVID-19 transmission by air is happening — "there's really no question anymore."

When asked why there's a lower risk of transmission outside, she recommended picturing a smoker. Outside, she said, the exhaled smoke "rapidly disperses throughout the atmosphere and becomes very dilute." Indoors, on the other hand, it gets "trapped."

While masks, physical distancing and proper ventilation can go a long way to help curb the spread of the virus in schools, Dr. Marr said she would seize upon "any opportunity that there is to move an activity outdoors."

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is trying to increase those opportunities for its students, encouraging teachers to take classes outside whenever possible this year. But schools that don't have a forest on their property will need to think differently about using the space beyond their doors.


Teachers and students will have to get used to "traveling around and using the community as classroom as well," he said. Ideas range from reading aloud to a class in the yard, to teaching about climate change in a nearby ravine, or learning about local history while walking around the neighbourhood.

Hawker-Budlovsky said there will be challenges, and admitted the plan has skeptics. But he's excited about the idea of getting kids outside more often.

I find it ironic that after decades of hysteria about how dangerous it was to have children outside, which has resulted in things like children spending more time in front of screens, now it might be covid hysteria that pushes them back outside where we realize the benefits of being there all the long.


This is an interesting experiment:


Q. Can you describe what you actually did in your lesson that day?

Well, I essentially put together packets of wires, batteries, a switch, lights and a multimeter for pairs of students to use to assemble a working circuit. We learned terms like “conductor” and “insulator” and some of the basic elements necessary for a circuit. Then students built circuits that allowed them to turn a light ‘off’ and ‘on’ with a switch. They also used the multimeter to measure the voltage of different batteries as well as the voltage across the light while in the circuit. Finally, we used whiteboards to record our voltages (I am notorious for requiring students to write the units for ALL measurements they make), and draw diagrams of the circuits they constructed.

We were able to accomplish more in 1 ½ hours in the park than we could in 2-3 weeks of remote learning. More importantly, students got to work together and manipulate tangible, 3-dimensional objects with their hands, using all their senses in a real world environment. There is no replacement for this kind of social and experiential learning, which was a big part of our messaging about this event.

One student’s mother participated as a learner along with her daughter as her circuit partner. This is actually how I think education should be conducted in school. I believe classrooms should be cross-generational based only on a person’s desire to learn, not on an age group or some Taylorist educational assembly-line model.

When the lesson was done, most of the students and family members stayed to enjoy pizza and play outside in the park. I loved playing Jenga with one of the families and the opportunity to better get to know them.

Our event in the park was by far the best educational experience of the year, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.