What to expect from the new academic year post-lockdown

academic year post-lockdown
© Tatyana Tomsickova

In light of schools reopening at the beginning of the month, Simon Carter, Director at RM Education, highlights what is to be expected from the new academic year post-lockdown

New year 7s missed out on certain rites of passage this summer. Visiting their new school for the first time, trying on their new school uniform in store, and window shopping for pencil cases were all relegated to being “non-essential” during lockdown. But there is a silver lining.

The last six months have been like no other in history. And that means that the education sector – often thought of as antiquated and slow to adapt (remember those cast iron radiators and waxed wooden floors?) – has had to catapult itself into the digital age. For its students, that means the new academic year brings with it a generation of school staff digitally primed to teach in a way that will better prepare them for jobs of the future.  And that’s not all…

From children sitting in rows in a classroom, to children accessing learning resources for themselves from home, schools evolved during lockdown to ensure education would always remain a constant for all children – whatever their circumstances. But now that lockdown measures have eased, and the new academic year has begun, what can we expect from the sector’s “new normal”?

Continuity planning is a must

World Youth Skills Day took place at a watershed moment for school leaders and educators this year. Schools, colleges and universities were all forced to adapt to offer lessons remotely after COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures posed a significant threat to the continuity of young people’s skills development.

And while most of the school and colleges had to physically close their doors to all but a handful of students, their remote offerings, along with the wave of apps and technology designed to support online learning, quickly rose to prominence to help bridge the gap. From primary school pupils through to mature students, putting anyone’s education on pause simply wasn’t an option.

As such, it has quickly become clear that technology is no longer a luxury but a necessity for schools. From empowering staff to offer the same high-quality teaching from their homes, to helping learners to develop a range of hard and soft digital skills online, and even facilitating better collaboration between the two, technology has become a lifeline for educators. And, most importantly, it has permanently changed the way the sector operates.

Now that pupils have returned to schools, it’s time for educators to ensure that both their staff and pupils have access to the right technology to be able to continue their education (wherever they are), have been trained in how to make the most use of it, and have the confidence to seamlessly move between a lesson delivered in a classroom and collaborating on an assignment with classmates from home..

Tech is a friend, not foe

Ultimately, the pivot to remote learning is only possible if all learners have access to computers, mobile devices, a working internet connection and the software platform to make it happen. Now that the new academic year has kickstarted, all schools should have the right technology in place so that their students can reap the rewards from the very first week.

After all, the future of technology in education does not rely solely on creating new, exciting and innovative tools, but in thinking about how existing technology can make digital learning safe, accessible and equal for all.

For schools and colleges, this means utilising digital tools as effectively as possible – and shaping them where needed – to make them work for their learners and staff, inside as well as outside of the classroom. Until this extraordinary forced lockdown, where the world’s educators had to learn to teach online overnight, technology has often been underused and schools haven’t managed to get the best bang for their buck.

Embrace change

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the whole sector must look to champion flexibility and make the most of all that technology has to offer – as well as ensure there’s a well thought out plan in place before implementing that technology more widely. Whether that’s using video conferencing when people cannot attend parents’ evenings, sharing learning resources with students on sick days, and even upending students’ overall approach to work (maintaining that students read the resources themselves first before approaching teachers virtually with any questions), technology can empower schools and colleges to be even better than they are already. It’s through technology that teachers can even better manage their own workloads, while still encouraging pupils to collaborate on assignments.

Those schools that take forward the digital learnings from lockdown are those that stand to reap the biggest rewards and best prepare their students for the digital economy.

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