As we pass through unpredicted tough times in our life systems consequent to Covid, the last twelve months has put all of us into new experiences. Issues relating to lockdowns, social distancing, fear of sickness, medical preparedness, cure management, low-income issues, restrictions to marketing and online working have also impacted our thoughts, actions, emotions and social relationships. With a huge input of negativity from several external sources, many have suffered from Xenophobia – the fear of the unknown. Increased anxiety, emotional imbalance, depression, aggression and a sense of low self-esteem have haunted the community in all age groups including the school going children. Nevertheless, the school system responded positively to the situation by providing some basic inputs of learning to the children at home. Though the quality of such knowledge inputs could be debated, questioned and left to audit, there is no denial of the fact that the focus was in student engagement to keep them emotionally and intellectually a bit dynamic. The role of the teaching community needs to be applauded as they responded to the change with a sense of courage, conviction and knew the need of learning newer methods. Even when they could not rise to the expected standards due to limitations of technology and other reasons, their attitude was commendation.
With increased possibilities of schools getting back to their regular course sooner than later, the school leaders need to engage in some constructive thinking as to the kind of challenges they would meet. Though there could be many challenges which they have to face as and when they arise, most of them could be encapsuled into the following large concerns.
1. PSYCHOLOGICAL REHABILITATION
As the schools reopen, though the learners are expected to come with renewed energy and with a sense of happiness, the long absence from their routine, time and place of their study, the eco-system in which their displaced learning took place and the absence of emotional contact from the teachers will have a bearing on their psyche. The pedagogical interventions through technology would certainly have modified their neural architecture and to re-engineer it back to the classical model might take some time and need for psychological rehabilitation. Further, many learners might have been mute witnesses to sickness, death, financial challenges and other trauma at home; hence there is every possibility that they need a lot of healing and a conscious considerate helping arm from the school. The role of school counsellors is likely to become more intense and engaging. The schools without such supports might have to take immediate steps to fill the gap if any. Lastly, the school heads need to have a dialogue with their core team to develop a consensus in handling such issues.
2. ENSURING SAFE HEALTH MANAGEMENT
The reopening of schools needs to be done with extensive audit of health safety within the campus. Even a slight aberration in health management issues may not be taken lightly both by the parents and the authorities in place. The ball game would be to fix responsibilities for such issues. Such arrangements cannot be done in a lop-sided manner and have to be done with the support of medical professional and health inspectors. The entire procedure of health management concerns has to be put on record, listed and guidelines issued in clear terms. Parents need to be made aware of these steps. Small group of members from the teaching and the parent community could be made periodic auditors of such procedures. Violations if any needs to be recorded and steps taken to remedy the same. It is quite likely that the lapses on these issues might lead to reconsideration of the status of such schools.
3. RESPONDING TO NEW SYSTEMIC NEEDS
The entire school organizational system would need review and repositioning. All systems in school including transportation, medical audit of students, assemblies, co-curricular event and the like which call for large gathering, interactions would need a review. Further the school timings, student movements, parental visits, visits of external agencies in the school campus have to be regulated. The school leaders need to a hawkish view to scrupulously examine the details at the minuscular level so that gaps if any are addressed. Possibly, establishment of some quality circles in the school for each major area that needs to be attended to, can be put in place. With extensive possibilities of technology intervention and blended learning on the anvil, the systemic approach to processes has to be refabricated to meet the new requirements.
4. PREPARING FOR NEW CURRICULAR ARCHITECTURE
Alongside the covid challenges, the new NEP has also come into force. The school heads need to review their curricular architecture keeping in mind both these emerging concerns. The future holds promise for a more liberal school system with empowering learnability of the learners rather than the directed learning models driven by authority so long. With online approaches and blended learning modes, and in some cases with flipped classroom approaches, the entire design of the curricular delivery needs to be re-articulated. With focus shifting to skills, experiential learning and integration of arts and other humanistic disciplines of learning, the learning packages will have to be designed to provoke curiosity and creative thinking. As such, with adequate focus on self-learning in the new NEP, the lesson plans of teacher would need a fresh vision and methods of operation.
5. PREPARING AND DELIVERING BLENDED CURRICULUM
Blended learning models would develop more as a necessity rather than a commercial availability. The school heads will have a challenging task of orienting, preparing and empowering their teachers to the newer pedagogies which focus on developing social consciousness and social construction of knowledge. The kind of sources and resources schools would need might put pressure on the fiscal domain of the school. With time-space constraints liberated, the schools might have to out-reach the learners with learning inputs to facilitate learning choices, learning styles and customized learning inputs. In short, the text-centric learning would get replaced with multiple sources for learning including e-content. Teachers might have to harness the technology to provide realistic learning experiences by empowering themselves with global dynamics in knowledge transfer and knowledge synthesis.
6. DESIGNING REVISED ASSESSMENT PATTERNS
With examinations of the Boards in several states being set aside, there will be a huge rethinking on the modus operandi of examinations. More credible, continuous and systematized assessment systems based on technology would be the new guests in the school environment. The need for examinations at the primary level will be re-examined. Focus will shift towards assessing the process of learning rather than assessing the amount of learning. The power of knowledge will be questioned rather than quantum of knowledge. School heads would do well to prepare their mindset for putting in place such changes rather than resisting them on the grounds of fear of success.
7. ENABLING NEW TECHNOLOGICAL DESIGNS
With students adequately exposed to pedagogy on technology, there will be an implied demand for online learning inputs especially in the context of their providing time-space free learning. The technological environment of the school would possibly have to be reviewed to put in place more fast, more dependable, more accessible and more safe technology. Schools might have move from simple technology literacy and availability to ‘technology competency’ with current technologies. The storage of information in clouds has to be secured, encrypted and focus on data protection has to be addressed. With huge possibilities of data leakage of learners by commercial vendors, the school heads would become more accountable to all aspects of technology management. They cannot excuse themselves either for ignorance or for transfer of trust to anyone else in the campus. With artificial intelligence, VR, Mixed reality and Augmented Reality impacting the content and pedagogical domains, the schools would be required to invest on future technologies.
8. ENHANCING TEACHER COMPETENCY
One of the significant challenges school heads would face is to induct competent teaching faculties with skills in appropriate technology. With changing trends in content design for classroom delivery, with new designs for e-content development to facilitate customized learning, with newer pedagogies that demand collaborative and participative learning, with focus on experiential and integrated learning, with newer inputs from neuro-cognitive researchers, there is a visible expansion in the learning domains of the teachers. In order to provide them the requisite leadership, the school heads need to remain always current and competent. Their role as academic leaders would come into play in a significant manner.
9. RESTRUCTURING RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT
With the teacher-student relationship having seen new lows, with increasing stress in Teacher- parent relationships, the opening of schools would give way for many to let off their steam in one or the other way. The trust systems of the schools might be challenged and questioned. The school heads would find extremely difficult times to put back the school brands in the erstwhile position. Parents who have experienced challenging times either due to health issues or due to professional issues and suffering from fiscal concerns would raise several questions. It would indeed take quite a time for the schools to get out of this rough weather. The school heads need to hold their cool and patience. Their emotional intelligence will have a large use in the coming days.
10. Managing Fiscal Concerns
Though management of fiscal concerns is not a primary issue of the school heads in many schools, as there are other management representatives or administrators looking after them, the decline in financial inputs to schools might bring increasing conflict between managements and the principal, in some cases, school heads would find themselves in extreme stress to handle such situation leading to psychological depression and low self-esteem. With inadequate money available on hand for quality improvement of existing concerns, they may also find it difficult to infuse goodwill and trust among the staff under them. However, such issues may not last more than one year under the prevailing circumstances.
Well, over and above all these challenges, one of the biggest challenges the school heads might face is to be always on the defending mode to all the questions being raised by the beau acracy with a suspicious eye and the urgency to demonstrate the power.
The objective of highlighting these concerns is only to sensitize the school heads and prepare their minds and skills with a deep understanding of the prevailing issues.