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Back To Schools – With A Bagful Of Burdens

By G. Balasubramanian

“Back to Schools” is indeed a slogan that is comforting, encouraging and reassuring. We may get back to schools soon once the health concerns are cleared and post covid safety procedures are set in place as standard operating procedures. Our children will get back to their uniforms, they will get back to their classrooms and their playgrounds. But the moot question is – whether they would come back with the same mindset that they had in the pre-covid scenario? It is anybody’s guess. Why?

1. There has been a significant impact on their socio-emotional architecture

2. There has been a disconnect in their relationship patterns.

3. There is a visible change in their learning styles.

4. There is a perceived derailment from their earlier learning strategies.

5. There is a reported loss in their learning time and schedule.

6. The pedagogical interactions between the teacher and the learners have suffered extensively.

7. There is a reported to distraction in their focus, attention and quality in learning situations both online and offline.

8. The emotional connect between the teacher and the learner, and among the peers has suffered leading to weakening of social bonds and in some cases leading to psychological apathy.

9. The modes of assessment online have not proved to be of great quality and most of them are relating only to data analytics and their feedback.

10. There is a general evidence of a laisse-faire approach to delivery models as well as to learning management systems.

All these would indeed call for a re-engineering of our past thought architecture about our school infrastructure, planning, delivery models, curricular designs, pedagogical approaches and assessment models. The Heads of institutions would be required to reposition their strategies to cope with the emerging challenges. That leads us to the question – what are the key areas that would need the attention of the school managers? It can be largely classified into the following categories:

1. Learning Management Systems

2. Relationship Management systems

3. Resource Management Systems

4. Safety Management Systems

5. Quality Management Systems

Learning Management Systems

With increasing impact of informal learning processes on the formal learning processes, the overall design of the learning management system needs to be reviewed. There is likely to be paradigm shifts in the focus, attention, aptitude, concentration and other learning profiles of the learner consequent to the long gap from formal learning modes and the complexities arising out of the conflicts between formal and informal learning traits. Linearity and straight jacketed methods would have to give way to better logistics in learning accommodating the individual and time-variant choices of learning for the learner.

Though myopic consumerist attitudes in learning would not be desirable, the immediacy of some knowledge constructs and their real time utility would force educators to compromise with some of the time-tested concepts, practices, aims and objectives. Blended curricula, blended approaches to pedagogy and differential assessment patterns which are more authentic, valid and validate the skills will have to find their way. With minimal frequency of the learner’s physical presence, the focus would shift to facilitating self-learning practices through knowledge facilitation and content supplies which are better designed to stimulate curiosity, persistence of learning and motivation for continued authentic learning. Both institutions and markets will have to engage with newer ideas to experiment that will have a futuristic value for anytime, anywhere learning.

Relationship Management systems

Relationship profiles have been extensively impacted because of Covid both at the physical level and at the psychological level. Bonding between people have become more fragile, suspicious, fear-prone, emotionally less engaging. At the institutional level, questions were raised about the absence of the traditional bonding between the teacher and the learner on the online models of transaction. Though these charges are meaningful and need to be considered, other models of emotional engagements with learners have neither been experimented nor the teachers exposed to such models for want of time. Parents, who had already been emotionally impacted due to several facets of their livelihood, both professionally and otherwise, majority of them distanced themselves from the concerns of the school system. Their absence of trust in non-traditional models of transactions including blended learning models has further weakened the bonding profile of the parents with teachers and schools. With increasing mistrust and demands for better accountability from each other, the entire population of stakeholders in school education have contributed to the weaking of the system, which will take long to revert to normalcy. Social psychologists have a challenging time in addressing to these emerging issues.

Resource Management systems

With a paradigm shift to informal modes of curricular delivery models, the kind of resources the schools would need will be different. Development of e-content which are appropriate to the differential model of the learning context, the relevant pedagogy, newer modes of credible assessment patterns supported by the technology and its environment are but a few to mention as the resources required immediately for smooth transition to occur. While a lot of the existing resources would become increasingly either irrelevant or out of use, the institutions would be required to plan and equip themselves with other resources sooner than later. Apart form the physical and infrastructural resources, the challenge would be to re-energize and re-position the existing human resources and to seek competent and current human resources who could respond productively to the emerging needs. All these would certainly impact the financial resources of the school. While at one end the schools would need more and more of support systems at cost, the shockwaves the schools have experienced due to depleted incomes will take a long time to both counter and to acquire reasonable stability. Thus, a mismatch between the available financial resources and the target expenditure will continue to create excessive stress in management of school systems. It would be worthwhile for the Governments to support schools in the private sector also with some concessions so that they can raise to meet the quality needs for the future.

Safety Management systems

Safety concerns in schools will gravitate the attention of all stakeholders and the public watchdogs. Schools would need to make safety as integral to routine without any compromise, for whatever reason it could be. Safety designs in schools would not only be viewed in school architecture and its maintenance, but in the processes – individual, collaborative, collective and as a community. It would call for a cultural change in thought and action, with the need for experts in various dimensions of human safety. A new set of Standard Operating Procedures need to be evolved and put in place, though such SOPs would have some elements which are fundamental to the entire system and more characteristic to the individual schools. Periodic audit of the safety management practices would become a part of the school credit procedures and hence the school leaders and those in charge of such management practices would need to be more current, interactive and investigative. School safety circles would have to put in place for close and intensive scrutiny comprising of people both from inside and outside. Pre-emptive procedures to ensure safety coupled with awareness, alertness, preparedness and sensitivity have to be a part of the spectrum of considerations.

Quality Management Systems

Every institution has its own vision of quality and wants to project their brands based on certain definitions of quality or some authorized practices put in place by institutions which certify quality. However, all these tools and techniques of assessment of quality would need review in the emerging context. With formal structures giving way to informal structures, quality validations and relevant tools for quality assessment would have to be modified. The assessment patterns need to be more inclusive to understand the socio-cultural context in which the institutions are functioning and the compulsions in their institutional profile management. Hence more contextual and customized modes of quality assessment would be required for a few more years. In so far as institutions are concerned, they need to have an internal brain-storming to review their current models to make them more purposeful, relevant, customer-friendly and reachable. Classical models of quality assessment would need to be more accommodative and facilitative rather than prescriptive and dominant.

“Back to School” will no more be a ceremony to be performed, but an engaging exercise that is meaningful, relevant and pragmatic.