Australia: What lessons has education learned from the coronavirus crisis?

What lessons has education learned from the coronavirus crisis?

Australian teachers and academics are grappling with what lasting changes the coronavirus disruption will have on the education system.

Education academic Carlo Perrotta says the coronavirus crisis has reinforced the importance of the classroom.CREDIT:PAUL JEFFERS

The enormous task of switching to remote learning turned traditional teaching on its head in a matter of weeks. As lockdown restrictions slowly ease and students and teachers take tentative steps back into the classroom, the full impact of the upheaval remains to be seen.

The technological challenges and advances brought on by the pandemic should give people new perspective on classroom tech, says Monash University digital education researcher Dr Carlo Perrotta.

“The need for physical contact and close meaningful relationships that schools provide; it’s an important aspect we mustn’t lose,” he said.

Dr Perrotta said the move to remote learning had shown nothing could replace the effect of face-to-face teaching. He said in future the focus should be on better tech resources, rather than simply more. The most effective choices would be those that best mimic physical interaction, such as video conferencing.

He said: “Seeing somebody’s face and being able to talk in a more direct manner, hearing somebody’s voice, those have a mitigating effect on the dehumanising process that technology has.”

As well as practical changes, many hope there will be a cultural shift in which education is better valued and understood.

Dr Emily Berger, an educational psychology lecturer at Monash, said she wanted to see teachers recognised as frontline workers.

“Teachers take on the work of being educators, social workers, counsellors, outreach workers, case managers and food banks,” she said.

“I would like to see teachers being better supported in those roles through appropriate training, ongoing support and improved access to social workers, psychologists and counsellors at all Australian schools.”

Deakin University professor Phil Riley, co-author of an annual survey of principals’ wellbeing, hoped improved respect for school staff would be a lasting societal change.

“We know from anecdotal evidence that many parents, although impacted themselves, are deeply appreciative of this work by principals and educators,” he said.

“We hope this points to a future in which there is greater awareness and acknowledgment of the many stresses and challenges that principals face on a regular basis as they lead their students and staff.”

Victorian English teacher Margaret Hickey has gained a newfound love of teaching.

Victorian English teacher Margaret Hickey has gained a newfound love of teaching.CREDIT: Kellie Cairncross

Some teachers are finding they now have renewed passion for their profession.

Dr Margaret Hickey teaches senior English at Cathedral College in Wangaratta and says she has fallen in love with teaching again.

“Isolation and solitude have been a chance to reflect on these things and made me think education is such a great place to be and to work in,” she said.

“I’m so impressed by the way we’ve been able to be flexible. We know now that whatever adversity comes in society that teachers are the people who can roll with the punches.”

Dr Hickey said people should also remember the resilience of students once this time has passed.

“My Year 12s are wonderful. They have just taken it on the chin and got to work,” she said.

“My students and my colleagues; the way they’ve all adapted has been really impressive.”

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