Premier Daniel Andrews announced this week that all government primary, secondary and special schools will move to home-based remote teaching and learning when Term 2 begins next Wednesday April 15. (A few parents had panic attacks soon after the announcement).
But for those parents of students fortunate enough to have access to digital learning tools, they will of course get over it and adapt – and remember that they are the lucky ones.
Because not everyone is lucky, and the so-called “digital divide” is still present in Victoria, and follows some clear economic, social and geographic contours – that is, broadly, Australians with low levels of income, education, employment or those who are marginalised in some regional areas across the state.
To mitigate this disadvantage and ensure digital inclusion, the Premier also announced that the Government will loan more than 6,000 laptops and deliver free Telstra SIM cards to thousands of students at government schools who don’t have access to digital technologies, so more of them can learn from home. Priority for the SIM cards and dongles will be given to senior secondary students, students in bushfire affected areas, and families who cannot afford an internet connection at home.
This state-implemented measure will bridge the divide for some students and families, but the wide-scale educational disruption is indeed complex, especially for those in their final years of school.
Despite insistent calls from the head of the principal’s union for the VCE to be scrapped, the 2020 Year 12 exams will still go ahead but move to December. The number of SACs will be reduced, and all students will receive an ATAR though it might be derived differently to the past. The Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority are currently working with the Department to determine the best solution redesign. Universities will also be asked to delay the start of semester 1 in 2021.
Given this state-wide shift to remote learning, many schools have also offered reduced fees or payment plans to families who are experiencing changed circumstances or financial hardship due to the COVID-19 economic hibernation. This will no doubt cause gaping holes in balance sheets for the private sector down the line.
But the real impact of today’s announcement is that hundreds of thousands of parents, educators and students across Victoria will therefore begin a new normal next week, and the biggest home-schooling, remote learning (and working juggle) experiment in Australian history, as we continue to pivot our systems to try and flatten the COVID-19 curve.
Obviously we are not alone. To date, it is estimated that more than 1 billion students globally are experiencing educational disruption – a figure without precedent – as schools across the world have closed in scale-up efforts to contain the contagion.
Today’s move by the Victorian State Government had to be made. Tough times call for tough measures. But children not being at school for Term 2 will be deeply challenging for parents, teachers and employers – not just educationally, but socially, psychologically, emotionally and economically.
In our work at girledworld and Future Amp across e-learning, digital education technology and government regional program delivery, we have seen the pressure on secondary schools and higher education institutions in recent weeks as they grapple with staged COVID-19 containment measures and the rapid deployment of contingency strategies for e-learning, distance teaching and digital education delivery.
So we, like many businesses, have had to sprint to rapidly redesign and digitise our award-winning career education and employability skill programs, and pivot to remote, tech-enabled delivery models in a new education paradigm.
Likewise, in an effort to mitigate educational disruption and learning achievement in Term 2, schools and educators are currently scrambling to implement distance learning programmes and stitch together digital curriculum delivery solutions using open education platforms and mobile technologies to enable remote teaching and learning.
In many cases, it’s a steeper learning curve for educators than students.
What our team is noticing though, and openly (virtually) high fiving, is the much-awaited rapid uptake in the education sector of collaboration and work stream tools that have long been the toys of the startup sector.
Slack, Zoom, Dropbox, Zapier and Google’s G Suite have all experienced record growth in recent weeks. According to Techcrunch, work-from-home policies, social distancing and government lockdowns have increased the demand for video conferencing apps for both business and personal use, which hit their biggest week ever with 62 million downloads from March 14-21. Much of the growth in the category is due to the increased adoption of apps like Google’s Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom Cloud Meetings – many of which are being integrated into teaching and learning practice. This is a good thing.
This is the education revolution we had to have. Education needs to get up to speed with the tools, skills and systems of Industry 4.0 if we are going to equip the next generation with what they need to take Australia forward into a new economic and social era (whatever the hell that looks like).
Globally, leading educators have long held consensus that Education 4.0 design and delivery needs to morph into a multidisciplinary, mass personalisation user model based on greater learner autonomy and flexibility, and the development of core competencies in technical, creative and employability skills to meet Industry 4.0 needs.
So perhaps the silver lining in this unprecedented educational disruption is that we are moving toward the kind of hyper-personalised, blended, on-demand post-Industrial education models Gonski called for in his 2018 radical education system reform report.
The COVID-19 crisis is finally pushing pause, holding educators to account, and forcing us all to rapidly accelerate the innovation that’s been long-needed to rethink, redesign and recalibrate our teaching and learning systems, and fundamentally reexamine the role of education in our ever-more complex 21st Century world.
In the face of system contraction and societal crisis, education is forced to examine itself. Our old school, day-to-day ways of teaching and learning are gone – whether we’re ready to let them go or not.
So during this time of seismic educational shift, here is the real chance for our systems, our educators and our students to adapt, adopt, test, learn and pivot.
What we see, what we try, what we take and what we leave behind will turn out to be the greatest education of all.