In the second post of a two-part series, Dulce Rivera Osorio explores what’s changing in schools by scanning news articles that report on educational “micro-innovations” developing by in the US and internationally by non-profit organizations, private companies, and states and education systems. In Part 1, Thomas Hatch introduced micro-innovations and then Rivera shared a number of examples of micro-innovations being made in instruction or school/district operations that have been described in media articles from the US. To learn more about the numerous proposals to change schools and “reimagine education” post-COVID, read IEN’s previous post: Is anything changing in US schools post-pandemic? Possibilities for rethinking time, place and supports for well-being.
In addition to changes in structures, resources, and practices at the classroom and school/district level, news articles have discussed a variety of micro-innovations that have been introduced by nonprofits and private companies in the US. To give a sense of the variety of initiatives, companies like Highland Electric Fleets and Thomas Built Buses have worked with school districts to cover the upfront costs involved in shifting from conventional buses to electric buses (US schools can subscribe to an electric school bus fleet at prices that beat diesel).
Airbnb, working in partnership with the National Education Association, has developed an adaptation to their hosting approach that provides extra income to teachers based in the US who share their homes through Airbnb (NEA, Airbnb partnership aims to help teachers supplement income). Nonprofits like the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs have provided before and after-school programs for some time, but during the school closures of the pandemic they helped provide child care, academic support and access to recreational and arts activities by implementing socially distanced “learning camps” in some parts of the country (New Players Fill Child-Care Gap as Schools Go Remote). The Boys and Girls Clubs have also been actively developing new programs to support career and workforce learning. As the The Hechinger Report describes, clubs in Indiana, Washington State, and Montana have been working with Transfr, a technology start-up, to use virtual reality to develop “immersive” career and workforce training simulations for manufacturing, carpentry, public safety, hospitality and automotive industries (Future of learning with virtual reality).
State and national education systems have also been developing responses to the challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the school closures that rely on a variety of new structures and programs. Alaska is creating its own digital content delivery system to aid rural communities and areas with poor internet connectivity (From Alaska Schools Creating Digital Networks to Aid Remote Learning to a Homework Freeze in Texas to Limit Screen Time, 9 Ways States Are Aiding Schools Amid COVID-19). Texas is implementing a state-wide telemedicine program so that school children can access therapists in school (State telemedicine program allows Texas children to see therapists at schools).
New policies and changes in policies are also encouraging districts and schools to develop new resources and mechanisms to support teachers and schools. In California, lawmakers made innovative changes in zoning policies that allow school districts to build staff housing on any property the district owns without requiring zoning changes from city or county officials (California removes hurdles to building teacher housing). At the national level in the US, federal agencies like the EPA are providing funding for states to take advantage of new technologies and developments that can both save schools money and support the environment (EPA nearly doubles funding to districts for clean school bus rebates). The passage of a $430 trillion spending package designed to address the global climate crisis includes a host of provisions that provide creative ways schools and districts can save money and support the planet. As a new guide from the Aspen Institute and the World Resources Institute (K12 Education and Climate Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act) reports, districts can now get tax credits to support energy-reducing innovations in the form “direct pay” – cash payments to the district instead of through credits claimed by a third party that made the whole process problematic (Quick Hacks: How Schools Can Cut Costs and Help the Environment).
Outside the US, NGO’s, companies, and education systems are also looking for new ways to address issues as varied as a shortage of bus drivers, “remote learning,” and mother-tongue language instruction. In Australia and New Zealand, GoKid, a carpooling app, hopes to aid the shortage of school bus drivers by making carpooling more accessible and easier for parents (GoKid partners to address school transportation crisis). The app helps parents to find carpool partners in a school or school district by providing a rough location map of nearby families and suggesting optimized routes.
In India, as a recent Brookings report explains, the development of young mothers’ groups created new ways to support learning at home during school closures. With the support of the Pratham Education Foundation, groups of 4 – 6 mothers met weekly or fortnightly to share experiences and access “idea cards” sent via WhatsApp containing games, activities, and recipes. For children in grades three to six, youth volunteers led small groups of children in “mini learning camps” for one to two hours per day using simple instructional activities and materials made by the children. In Bangladesh, BRAC dealt with the school closures by creating “phone schools.” In these “schools,” locally-recruited and trained teachers conducted virtual classes in group calls with three to four children. BRAC reported that those calls reached over 180,000 students in more than 7,000 schools (The power of community as a catalyst to tackle disrupted learning).
With emerging evidence supporting the expansion of mother tongue instruction, South Africa has instituted policies to support mother tongue instruction in grades 1, 2, and 3, but now the Eastern Cape education department allows high school students who are taking the matric exams to answer using their home language (Policy options to crack the mother tongue versus English riddle in South African schools). That kind of development can encourage schools to offer mother-tongue instruction through grade 12. As provincial education official Fundile Gade put it, “China, Singapore and Germany use their own languages. English is a secondary language, like other languages, so it can’t be given preference as if pupils can’t learn and develop outside of English (Matric pupils to write exams in isiXhosa and Sotho at Eastern Cape schools).
New Players Fill Child-Care Gap as Schools Go Remote, Education Week
Future of learning with virtual reality, Hechinger Report
K12 Education and Climate Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, World Resources Institute
Quick Hacks: How Schools Can Cut Costs and Help the Environment, Education Week