Tag Archives: Covid-19

Owning educational change in Korean schools: Three driving forces behind sustainable change (Excerpt)

“Can the innovative educational changes imposed by the pandemic be sustained for the long-term?” That’s the question that Taeyeon Kim, Minseok Yang, and Sunbin Lim ask in the third commentary in a series launched by Corrie Stone-Johnson and the Journal of Educational Change. This question builds on the first commentary in that series by Yong Zhao and Jim Watterston – “The changes we need post-Covid” and the second “What can change in schools after the pandemic?” by Thomas Hatch. This week’s post provides an excerpt from the third commentary, highlighting they key lessons and implications from the pandemic experiences of educators in the Korean context. The full commentary can be found in the November issue of the Journal of Educational Change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered multiple aspects of everyday life, especially those requiring personal interactions and daily routines. As a result, the core practices of things like schooling and student learning have had to be fundamentally revised. Schools across the world have thus adopted policies and practices to facilitate virtual learning, which have forced educators to quickly learn how to design and enact online lessons with limited resources (United Nations, 2020). Schools have invented and established these routines as the “new normal,” all while navigating a persistent level of uncertainty. Although COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated the digital divide as well as social inequalities like economic and racial injustice (United Nations, 2020), scholars and educators have argued that this disruption also presents an opportunity for the equitable redesign of school systems (Zhao, 2020).
With massive vaccination efforts, schools are now preparing to go back to “normalcy” for post-COVID-19 education (see Durston et al., 2021; Meckler & George,2021). In reflecting on the many innovations schools have made during COVID-19 (e.g., online and blended learning, individualized support), it is important to consider Zhao and Watterston’s (2021) argument that the educational changes imposed by the pandemic may be unsustainable for the long-term.

While superficial changes in schooling made during the pandemic may not be sustainable, this essay offers a counter-narrative from the Korean context, in which educators re-constructed policies and teaching practices to fill the educational vacuum caused by COVID-19. The lessons we address here build on 23 Zoom interviews (including 17 individual interviews and six focus groups) conducted throughout the 2020 school year with Korean teachers, school and district leaders, and parents across the country. As education researchers residing in the US during the pandemic who previously worked as Korean school teachers, we wanted to present stories of how Korean schools implemented online and hybrid classes without largescale school closures and how educators made meaning of the changes forced by COVID-19.

“While superficial changes in schooling made during the pandemic may not be sustainable, this essay offers a counter-narrative from the Korean context, in which educators re-constructed policies and teaching practices to fill the educational vacuum caused by COVID-19”

What was most striking to us was the ownership of educational change reflected in the educators’ narratives. This sense of ownership can be understood as a “mental or psychological state of feeling owner of an innovation” that enables educators to understand how changes are applied and their specific roles in initiating these changes (Ketelaar et al., 2012, p. 5). In navigating and reflecting on the pandemic’s unexpected challenges, they placed themselves at the center of efforts to realize “future education.” Teachers and leaders thereby perceived educational innovations as both a short-term reaction to the pandemic and as sustainable transformations to lead in the long run. This sentiment was apparent in their responses to the sudden onset of COVID-19, as well as in their approach to schooling a year into the pandemic. For the Korean educators we interviewed, “back to school” does not mean back to pre-pandemic schooling of the past. Although we do not generalize their responses as “the Korean case,” our surveys of news articles, books, and online teacher communities in Korea indicate strong aspiration for changes stemming from critiques of pre-pandemic education.

Behind the ownership of sustainable changes: Three driving forces

Throughout the research process, we consistently asked what led the Korean educator participants to take ownership of school changes. As an irresistible force (Stone- Johnson, 2021), COVID-19 has imbued education communities with a sense of urgency and purpose to collectively revise school systems…Echoing the argument that COVID-19 catalyzed the realization of school reforms (Kim et al., in press), we identified three macro-level driving forces in participants’ stories that enabled transformations in Korean schools:

  • Policy discourse about “future education”
  • Professional teaching cultures
  • Using bureaucratic administration creatively

Lessons learned: Suggestions for back to school with COVID‑19

  • Offer a shared space for diverse policy actors
  • Adopt hybrid governance to coordinate resources
  • Balance commitments to others and self‑care

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the structure and practices of education systems around the world. It forced schools to change their core activities from the bottom up and create new ideas and systems to support student learning. Schooling during the pandemic has thus necessarily revealed challenges that must be addressed (e.g., widening achievement gaps), but it also surfaced opportunities for challenging the “old grammar of schooling” in how Korean educators took ownership of educational changes to collectively envision better ways of schooling during and after COVID-19.

“Schooling during the pandemic has thus necessarily revealed challenges that must be addressed (e.g., widening achievement gaps), but it also surfaced opportunities for challenging the “old grammar of schooling” in how Korean educators took ownership of educational changes to collectively envision better ways of schooling during and after COVID-19.”


Going Back to School Has Never Been Quite Like This (Part 4): Scanning the headlines from around the world

In the final part of this “Back to School” series, Thomas Hatch scans some of the headlines that describe critical issues in the new school year in many parts of the world.  Part 1 links to articles with some lessons from last year and guidance for reopening schools this year.  Part
draws together headlines that focus on the many challenges causing problems for schools in the US this year. Part 3 highlights headlines from states and cities in the US. Take a look at IEN’s “Back to School” headlines from 2020, from 2019, and from 2018 to see how this year compares.

First day of school ‘indefinitely postponed’ for 140 million first-time students around the world, Unicef

‘Lost generation’: education in quarter of countries at risk of collapse, study warns, The Guardian

Repeated school closures due to COVID-19 leading to learning loss and widening inequities in South Asia, UNICEF research shows, Unicef

For Many Kids, Going Back to School Is BYOC (Bring Your Own Chair), Unicef USA

Asia

Screengrab/Facebook/scmp

Parents in Beijing climb pillars and fences to catch a glimpse of their kids on the first day of school, Asia One

From vaccine mandates to a chatting ban: how schools in the Asia Pacific are managing Delta, The Guardian

Australia

Sydney schools to reopen a week earlier, classes to start October 18, The Sydney Morning Herald

England

Back to school Covid rules explained – testing, masks and what happens if virus surges, Mirror

Europe

Excitement meets worry as European kids head back to school, AP

Netherlands

Officials watch coronavirus developments closely as schools go back, Dutch News

India

Education Minister Reviews Status of Reopening of Schools Across Country, News 18

Schools in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore have set up vaccination camps on campus to ensure teachers and parents of students are vaccinated before schools reopen for classes 9-12, The Times of India

In Andhra Pradesh, primary schools reopen and students to get ‘Vidya Kanuka’ kits with three pairs of uniforms, an Oxford English to Telugu dictionary, one pair of shoes, two pairs of socks, bilingual textbooks, notebooks, a belt, and a school bag, India Today

The Tamil Nadu State Council for Education Research and Training (SCERT) has prepared a curriculum for refresher classes for students of classes 2 to 12 as schools reopen from September 1, The Times of India

In Kerala, a ‘happiness’ curriculum will be drafted to ease students into the learning environment once schools reopen on November 1, The Hindu

Mexico

The influx of students in schools grows, after the COVID risk level was reduced to yellow, El Sol de San Luis

Peru

Peru, among the last countries in the world with no deadline for the return of schoolchildren to the classroom, Today in 24

Philippines

Crisis in Philippines as millions of children face second year of remote schooling, The Guardian

UK

Back to school: How are pupils being kept Covid-safe?, BBC

When do UK schools go back? How schools in Scotland, England, Wales and NI are reopening after summer holidays, iNews

Wales

Millions of pupils return to school amid Covid spike concern, BBC

Going Back to School Has Never Been Quite Like This (Part 3): Scanning State & Local Headlines

In the third part of this “Back to School” series Thomas Hatch scans some of the headlines from states and cities around the US, most of which focus on concerns about COVID cases or related stories about vaccines, masks, and protests about them. Part 1 links to articles with some lessons from last year
and guidance for reopening schools this year. Part 2 draws together headlines that focus on the many challenges causing problems for schools this year. Later posts will include school reopening headlines from other parts of the world as well. Take a look at IEN’s “Back to School” headlines from 2020, from 2019, and from 2018 to see how this year compares.

State & Local Back-to-School Stories 

California

Absenteeism surging since schools reopened, EdSurge

1,893 L.A. students, staff tested positive for coronavirus during the first week of school, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Is Now The Largest School District To Require Vaccines For Students, NPR

San Francisco Schools Have Had No COVID-19 Outbreaks Since Classes Began Last Month, NPR

College student life is back with many COVID restrictions, Los Angeles Times

Dallas

Dallas looking for 12,000 students who didn’t show up to school, The Dallas Morning News

Des Moines

Des Moines schools headquarters reopen, Polk County warns about bullying over masks and other back-to-school news, Des Moines Register

Florida

‘I’m happy that we’re back.’ Miami students return to school, fully masked and no complaints, Miami Herald

Florida’s On-Again, Off-Again Ban On School Mask Mandates Is Back In Force, NPR

Illinois

‘All of us are learning to do school again’: Chicago students return to campus during COVID surge, Chalkbeat

Masks, nerves and trying to social distance: How the 1st day went in Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Tribune

Nearly 3,000 CPS students exposed to COVID-19 in 8 days, Chicago Sun Times

Kids In Illinois Will Soon Be Able To Take 5 Mental Health Days From School, NPR

Massachusetts

With Classrooms Reopening, Baker Wants More In-School Vaccinations, GBH

Worcester Students Return To Classrooms For New School Year With Pandemic Precautions, WBUR

Attleboro sees little push-back on mask mandate during first day of school, The Sun Chronicle

A more normal year? Precautions in place as schools welcome back students, Daily Hampshire Gazette

New York City

NYC’s new school year begins with hope. fear, and uncertainty, New York Daily News

NYC expands vaccine mandate to students in high-risk extracurriculars, Chalkbeat

Municipal unions sue NYC over vaccine mandateNew York Daily News

COVID cases have already closed hundreds of NYC charter school classrooms, Chalkbeat

Some NYC parents plan to boycott first day of school, Chalkbeat

From shutdown to reopening: Here’s a look at N.Y.C. schools’ trek through the pandemic, The New York Times

North Carolina

Most NC students will start new year outside of school, Citizen Times

Seattle

Seattle-area schools enter a new era of pandemic education as students return to in-person learning, The Seattle Times

Going Back to School Has Never Been Quite Like This (Part 2): Quarantines, Shortages, Wildfires & Hurricanes

In the second part of this “Back to School” series, Thomas Hatch scans some of the headlines that highlight the many challenges that are contributing to problems at the start of the school year in the US. Part 1 links to articles with some lessons from last year and guidance for reopening schools this year. Later posts will include school reopening headlines from other parts of the world as well. Take a look at IEN’s “Back to School” headlines from 2020, from 2019, and from 2018 to see how this year compares.

Glimpses of How Pandemic America Went Back to School, New York Times

Returns to school, return to quarantine

At least 90,000 students have had to quarantine because of COVID-19 so far this school year, The Hill

Schools grapple with thousands in isolation or quarantine as delta variant rages, NBC News

Tens Of Thousands Of School Children Already In Covid Quarantine—20,000 In Mississippi Alone, Forbes

Over 10,000 students in Florida school district isolated or quarantined a week into school year, ABC News

Thousands of Students, Teachers Quarantined as School Year Starts — Many in States With Low Vaccination Rates, Anti-Mask Rules, The 74

Shortages of Teachers

Between COVID-19 and layoffs, schools may not have enough teachers to get through the year, USA Today

Not enough subs: California schools face severe teacher shortage, Cal Matters

Shortages of Nurses

Despite extra funding, Denver schools don’t have enough nurses, Chalkbeat

Shortages of Bus Drivers & Transportation Problems

Transportation problems complicate another start of the school year for Seattle Public Schools, The Seattle Times

Bus problems return as Worcester public students start new school year, Spectrum News 1

Boston city councilors, union members fuming over school bus ‘fiasco’ as first day of school arrives, Boston Herald

National Survey Finds Severe And Desperate School Bus Driver Shortage, NPR

Chicago School Bus Drivers Have Quit In Droves Over COVID Vaccine Mandate, NPR

Bus Driver Shortage Leaves Some Florida Students Waiting for Hours, Orlando Sentinel

Wildfires & Hurricanes

Wildfires delay beginning of school year for some rural California schools, some for the second year, EdSource

Quarter of a Million Students Face New Hurdles in Wake of Hurricane Ida, Education Week

Ida deals new blow to Louisiana schools struggling to reopen, Miami Herald

Internet for all (Part 2): What can be done now?

This article is one a series of articles by Thomas Hatch looking at what can and should change in education post-pandemic.

At the same time that we try to figure out how to reimagine post-pandemic schooling in the future, there are clear, concrete steps that can be taken right now to make educational opportunities more equitable. In particular, strategies are already available that can provide internet access for many students who remain disconnected. These strategies will not work everywhere yet, but, as the World Bank reports, in combination with strategies to reach students through television, radio, WhatsApp and other means, many more students can have access to online and remote educational opportunities than have had them ever before. But how long will it take? Will the energy and funding dry up before universal access is established?

Part 1 of this 2-part post shared articles that show that providing internet access to all is an enduring problem despite the evidence that many disconnected students and families could be connected using available approaches. Part 2 brings together here a few of the many articles that highlight some of the strategies that are already available to increase internet access in the US as well a few articles from India that illustrate what is possible in other parts of the world.

In the US

Several articles in the US this summer focus on the establishment of the Emergency Connectivity Fund – designed to reimburse schools and libraries for equipment and costs incurred to enable students, staff, and patrons who lack internet access to engage in remote learning.

“internet access has shifted from an amenity to a necessity. Nothing has illustrated that shift more clearly than the pandemic… But for the millions of students and families without internet access at home, adapting to the virtual classroom became extremely challenging, if not impossible.”

For Families Who Lack Reliable Internet Access, Help Is on the Way — $7B of It,
EdSurge

Acting FCC Chair Rosenworcel Unveils Proposed Rules for Emergency Connectivity Fund, FCC

What You Need to Know About the Emergency Connectivity Fund, THE Journal

The FCC’s $7 Billion Fund to Address the ‘Homework Gap’: 6 Key Issues to Watch, EdWeek Market Brief

Beyond funding, a number of articles over the past year have highlighted both overall strategies for increasing internet access and specific initiatives designed to connect students in urban as well as rural areas.

How to Expand Home Internet Connectivity for K-12 Students Over the Long Haul, Education Week

If you build it, they will learn: Why some schools are investing in cell towers, NBC News

Philadelphia widens free internet eligibility for families with children in school, Chalkbeat

Philadelphia expanding ‘PHLConnectED’ free student internet program, KYW Newsradio

Philadelphia School District Repairing Thousands Of Chromebooks For Free As Students Return To Classrooms Next Week, 3CBS

Connecticut Gives Every Student a Computer and Home Internet to Close the Digital Divide, EdSurge

Citing remote learning needs, Cuomo calls for $15-a-month internet cap for low-income NY families, Chalkbeat

Chicago helped 55,000 students get free internet. Much work remains, Chalkbeat

In Rural ‘Dead Zones’, School Comes on a Flash Drive, The New York Times

These Buses Bring School to Students, The New York Times

Sitting on the Roof at Night for Internet: Pandemic Learning in the Navajo Nation, EducationWeek

Lessons In Leadership: How a superintendent tapped SpaceX to help close homework gap, K-12 Dive

In India

Articles over the past year in India, highlight strategies that work to connect students to remote learning through the internet, television, radio, and other means.

“Remote learning during the pandemic has been painful, even for children with the best computers and broadband. Imagine trying to do it all on a cheap cellphone with a 2G connection”

Think Remote Learning Is Hard? Try Using a Phone in an Indian Village, Wall
Street Journal

Jharkhand to set up gadget bank to facilitate online classes for underprivileged kids, The New Indian Express

Learning Through Radio And Television In The Time Of COVID-19, India Education Diary

Karnataka to bridge online school learning gaps by installing TV sets at 5,766 gram panchayat libraries, The Indian Express

Now Odisha turns to radio for classes, The Hindu

Community radio-based blended learning model: A promising learning model in remote area during pandemic era, ScienceDirect

Telangana schools to have chatbot to assess students work, Times Now News

Bright spots in remote learning: lessons from India and Sierra Leone, Education Development Trust

Navigating Education in 2021: From Remote Learning to Blended Learning, Central Square Foundation

Internet for all – Why not now?

How can we expect to effectively reimagine education post-covid if we do not have the capacity or the will to solve problems that, for the most part, we know how to solve? In Part 1 of this post, Thomas Hatch brings together a few of the many articles that show that providing internet access to all is an enduring problem despite the evidence that many disconnected students and families could be connected using available approaches. Part 2 will provide links to some of the approaches that are being pursued to work on the problem. This article is one in a series of articles looking at what can and should change in education post-pandemic.

What can change in schools post-pandemic? We can provide internet connections and access to devices. But do we have the capacity and the will?

Like other basic utilities, internet connections and access to devices could provide a foundation for more equitable access too educational opportunities around the world. It is no panacea, of course, as adding more connected devices does not necessarily mean that students will learn more. Further, for some time in, particularly in some parts of the developing world, radio and television – rather than internet connections – are likely to continue to provide educational access as they did during the pandemic’s school closures.  yet even in the US, the pandemic exposed that many students who could be connected are not connected, and a recent report from New America shows that many more are underconnected, with insufficient and unreliable access to the internet and to internet-connected devices. In fact, 65% of US families surveyed said their children couldn’t fully participate in remote learning because they lacked access to a computer or internet. The families most likely to lack sufficient internet bandwidth and devices? Black and Hispanic families and families living below the federal poverty line: n

  • Among families who have broadband home internet service:
    • 56 percent say their service is too slow.
    • 18 percent say their service has been cut off at least once in the past 12 months due to trouble paying for it.
  • Among those who only have internet access via a smartphone or tablet (mobile-only access):
    • 34 percent say they hit the data limits in their plan at least once in the past year, preventing them from being consistently connected to the internet.
    • 28 percent say they have a hard time getting as much time on devices as they need, because too many people are sharing them.
    • 16 percent say their mobile phone service has been cut off at least once during the past year because they could not pay for it.
  • Among those with a computer at home:
    • 59 percent say it does not work properly or runs too slowly.
    • 22 percent say it is hard to get time on it because there are too many people sharing it.
  • The proportion of lower-income families who are under-connected hardly changed at all between 2015 and 2021—despite large increases in rates of home broadband and computer access.
  • Learning at Home While Under-connected: Lower-Income Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic, New America

This brief scan of articles published this year exposes the depth of problems as well as some of the solutions that are already being pursued. But the critical questions remains: if we can’t or won’t adequately pursue problems of inequitable access and outcomes when we have viable strategies to use, when should we expect to address the problems that we do not yet know how to solve?

if we can’t or won’t pursue the problems of inequitable access and outcomes when we have viable strategies to use, when should we expect to address the problems that we do not yet know how to solve?

Documenting the challenges:

An Education System, Divided: How Internet Inequity Persisted Through 4 Presidents and Left Schools Unprepared for the Pandemic, the 74

The Digital Divide Has Narrowed, But 12 Million Students Are Still Disconnected, EdSurge

“In a patchwork approach born of desperation, they scrounged wireless hot spots, struck deals with cable companies and even created networks of their own. With federal relief money and assistance from state governments and philanthropists, they have helped millions of students get online for distance learning”

‘Big Burden’ for Schools Trying to Give Kids Internet Access, Education Week

Nearly a Year Into Remote Learning ‘Digital Divide’ Persists as Key Educational Threat, as Census Data Show 1 in 3 Households Still Struggling With Limited Tech Access, The 74

Millions of Students Are Still Without WiFi and Tech—Why Haven’t Policymakers Stepped Up?, EdSurge

“’We have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders,’ said Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas, who noted that his company is currently part of hundreds of K-12 agreements. ‘No single company can fix this with a flip of the switch.’ …As a result, districts are scrambling to figure out what happens next.”

Millions of Students Got Free Home Internet for Remote Learning. How Long Will It Last?, Education Week

S.C. Department of Education to shut down hotspots over the summer, WRDW

Broadband Mapping Across the US: Local, State, And Federal Methods & Contradictions, Next Century Cities

Student Home Connectivity Study, CoSN

Broadband Data and Mapping: Background and Issues for the 117 th Congress, Congressional Research Service

The wires may be there, but the dollars aren’t: Analysis shows why millions of California students lack broadband, CalMatters

What can change in schools after the pandemic?

“What if this is a moment when we can re-imagine education?” But “What if it isn’t? What if, despite the changes wrought by the pandemic, the conditions that sustain conventional schooling remain in place?” These are the questions that IEN Editor Thomas Hatch asks in the 2nd commentary in a series launched by Corrie Stone-Johnson and the Journal of Educational Change. These questions build on the first commentary in that series by Yong Zhao and Jim Watterston – “The changes we need post-Covid” and follows up on last week’s IEN post from Larry CubanDownsizing school reform.” Future posts on IEN will track both what changes in schools and what does not in order to reveal the conditions and constraints that have to be addressed to transform education over the long term. These IEN posts are part of a long-term project exploring school improvement efforts and educational innovations in both developing and developed contexts and follow-up on issues Thomas Hatch, Jordan Corson and Sarah Van den Berg  raised in The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict (Corwin, 2021).

“We will now resume our regular programming…”

Excerpt of  a commentary from Thomas Hatch originally published in the Journal of Educational Change, August 2021 (Full commentary available at the Journal of Educational Change website)

The times are always changing. The question this year is whether we can build on some of the changes schools made in the face of the coronavirus and reimagine education altogether. Like many, I am hopeful that we can take advantage of the current moment to make at least a few meaningful steps in some of these directions.

Nonetheless, my work over the past thirty years on school improvement and school reform efforts in the US and in “higher” and “lower-performing” countries also makes me deeply skeptical. Time and again, I have seen how ambitious plans and visions fall short of their aspirations. As a consequence, although I believe this may be a crucial time to ask: “What if this is a moment when we can re-imagine education?”, I also know that we need to ask a second question: “What if it isn’t?”  What if, despite the changes wrought by the pandemic, the existing institutional structures, practices, incentives, and beliefs that sustain conventional schooling remain in place?

Is there a real opportunity to re-imagine education post-pandemic? Or will the existing institutional structures, practices, incentives, and beliefs that sustain conventional schooling remain in place?

I don’t see this as a pessimistic take. It’s imagining the future and understanding the past that enables us to take off on journeys where the exact destination is unknown. When getting ready to climb a mountain, adventurers don’t just hope that the path they envision does not lead to an impassible ledge; they don’t rely on the hope that the weather will hold. They try to imagine what might happen when they turn a corner or reach a new level, and they get prepared. When the unexpected happens, when the conditions predictably change in unpredictable ways, we need to be ready to respond and rise above.

As my colleagues Jordan Corson and Sarah Van den Berg and I argue in our new book, The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict, education systems all around the world find themselves in this situation today. Now more than ever, it’s clear that we do not know exactly what lies around the corner, and we cannot determine, with certainty, what today’s students will need as adults or what roadblocks or supports societies will put in place for helping them to get there. But we can build on what we know about why it’s so hard to improve schools, and we can imagine what it will really take to create more powerful and equitable educational opportunities in the future.

We can build on what we know about why it’s so hard to improve schools, and we can imagine what it will really take to create more powerful and equitable educational opportunities in the future.

In my commentary in the Journal of Educational Change, I explore what it will take to support real changes in schools post-pandemic by exploring three questions:

Part 1: Why don’t schools change?

Part 2: How (and why) did schools change during the pandemic?

Part 3: How can schools change post-pandemic?

My responses to those questions build on several key principles derived from my work in and studies of a variety of efforts to create more powerful learning experiences in both developed and developing contexts:  

  • First, new possibilities for schooling are most likely to take off when their goals, capacity demands, and values fit the common needs, existing capabilities, and prevailing conditions in the schools and communities where they’re supposed to work.
  • Second, this first principle leads to a corollary that seems particularly problematic for those who want to reimagine schooling altogether: the more radical our visions are for education and the more they diverge from conventional practice, the less likely they are to take hold on a large scale. However, that does not mean that it is impossible to pursue the new visions for education that Zhao and Waterston and others imagine. It means that the demands and pressures of conventional schooling make it easier to bring those visions to life in particular circumstances and contexts – ecological “niches” in a sense – rather than across entire school systems.
  • Third, this tension between the nature and extent of reform efforts, however, yields a further principle that opens up another avenue for change: There are places – “niches of possibility” – where the conditions are more amenable for transforming education. That does not mean that we have to accept every aspect of the conditions or ignore those that are deeply problematic. But we have to figure out how to challenge and work with and around the conditions in order to change them.

Schools will be transformed, over time, with changes in the conditions and the construction of the infrastructure for more powerful learning.

From this perspective, the specific vision for learning remains important, but that vision has to be accompanied by the recognition that it is not the vision itself that will change schools; schools will be transformed, over time, with changes in the conditions and the construction of the infrastructure for more powerful learning. Rather than aiming to develop a program and scale it across contexts, the focus shifts to the student level and to making sure that all students, particularly those left out and systematically disadvantaged by conventional schooling, encounter more and more opportunities inside and outside schools to engage in powerful learning experiences. Those experiences create new emergent possibilities for education that build directly on the specific conditions in which students live and learn every day.

(Full commentary available at the Journal of Educational Change website)

Brahm Fleisch on South African education during the pandemic

What predictable problems and unexpected surprises have emerged in schools in South Africa during the pandemic? This week IEN interviews Brahm Fleisch to gain his perspective on the school closures that began in March of 2020 and the resumption of in-person schooling, for some students, in August. Fleisch is a professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the School of Education, University of Witwatersrand. Fleisch has written extensively about the challenges and opportunities for improving schooling in South Africa. That work includes the development of the Early Grade Reading Study and examinations of what it may take to establish a New Infrastructure for Learning that strengthens foundational learning and the instructional core.   

IEN: What has been happening in schools in South Africa since the pandemic began? 

Brahm Fleisch: One of the standout characteristics of South African education is the extreme inequality. The pandemic has exacerbated it. Elite private and middle-class schools in the public sector (about 10-15%) rapidly moved online. And while there were concerns about the quality of teaching and learning taking place online, most middle-class children were able to return to some form of schooling routine. This was not the case for most working-class and rural children, the overwhelming majority of whom are Black. Given the high cost of data, and the limited digital infrastructure in schools serving the majority of children, the evidence suggests that most of these children had very little schooling in 2020. This has continued into 2021. Even when schools serving poor and working-class children started reopened in August last year, many attended less than half the number of days they would have had had there been “normal” schooling. The majority of schoolchildren have experienced substantial learning loss. 

Even when schools serving poor and working-class children started reopened in August last year, many attended less than half the number of days they would have had had there been “normal” schooling.

IEN: What has worked?  

BF: South Africa has a national curriculum, most often referred to as the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). The government strategy last year was to “streamline” the curriculum, that is, cut the number of topics or themes to be covered in each of the respective subjects, assuming that the curriculum content that was missed would be covered in later grades. The problems with the curriculum streamlining approach is that it assumes that children have acquired the core basic knowledge and skills. At least for the early grades, the evidence suggests that the proportion of children able to read fluently in either their home language and/or in English (the language of schooling for the majority from Grade 4 onward) has dropped dramatically.  If majority of children haven’t learnt to read or lost the skill of reading, streamlining is not going to help. While there is clearly a serious problem with government strategy, two important developments need to be highlighted.  First, the national education department facilitated the development of a dedicated TV channel to make lessons in the high-stakes subjects available for all secondary school learners.  Unlike using the internet, which has serious financial limitations, nearly all parts of South Africa have access to public broadcasting and is a relatively low-cost way to reach poor and rural communities. Second, after the first major period of lockdown, the schools were required (by a court interdict) to provide school feeding even when the schools were formally closed.  Without doubt, ensuring that children received a daily meal benefited the majority of South African children.

IEN: What has surprised you?

BF: No one could have predicted how popular the institution of the school actually is with the vast majority of children, their parents and the wider community.  Much of the work of university researchers had been focused on documenting the major inadequacies of schools. In particular, the research had focused on both the overall low levels of learning taking place and the gap between children at the top and bottom of the income distribution.  What was never fully appreciated is that despite the major weaknesses of the school system, children and their parents really missed the routines, rhythms and rituals of schooling.  And while some school types did emerge such as the pod schools (small private classes of between 5 and 10 children of different ages mostly working online in a common space), it is hard to say if the new model will endure beyond the pandemic.  These ‘schools’ fitted somewhere between home schooling and small private schools.  While pod schools emerged in an ad hoc fashion to address the needs of children and parents, given the choice most children and their parents appear to be shifting back to more traditional school models.

IEN: What have you learned? 

 BF: As suggested above, there have been two clear learnings from the pandemic. First, absence from face-to-face schooling for a prolonged period disproportionately negatively impacts poor and working-class children. Although schools tend to reproduce inequality, the absence of schooling in conventional school buildings accentuated this inequality. The second insight suggest the deep cultural resonance of the archaic 19th century institutional form. All the talk about 21st Century skills and personalized learning appeared to signal a potential revolution in how we organize education.  If anything, Covid-19 has surfaced the enduring popularity of the standard structure of the egg-crate/factory school model. 

No one could have predicted how popular the institution of the school actually is with the vast majority of children, their parents and the wider community…If anything, Covid-19 has surfaced the enduring popularity of the standard structure of the egg-crate/factory school model. 

IEN: What’s next — what are you working on now?

BF: In the Global South, in systems such as those of South Asia (and South Africa), the challenge is to shift focus from curriculum compliance towards teaching at the right level. For these education systems that placed an emphasis on the syllabus or schemes of work, rethinking what teachers do in classroom with children who may be years behind curriculum expectations is going to be very challenging. For example, middle school teachers are going to be forced to confront a growing majority of children who cannot read for meaning or do basic mathematics. Simply doing the same, or even a slimmed down version of the national curriculum is likely to make things worse rather than better. Real thinking needs to go into teaching basic skills further and further up the system. 

Rather than a catalyst of radical reform of the institution called the school, the hope for the future must focus on better teaching system-wide. 

IEN: What’s your hope for the future?

BF: Rather than a catalyst of radical reform of the institution called the school, the hope for the future must focus on better teaching system-wide.  We need greater effort on how we can mobilize the resources of the state better, unleash the creative energy of teachers as an organized profession, excite parents and students in diverse communities towards the task of incremental but sustainable improvement of teaching and learning.  

What has remote learning looked like in Finland? School closures, equity, stress, and well-being

This week Raisa Ahtiainen reports on the work of a research partnership between the Centre for Educational Assessment at the University of Helsinki and the Research Group for Education, Assessment, and Learning and the Research Group on Children’s and Adolescents’ Health Promotion both at Tampere University. (See Schooling, teaching and well-being of school community during the COVID-19 epidemic in Finland.) Since the start of the pandemic and the transition to remote learning in March 2020, the members of this partnership have been documenting how teaching has been organized during the school closures in order to provide an overview of the situation for the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. Further, the study aims to support the development of the practices of education organizers and schools. This post draws from data collected in May 2020, just after Finnish schools reopened following the initial lockdown and in the fall of 2020, about 6 months later. Data included surveys with five different groups – students, guardians,  teachers, principals and school welfare group members -that yielded almost 100 000 respondents in total. A third wave of data collection is being carried out in April 2021. For news stories on the school closures and reopenings see “Kids head back to school across Finland” (May 2020),“Three-week shutdown for Finland in March” (February 2021), and “Corona group recommends remote learning continue until Easter” (March 2021).

This spring, many students in Finnish comprehensive schools have returned to their classrooms after a 3-week remote learning period that started on March 8, 2021. In contrast to March, 2020 when all schools were forced switch to remote learning with just a few days’ notice, in 2021, remote learning applied only to the students in the upper grades of comprehensive schools (7th to 9th grade). However, in some regions the remote learning period has been extended until the beginning of April due to the high number of local COVID-19 cases.

After the nationwide remote learning period ended in May 2020, the regulations governing remote learning were changed at national level in response to the variation in the spread of the coronavirus around the country. Consequently, since August 2020, the local education organizers (i.e. municipalities) have been given responsibility to make their own decisions on remote learning (e.g. for 1-2 weeks) for a school or certain group of students and teachers if there have been verified Covid-19 cases or exposures. That has made the course of actions concerning needs for temporary local remote learning periods more flexible, and it is in line with the decentralized approach to governance in the Finnish context.

Based on experiences gained during the 8-week remote learning of spring 2020, the government has also made temporary changes in the Basic Education Act (i.e. the legislation guiding work in comprehensive schools) to make sure the most vulnerable student groups can still have access to school. That means schools are required to stay open for students in pre-school (the year before children enter government schools, around age 6), for students in grades 1-3, and for students receiving special support (students with SEN). These students have the right to go to school, with their teaching organized in school buildings. It has been seen as important to secure and support learning and schooling of these students during the exceptional times.

What did remote learning look like in Spring 2020?

In the spring 2020, remote learning divided students’ perceptions of learning. Some students reported that remote learning suited them well and they felt that learning at home had been more effective than at school. However, nearly half of 7th to 9th grade students and a third of students in 4th – 6th reported that they had learned less than usual during remote learning. The researchers concluded that despite the fast transition period, technically, remote learning went surprisingly well. Consequently, they noted that, if schools turn to remote learning again, the focus should be on the content of learning and on supporting students individually.

However, the results also confirmed the researchers’ suspicions that during the exceptional period in spring 2020 equality in education was not achieved as well as under normal circumstances. That is, the researchers found large differences in the distance learning practices of schools. For example, about a quarter of teachers and principals said that the school had jointly decided on loosening assessment requirements or on not lowering student grades, but more than half of the schools did not have such guidelines in place. In one in five schools, assessment practices were not agreed upon at all. In most schools, the aim of remote learning was to arrange teaching according to the school timetable/schedule as much as possible, meaning that the teacher was to be regularly available to students. However, as many as one-fifth of 7th to 9th grade students said that video-based teaching had not been provided at all in their literacy, mathematics and language courses. There were also big differences between schools with respect to how schools had been able to provide their students with the digital equipment they needed for studying. About a third of parents said family members had taken turns using the equipment. In addition, when the usual school timetable/schedule was not followed or their normal teacher was not available to teach, the students’ stress symptoms increased. The differences in operating practices between comprehensive schools with only the upper grades (7-9) were remarkably large. However, schools with lower grades (4-6) typically implemented remote learning practices that were less structured and students received homework packages instead of interactive remote learning instruction.

… as many as one-fifth of 7th to 9th grade students said that video-based teaching had not been provided at all in their literacy, mathematics and language courses.

Based on these findings, the researchers argued that well-implemented remote learning has a clear structure, it is interactive and students are required to be self-directed in a way that suits their level of development. Especially, for younger students, they found that more guidance was needed. Guardians of the younger students (1st to 3rd) grade were frustrated with remote learning tasks that their children received that did not include teacher guidance. 

What did remote learning look like in Fall 2020?

In the autumn 2020, the researchers examined a wide range of safety guidelines that schools were advised to follow. There were large school-specific variations in safety practices reported by teachers that were not explained by regional differences in the coronavirus situation. Guardians’ perceptions of the daily operations of the schools greatly differed from the situation described by the teachers, but confidence in the operation of the schools was strong. School safety practices were related to whether the school had experienced corona exposures during the autumn, although the epidemiological situation in the area explained the exposures more strongly. According to the study results, schools should continue to adhere to safety practices.

Further, the study paid specific attention to the number of and reasons for student absences and their effects on learning. According to the guardians, there were differences in the remote education received by students in the autumn depending on the reason for the absence from school. Remote learning was most positively described by guardians whose children had had many absences due to quarantine imposed by health care staff. In contrast, for students in voluntary quarantine, the situation appeared to be the opposite.

Remote learning was most positively described by guardians whose children had had many absences due to quarantine imposed by health care staff. In contrast, for students in voluntary quarantine, the situation appeared to be the opposite.

In order to achieve equal learning opportunities for students, the researchers proposed that it would be good for schools to consider whether in the future it would be possible to implement distance learning more uniformly for students absent for various reasons.  Overall, students with more school absences felt that they received slightly less support to mitigate the effects of the spring exceptional situation and to keep up with their studies. Personal contact from the teacher, even remotely, was related to the student’s experience of receiving support. The researchers stress that schools should therefore continue to pay attention to reaching students personally who are absent for various reasons in when exceptional circumstances continue. Even a short personal interaction with a student during the school day can act as a means of engagement. The researchers pointed out, however, that in general, a large proportion of both primary and lower secondary school students felt that they had received study help from their teacher when they needed it.

School closures, remote learning, and well-being

Furthermore, school practices are important for the well-being of students and families, especially in distance learning situations. According to the study, the stress associated with a child’s schooling was high among guardians during the exceptional circumstances in spring 2020. Although the situation was not yet normal in the autumn, when the schools were generally open, the stress experienced by the parents was clearly less than in the spring.

It may be that in teacher communities where teachers are used to collaborating and sharing effective practices, the school is perceived as more ready to face school closures in the future

Stress experienced by teachers and principals due to their work was generally at the same level in the spring and in the autumn in 2020. In contrast, recovery from work-related stress was easier in the autumn than in the spring. The majority of teachers and principals felt that the school was well or very well prepared to implement remote learning if the school would be closed in the future. There were no regional differences in the responses based on the epidemiological situation in the region. However, school-specific variation was found, and part of it was associated with teachers’ experiences of collective efficacy. The researchers found that collective efficacy experiences are built on shared experiences of success and management. Thus, it may be that in teacher communities where teachers are used to collaborating and sharing effective practices, the school is perceived as more ready to face school closures in the future. Schools should therefore strive to maintain and strengthen cooperation between teachers and the team spirit of the school, as it can help the school and its staff to cope with this difficult time. 

Note: The research on ‘Schooling, teaching and well-being of school community during the COVID-19 epidemic in Finland’ is funded by the Finnish Ministry of Culture and Education

                                                            — Raisa Ahtiainen

What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland Now? Pasi Sahlberg on Finnish Lessons 3.0

In this conversation, Pasi Sahlberg discusses his latest work and the motivation behind his new book  Finnish Lessons 3.0 What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? This is Sahlberg’s third look at the Finnish educational system, diving deeper into the changes and challenges since the publication of the first edition of Finnish Lessons in 2011.

Why this book, why now? 

Pasi Sahlberg: It is about ten years since the first edition of Finnish Lessons was published. At that time the world was very different, OECD’s PISA had rearranged the global image of education, and international transfer of educational ideas was blossoming. There was relatively little literature about education in Finland at the same time when the demand for deeper and more evidence-based stories was huge. When the book was published in 2011 only a few believed it would live beyond its first edition. Everyone, including me, was surprised to learn that Finnish Lessons soon became a best-seller that was translated to nearly 30 languages.

We decided to update the story about Finland’s schools when more data became available, especially from OECD’s PISA 2012 that showed Finland’s earlier high performance had started to decline. The Economic downturn caused by the 2008 banking crisis had forced Finland to cut spending on education and Finnish schools were experimenting with new pedagogical innovations. The second edition was published in 2015, and I thought that this updated edition would be good enough forever.

Unfortunately, Finnish education continued to struggle in both what students learned in school and how the school system was able to serve children with widening range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. PISA 2015 and 2018 raised more questions in international forums and also in local debates about the real state of Finnish education. My publisher and I had a conversation about having yet another edition of Finnish Lessons that would take a more detailed stock of the state of education in Finland. It was a good decision – in the middle of the writing process the global coronavirus crisis hit the world and offered an additional question to be answered: How did Finnish schools cope with remote learning and disruption that caused so much confusion and troubles elsewhere?

What did you learn in working on 3.0 that you didn’t know before?

When the going gets tough, you need well-prepared educators whom you can trust in finding the best way forward.

Researching the unknown and writing about it is always a learning experience. Since Finnish Lessons 2.0 was published I have resided in the U.S., Finland and Australia and that gave me a unique opportunity to take a closer look at Finnish education from outside and inside. Conversations with educators and colleagues in these three locations over the years have been particularly helpful in understanding the power and the challenges of Finnish schools. For example, I learned to appreciate the flexibility and creativity that are embedded in the Finnish way of education. This became particularly evident in early 2020 when all education systems unexpectedly went into remote learning mode when most school buildings were closed for several weeks due to the global coronavirus pandemic. I have always spoken to foreign visitors about these system characteristics in Finland but it was that tiny ugly virus that made that concretely visible. When the going gets tough, you need well-prepared educators whom you can trust in finding the best way forward. This is exactly what flexible management, lack of rigid external standards, and collaborative problem solving were able to do in Finland where students and teachers were able to navigate through the hard times with less damage than most others. I have included these stories in my new book.

What’s happened in Finland since you wrote the book? 

This I explain in detail in this third edition. Many things have changed. On one hand, there are some interesting new developments, such as the new curricula for all levels of school education that aims at making teaching and learning more engaging and interesting for both teachers and students. On the other hand, Finland has lost some of its most important educational assets it had earlier compared to other countries: Equity and quality of its educational outcomes. There are significantly more low-performing students, family background explain more of students success in school than before, and all young people spend much more time staring at digital screens that is time away from reading, playing and sleeping.

What’s next — what are you working on now?

I have a busy year ahead here in Sydney, Australia. I am leading a couple of large research projects at the university and working with half a dozen doctoral students. Besides that, there are two new book projects in the pipeline. I try to work a bit less and spend more time with my boys and family.

What’s your hope for the future and what do you hope the book will contribute to it? 

The main thread of Finnish Lessons is collectivism, collegiality, and collaboration at various levels of society.

My hope is in young people and their passion to change the course we live right now. Look at the issues like climate change, fight against racism and gender equality, for example. These global movements are strongly led by young people. This is really positive regarding what the future looks like. I hope that Finnish Lessons will continue to speak for better agency for teachers thereby stronger voice for students regarding their education and life. The main thread of Finnish Lessons is collectivism, collegiality, and collaboration at various levels of society. I hope that Finnish Lessons helps more people to understand that education is fundamentally a common good a bedrock of democracy that has been challenged recently in number of countries around the world.