The future of the education system post-COVID-19

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Changes to the education system throughout the pandemic could inspire more innovative ways of educating our kids (Screenshot via YouTube)

There could be great benefits to a more interactive approach to education, particularly for Indigenous communities, writes Paul Dutton.

SCHOOLS CHANGED IRREVOCABLY during early March 2020 as COVID-19 spread around the world. The pandemic closed schools, forcing teachers to deliver online learning and students to access these lessons throughout days spent cooped up in homes around the nation.

This was happening around the world, as parents contemplated how they would survive. They wondered if they should they tell their children, how much to tell or to allow them to simply study their lessons oblivious to what was happening. Or they could educate them on COVID-19, on viruses, vaccines, immunity and how these viruses spread amongst the population. The parents also had to grasp what was and is happening.

Now, six to eight weeks later, the halfway point of another term has been reached and students are once again sitting in classrooms with their teachers for extended periods of time throughout the day, as they did prior to COVID-19. They're being taught as they always have, as parents were, as everyone has forever been taught. Nothing has changed other than the instruction to socially isolate, wash your hands, cough into your elbows or stay away if you feel symptoms of a cold.

The great Federal Liberal and National Party propaganda machine was in full flow, demanding that students return to the classroom because you will never receive an education from home. My apologies to all parents and caregivers at this time — it appears being taught from home isn’t education of a high enough standard.

It should be noted, however, that there have been clear outbreaks and all in workplaces of large groups, which is a concern for school environments that don’t seem adequately resolved for work, health and safety.

With the nation's students returning to classrooms, there seems to be no detailed plan for Aboriginal students to return to an appropriately safe mode of learning that won’t impact their families or communities should infection be picked up in a classroom setting.

Where is the national plan ensuring Aboriginal students and all students with serious health issues like rheumatic heart disease can learn from home? Where’s the funding to schools to ensure these specific students can link into their classroom settings in a safe way for them and everyone living at home? As we know, many Aboriginal communities will have more than one adult family living in any one home.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered Catholic and independent schools $1.2 billion for students to return. Where was the offer for all schools with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students with significant health issues to maintain safe isolation and learn?

Why hasn’t such a package been offered, especially now Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has realised the original claim of $130 billion needed for JobKeeper will actually cost the far lesser amount of $70 billion?

Given the massive difference in expected costs to actual costs, an urgent review and program for remote learning are needed. This would specifically be for every student who should receive it, allowing them to return home or in an environment lessening risks. Students are equally entitled to a learning environment that offers critically evaluated safe practices in place as any paid workplace of their parent or adult Australians.

Now’s the time governments, educators, departments, students, parents or caregivers develop a new, more interactive learning curriculum for everyone. Innovate learning so that students relate directly to what’s being taught. Geography lessons in local environments, math classes linked with specialists in all aspects of employment opportunities so students can connect how having strong mathematics knowledge could help them secure a job. Environmental studies with lessons from National Parks staff, marine science staff, recycling centres — however the lesson can connect students to an employment opportunity. English classes with any unique working industry to highlight the importance of strong literacy skills for such workplaces, whether it be in an office or civil construction completing safety sheets or understanding daily work plans.

Governments and workplaces are often incredibly rigid in how processes must be followed. COVID-19 has proven that there is absolutely no reason why the status quo in anything should be accepted by any employee or student. We have a great opportunity to forge changes that will support everyone’s learning but also to have the wider community provide clear educational learning for all our students. In remote learning regions, more connection to what the community is doing during the day would help them understand their lessons directly to culture and environment.

The excuse of insurance costs to undertake dynamic learning would surely be met by the learning received and the educational outcomes of all students, not just those students who excel in the classroom or understand blocks of forty-minute lessons. Life doesn’t revolve around forty-minute learning modules, therefore schooling shouldn’t maintain these parameters as students get older and mature.

It would be a good idea to enhance living skills not just in delivering cooking, agricultural or parenting courses but also in engaging more and more with different peer age groups in learning. Why can’t younger and older students mingle in learning settings? Once you leave school, you immediately start working with people of all ages, go to university with people of all ages, at home you live with people of varying ages — stilting progress through the processes of centuries of learning makes no sense.

It's time for change — the world has moved on from what has been a blanket learning model. We can recapture the learning of all those who continue to be disconnected, many of who are suspended from schools or those who simply keep a low profile to get to the end of a learning day. Like bullying and harassment, which hasn’t been adequately addressed in these staid learning settings, this is the chance to holistically support the needs of those students who struggle with maintaining a positive presence amongst their peers and had programs of connection fail them.

Those programs that operate from individual school settings, thanks to principals and teachers, should be strongly encouraged to develop their unique learning techniques into more schools rather than simply having obscene funding amounts for privileged private, independent and Catholic school settings.

Now is the time for Australians to demand more from those that are elected to ensure all our children are given an opportunity to seek out that learning technique which will embrace them as individuals and provide them with their greatest opportunity to be leaders within our communities. Also to identify who they are and through their unique individuality rather than all being made meet the expectations of societal sameness.

Paul Dutton is a Barkindji man from far-western NSW and part of the Stolen Generation. He is an Independent Australia columnist and works as an Indigenous engagement consultant. You can follow Paul on Twitter @pauldutton1968.

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