Despite the pandemic’s devastating effects, this worldwide calamity has provided an unparalleled opportunity for learning. We are learning about the adaptability and resilience of educational systems, policymakers, instructors, students, and families.
What impact has the pandemic had on teachers’ roles?
Due to the epidemic, two critical factors have transformed. First and foremost, pedagogical adjustments have shown to be critical, as typical in-person lecturing techniques do not translate well to a remote learning setting. Teachers must adjust their approaches and be innovative to keep students involved, regardless of the type of channel utilized (radio, TV, mobile, online platforms, etc.). Every family has become a classroom – more often than not – without an environment that encourages learning. Some countries are assisting teachers in this regard. In Sierra Leone, where radio is the primary distant learning medium, students can contact a “live” and toll-free phone line to ask professors questions, and radio lesson schedules allow children to assist their families with everyday chores.
Second, the pandemic has shifted how instructors allocate their time between teaching, student interaction, and administrative responsibilities. According to an Instituto Peninsula poll, 83 percent of instructors in Brazil do not believe they are equipped to teach remotely, 67 percent are concerned, 38 percent are fatigued, and less than 10% are happy or satisfied. The pandemic has brought attention to the need for additional flexibility and time for student-teacher engagement. Teachers in Estonia, for example, were granted autonomy over curriculum, lesson planning, and time allocation.
How have systems aided teachers in their new roles?
UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank supported teachers by sharing guidelines emphasizing the importance of providing feedback to students, maintaining constant communication with caregivers, and reporting to local education units to keep track of learning in a survey of Ministries of Education on National Responses to COVID-19 conducted by UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank (2020). Fewer governments took a different approach: Costa Rica created a digital toolbox with pedagogical resources such as a guide for autonomous work, and the Brazilian state of So Paulo organized frequent two-hour conversations between Secretary Rossieli Soares and teachers via a state-developed mobile application. These discussions and methods enabled governments to maintain an open channel of communication with teachers in order to better understand and address their issues.
Teachers found themselves balancing educating and delivering feedback to students online, filling administrative reports, and caring for their families as they began to adopt these standards and recommendations. Some governments saw early on that their well-intentioned teacher support systems were leading to burnout. Peru’s Ministry of Education was receptive to suggestions and quickly changed the standards to decrease administrative burdens on teachers. The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais created the ‘Conexao Escola’ smartphone application to stimulate teacher-student engagement during allotted time after each lesson, avoiding a situation in which student’s contacted professors throughout the day via WhatsApp or text message. Instructors in Uruguay were supposed to fill out administrative forms, but rather than demanding new information, the government chose to use GURI, a digital platform that has been used by Uruguayan teachers to report information such as student attendance and grades for over ten years.
Some governments have taken use of existing professional development programs that were in place before to the pandemic, in addition to offering guidelines and tools. During the pandemic, the state of Edo in Nigeria taught all 11 thousand primary school teachers who are part of the Edo-BEST program to use digital technology effectively in the classroom; this in-service teacher training program shifted from in-person to remote training during the pandemic. Similarly, the Institute for in-Service Teacher Training in Uruguay moved an existing coaching program online to give remote pedagogical support, and Ceibal improved its teacher training program and Open Educational Resources repository. While over 90% of Uruguayan teachers were satisfied with the remote training they received during the pandemic, others felt they needed more.
What impact has technology had on this shift in role?
Faced with the epidemic, countries have merged high-tech and low-tech ways to help teachers promote student learning more effectively. Education authorities in Cambodia, for example, devised an approach that mixes SMS, printed handouts, and ongoing instructor feedback, taking advantage of the country’s high mobile phone use. It also provides information on how to access learning programs, ensuring that students have access to paper-based learning materials, and includes home visits to supervise distant learning activities. Teachers are also expected to give students with weekly paper-based resources and meet with them weekly to distribute their graded worksheets and issue new ones for the coming week.
Technology has also improved government-teacher support, such as adapting existing coaching programs to be delivered remotely (as in the cases of Nigeria and Uruguay), creating spaces for peer support programs (such as the Virtual EdCamps initiative, which was created to facilitate peer-to-peer learning among teachers), or establishing EdTech hotlines for teachers (such as in Estonia, where the HITSA – the Information Technology Foundation for Education – opened an educational tech hotline).
As outlined in the World Bank’s Platform for Successful Teachers, where effective use of technology is one of the key principles to ensure cadres of effective teachers, technology interventions should improve teacher engagement with students through improved access to content, data, and networks, allowing teachers to better support student learning.
What can lawmakers do to support teachers as schools reopen?
Countries will need to implement those teaching efforts that have proven to be effective during the remote learning phase and integrate them into the normal education system in order to rebuild better education systems. To fully utilize the promise of remote and blended learning, it is vital to empower instructors by investing in the necessary skill development and capacity building.
It’s also critical to free teachers’ time from administrative responsibilities (as Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay have done), focus on what’s pedagogically effective, and provide instructors with socio-emotional support. Teachers’ roles have altered as a result of the pandemic and longer school closures, and most of them were unprepared. To ensure teacher health and avoid burnout, a thorough approach for socio-emotional monitoring and psychosocial support is required.