By the end of March, almost 1.5 billion students – or 80% of the global student population – were forced into unfamiliar learning environments as a result of Covid-19 school closures. 60 million teachers found themselves scrambling to adapt to a set of circumstances that most were unprepared for.
At The International School of Brussels, we were more fortunate than most. Watching the pandemic spread, we readied ourselves quickly and decisively to close the campus and move to Distance Learning. The response from the community was one of solidarity and overwhelming support. But it is the “distance” in Distance Learning that is often the toughest part of it.
For teachers, planning and teaching in a virtual learning environment requires a complete rethink and redesign of the learning experience. For students, the pace of learning in the first weeks becomes unsustainable because learning alone removes the key social context of community. Learning is social. For parents, the need to balance personal work commitments and children at home is hard to sustain. And, in the background, always, just lurking beneath the surface – for all of us – is a certain degree of anxiety that comes with prolonged uncertainty and never-ending news reports with the same headlines, repeating over and over again.
While we know that Distance Learning is a different animal to in-person learning, what we have been able to provide continues to be welcomed and appreciated. Some important and valid questions now come to the fore as almost two months approach since we closed. Can we return to school? How can we be sure that our children are learning? What kind of progress report can I receive on my child’s learning? What will learning look like next year? Will my child fall behind?
We are currently in the process of answering these complex questions. The good news is that we are looking forward to a gradual return to school and planning for next year’s learning, even if it may initially look a bit different to what we are used to. Distancing, in some shape or other, will likely be with us for some time, it seems. But we can bridge this distance.
While I – like so many of us – seem to spend my days in an endless flow of Zoom meetings, one of these is consistently the highlight of my day. My daily check-in with my MS Personal Learning group is a reminder that community and relationships transcend the distance that this pandemic has forced upon us. Our students have risen to this challenge remarkably. They give me great cause for optimism.
Students are not falling behind. This is a global issue. Of the 1.5 billion who have been forced to stay at home, our ISB students are among the most fortunate. We are not perfect, but we are doing our very best in these surreal circumstances.
Summer is coming. There are definitely brighter days ahead.
First published as part of the International School of Brussels Leadership Team Reflections.