Dr Colin Calleja
Dean Faculty of Education
This year, the opening of the schools and the return of students back to school amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is a huge challenge for which the authorities have been preparing since the closure of school in March. The pandemic has had an impact on educators and students to varying degrees. Since schools shut down in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus, many teachers have worked relentlessly to recreate learning through high-tech and low-tech methods. No matter how hard teachers might have worked during the school closure, some regression and learning loss is inevitable. Given the unprecedented scale of the operations required and the sudden rather than gradual changes could have also contributed to gaps and/or losses in children's knowledge and understanding, not to mention the impact of the loss of socialisation, friendships and self-esteem - considered “essential for good mental well-being” (World Health Organisation [WHO], 2020, p.1).
Many education experts have sounded the alarm about the COVID-19 pandemic detrimental effects on children's learning. With school closure, children have been away from school for a considerable amount of time. Thus, by the time children will be returning to school, it is inevitable that many students will start the scholastic year 2020-2021 with significant deficits, both on their academic attainment and their mental health well-being.
It is therefore imperative that schools should also play a critical role in addressing the students’ psycho-social and emotional well-being. It is that moment in time when, more than ever, teachers, learning support educators and senior leadership teams need to come together, reinventing themselves and experiment with different approaches in the classroom, in distance learning contexts and student support. Consequently, educators "need to cultivate the vulnerability and improvement mindset that will allow them, collectively, to answer the question: How do we know if our students are learning?" (Wilson, 2020, para. 4).
One anticipates negative impacts of lost instructional time and socio-emotional development such that schools will need to be prepared to adjust instructional practices accordingly to respond to the distress associated with the pandemic. The likelihood of continued distress of educators and students when schools reopen is also a real possibility. Should academic expectations be unrealistic, schools will likely become a source of further distress for students at a time when they need additional support. This situation is expected to be more pronounced for children with learning difficulties and disabilities.
This publication which the Faculty together with colleagues from the Directorate produced, provides educators with ideas on how to build a curriculum which builds on previous knowledge and support students to socialize and feel they belong to a community of learners – where their emotional and psychological wellbeing is given importance.
To achieve some form of normality we need to allow the schools to open – we need to congregate and allow time for children to meet, play and socialize. We want to give our children the best opportunity to experience life and schooling as close to normality as possible, we need to do our best to give our children a safe place where they can learn and socialize in a healthy socio-emotional environment.