Spring 2020 … a tiny little virus has upended every area of our lives. Education is a priority area where there are huge opportunities for participants, whether they’re teachers, students, or parents.

Digital education can be both fun and an efficient learning tool but is not suitable for traditional testing and the possibility of cheating cannot be ruled out. Many professionals believe and I also agree, that there is no point in trying to directly copy the frontal education method on online platforms. What we need now are tolerance, openness, flexibility, and versatile methodology.

How to continue with education? 2

We need tolerance towards our children

It is normal for them to think that they are on holiday, and we need to understand that they do not feel like studying right now. Therefore, they need to be helped. It is important to make them understand the situation, the need for them to be independent, to ask them to take part in the family’s life even more. However, if they are clever enough, they can end up having more free time to play, do sports or for whatever they want to do. A lot of children are only being taught now how to learn. Children are shocked by the amount of homework they get which may slightly be misleading. The reason why they feel that they are getting a lot more homework now is that course materials and homework are set at the same time, which together might feel like a lot. They need to be helped to prioritize, to break tasks down. If we go further, children can actually benefit from it. Many people have to learn how to prioritize as adults. If we are clever enough we can teach this skill to our children without them noticing it. During this period, it is more noticeable how organized parents themselves are, how well they can keep deadlines and prioritize tasks. For a lot of parents, this is an opportunity to improve the way they manage their tasks as well.

We need tolerance towards teachers

Keep it in mind that those who used to work in a completely different system cannot switch to a new system from one day to another. Don’t degrade teachers in front of your children when they cannot access Zoom, Teams, or Skype for the first time or get the Google classroom codes wrong and when even after a week they cannot set a test on Redmenta or create lesson blocks on learning apps or other interfaces. Nor should we expect them to have a video chat as if it was the most natural thing for them, with a smile on their face. They cannot be expected to be an actor and a performer simultaneously to provide presentations full of cool animations, which of course, they had all prepared themselves. In many cases, a teacher is also a carer, a mother, a father, a teacher of their children…

However, teachers should also start to communicate, and if they get stuck, they should ask for help from parents, children, and, last but not least, their fellow teachers. Distance learning is not a newly invented concept. Talking to students in higher education, it turned out that there has been an interface (Co space) that integrates all segments of education into one system. There is no need to download anything or to have an invitation. Nevertheless, each teacher uses a different system making attending lessons and handing in work very complicated. It would be much simpler and more consistent if everyone used the same system, just like large companies that use single corporate systems.

How to continue with education? 3

The other big problem with digital education is that there are teachers who not used to teaching in distance education, so they don’t have “tailored” materials ready to send out to their students. They only have PowerPoint materials of 100 slides that aren’t in any way more useful than having a coursebook only.

As a consequence, very often, a subject is taught in parallel by several teachers, but because of digital education, they all teach in entirely different ways. Some teachers can give proper online lessons and even have time left for consultation with their students. On the other hand, some teachers just share the slides they would normally show in during a classroom lesson. As a result, some students get more opportunities to master the materials, but testing remains the same for students regardless of which teacher taught them.

Now the opportunity has come to create modern materials, materials that, when used online, can make the life of teachers a lot easier too. Just as a small remark, I wish I didn’t have to say it, but there’s a chance that periodic quarantines will recur from time to time so that these materials would be needed in the future as well.

We need tolerance towards parents

As parents, we will obviously help, but at the same time, we are not only parents – we are also home office workers, grandmothers, grandfathers, baby sitters, chefs, and kitchen workers. ☺

Nevertheless, parents need to think about what needs to be introduced into the life of the family now, and what needs to be dropped. I am sure that some of the newly implemented solutions will be kept in the future too. This is because, in this unique situation, it has become much clearer what’s essential and what’s not. The pandemic crisis highlights what is necessary, and most of all, the real nature of what is essential for the family, in working, and learning.

In this situation that is new for everyone, in the middle of the challenges posed by digital education, we parents need to learn how to work effectively with teachers, to evolve together, to make suggestions to each other, if something doesn’t work, point it out constructively. Not only the usual 2-3 parents should have their voices heard, but everyone should share their supportive suggestions because now we have the opportunity to steer education in a more positive direction together.

How to continue with education? 4

Openness is required from children

Could be solutions that might highly differ from the way they had been learning at school. The result is the same. Parents are not teachers; they might have very likely learned what their children are getting now. They try to remember, look things up and pass what they know down to their children if necessary. Children need to be open about using their gadgets not only for playing and chatting but also as a means to gain information. At the same time, they need to learn how to use the Internet safely and efficiently: what information to trust, what to double-check, and what needs to check from multiple sources.

Openness is required from teachers

It’s essential to try out different systems to see what suits their subject the best. A lot of teachers are reluctant to teach by using video chatting. Still, I believe it is worth giving an online lesson at least once a week until a more professional system worked out because staying in touch with students is crucial. Openness to possible criticism and accepting help is fundamental, as we all have a common goal. Teachers should ask students if there is anything they should do differently; if they have any ideas, any suggestions that might help. This could make the learning process more enjoyable. Finding out about what students enjoy and what they like less is not executed as efficiently as it could be in the current situation.

Digital education, online training, and courses have talked about for many years, but nothing has concretely done about them. Although some schools have equipped with digital whiteboards (which are not widely used, only by a few teachers) in many cases, teachers still use their 20-year-old teaching materials. Smartphones, tablets are regarded as enemies. When adequate IT security provided, they could be a massive benefit for teachers as well. As an excuse, we often hear that teaching staff are elderly; therefore, they shouldn’t expect to be brilliant at using digital devices. But why not? I believe that using digital tools is not age-dependent, the real answer is how open, keen someone is and whether they have the desire to improve. Grandmothers and grandfathers also use smartphones and computers to talk to their children and grandchildren. The digital world can be familiarised with and learned.

Flexibility should be adopted by everyone

How to continue with education? 5

Everything will go back to normal gradually, and there will be certain things that we thought would be good that we need to drop. There will also be things we need to learn and start to use, which we were initially skeptical about. It may happen that children will teach their parents and teachers, parents will teach their children and teachers, and teachers will teach children and parents. Traditional roles must be forgotten about.

I also read in a professional article that good digital educational applications based on the findings of methodology, informatics, and modern psychology. They include everything we already know about memorizing, attention, knowledge, learning, and their inter-relationship. The combination of learning and playing applied to digital devices has the power to mobilize remarkable changes in a child’s brain.

What I especially like about these methods is that by using them, maybe we can finally head towards an education where the focus is not on oral and written testing but on teachers trying to deliver the curriculum as interestingly and playfully as possible. This way, teachers would only need to focus on transferring knowledge, tests, and marking would be done via the applications thanks to IT. Isn’t that just wonderful?! There is no need to spend hours marking papers. Is that so awful? I even go further, what if we finally started to move our focus from testing lexical knowledge. Instead of memorizing definitions, dates, and formula, the emphasis would be put on understanding the relationships between what has been taught and learn how to put them in practice. Teachers are afraid that students would cheat if they were tested online, but if the practical use of their knowledge gets assessed, there is simply no way students could cheat. A big dream of mine would come true if our children were taught simultaneously about the history, literature, and art history of a given era, what the geographical world was like at that time. This is how students could understand the works of Petőfi, Radnóti, Eclipse of the Crescent Moon by Gárdonyi, the Renaissance age … etc. It would all make much more sense to them. They wouldn’t have to memorize precise dates, but, instead of, e.g., in which century a event took place and put everything in perspective accordingly.

It is crucial that once the virus is no longer a danger, we should not go back to square one. To maintain our achievements, it will help if we give each other feedback, tell each other what was good, what was less good, but most importantly, we shouldn’t stop what we finally started. Playful, fun learning could then become part of classroom routine, everyone using digital tools with confidence. Versatility should be part of education. Teachers could have frameworks, guidelines about what to teach but they should have the freedom to choose how and what exactly they want to teach. Children could sometimes take a “day off” if they get tired or want to study in homeschooling for a day. The total annual number of these days should be of course defined. It should be the children’s responsibility to submit their work on time; this way, no one would fall behind with learning.

Every child is different; every family is different; there are many different parents’ and teachers’ attitudes and opinions. It is not possible to create a system that everyone will like. But with adequate communication and with the often mentioned openness and flexibility, I think it is/would be possible to create something fantastic now. A system in which actors can breathe and, at the same time, enjoy participating. Finally, in which we would be able to raise a responsible digital generation.

Other ideas

How to continue with education? 6

Primary School – lower grade – should attend school, but the option of keeping children at home for 1-2 days to study this way should be provided. Given that supervision is still essential at this age, as we are talking about young children, the opportunity for them to go to school should be provided 100%.

Upper grades – the opportunity for homeschooling should be more widely used along with going to school. Children are old enough and can be left alone at home in the 7th and 8th grades. It depends on individual children what they prefer. Some children learn faster and more efficiently when they are with their peers, and there are also the ones who thrive when they are left to do things at their own pace. This is important because these children would have a lot more time to play sports or focus on their hobbies. The opportunity to go to school if they wanted should be given. Due to the epidemic, in many countries schools restart by one half of the school attending lessons in the first half of the week and the other half in the second half. Maybe this system should be kept. This would require smaller buildings per square meter, which could result in large cost savings, and schools could spend the remaining money on renovation and modern technical equipment.

High schools – just like at universities, there should be compulsory classes to attend, but otherwise, everyone would organize individually when and what they want to study. In addition to this, there may not be the need to have individual subject teachers, e.g., for History or Geography, assigned to a given student. Students could then decide which teachers’ lectures they would like to attend depending on the subject and topics. Yes, this would create a competitive situation among teachers, but at the same time, they would be encouraged continuously to improve, to be better year after year, and forced not to teach using the notes they have had for 20 years.

Of course, the above-mentioned changes can only be executed if there are already a lot of digital materials and methods available. But we may not be so far from it. When the epidemic broke out, and ideas were flooding different platforms, I can honestly say, I found it very positive and at the same time I was stunned that we had had so many tools available. But where had they been? It doesn’t matter now. Let’s not look back, but look forward.

I’m not a teacher, I have been a simple “headhunter” for nearly 20 years and have a 12-year-old child, but I’ve always been interested in teaching and education. I’ve always been wondering how it can be different. The current situation provides the opportunity to develop new ways of working in which I am happy to see my child educated and many other children smiling when going to school.

It is often said that now humanity is taking an exam. It brings the worst out of some people and the best out of others. I would like to believe in the latter, that our good side will win: solidarity will appear, patience, helpfulness will become part of our everyday life.

I have my fingers crossed for teachers, students, and for us parents as well.