Online learning, new and revised

“If we teach today as taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” When John Dewey, an American philosopher and education reformer, wrote this in 1916, he didn’t know how true these words would be for 2020.

This year has been one of radical change. There was a time when educators thought of technology as an option, a good-to-have. But this year, it has been the tool that has allowed millions of students to continue to study at home. “What technology does really well is connect people,” said Yashovardhan Poddar, in a webinar on Saturday.

We gathered educators from across the world to discuss the year that has been. On the panel was Allan Shaw, principal of Knox School in Melbourne; Jenny O’Fee, principal of the Metropolitan School in Berlin and Saloni Todi, a first year student at Hong Kong University.

Shaw and O’Fee emphasized that there has to be more to online learning than covering a portion of the syllabus. Community events which give students an opportunity to come together in celebration or otherwise are a crucial part of school life.

“As adults we tend to forget that these community events serve as anchor points for the student community. Things like morning assemblies for example. We wanted to honour those things,” O’Fee said. Her school organized an online sports day and an earth week, and while it wasn’t the same online, it gave students an opportunity to come together.

In Shaw’s school, senior students were upset that they were missing out on traditional rite of passages like a farewell and a graduation party. But over the course of the year, students learnt to accept the things they couldn’t change and change what they could. “It’s an incredible thing to learn at the age of 18,” Shaw said.

He said that it was important to let children know that they are allowed to be vulnerable. “We organized a dance competition and I made a complete fool of myself because I’m a terrible dancer. But it tells students that it’s okay not to be fantastic at everything you do,” he said.

In the same spirit, Yashovardhan Poddar urged parents and teachers to not just think of marks or about studying, but to think about how this moment can be used to have fun with children and to make them more self aware.

2020 has been a challenge as much as it has been an opportunity. If there is a silver lining to this year, it is that educators have become conscious of a student’s social and emotional needs.

Saloni, who has been attending Hong Kong University admitted that online learning has been confusing. “You wonder why staring at your screen makes you so tired, but it does,” she said. But having the option to record lectures and watch them in her own time has made things incredibly easier for her. Shaw and O’Fee also commented that they’ve noticed that students have learnt to manage their time.

 

The webinar ended on a note of looking ahead rather than looking back. O’Fee said, “Listening to our students right now is so critical, so that we can plan for the future.”