Samuel Holliday, the Head of Primary at South View School, Dubai, speaks about the challenges faced by the education sector during the pandemic and how educational institutes are overcoming those challenges
How has the pandemic affected the education sector in the region?
This is a difficult question to answer as there are so many factors to consider. The early stages of the pandemic significantly affected the economy worldwide, and schools had to navigate the impact of this on their surrounding community as well as adjust the delivery of their curriculums in unprecedented circumstances. First and foremost, schools should be congratulated for their innovation, resilience, and community support over the last 12 months.
To answer in the present, reflecting on the last 12 months, schools have created embedded, systematic, high-quality learning systems that did not exist 12 months ago. The innovation that has organically grown from this challenge has largely improved schools in terms of multiple, purposeful, and impactful platforms to deliver education to all students, on site or at home. When the pandemic eases, many schools will continue to employ aspects of current practices as they have been so successful.
What sort of opportunities do you see in the regional education sector?
There will never be another day of learning lost to rain days. Schools now have the capacity to switch to distance learning for all students in the event of last-minute school closures. The real celebration is that collaboration between schools has been stronger than ever and has really highlighted the purpose of the profession – We are all in it for the kids. Networks between schools have been sharing ideas, best practices, case studies, and solution-based scenario conversations to help professional colleagues continue to deliver the best learning opportunities they can to any child in any school.
Is there a digital disconnect despite tech tools being available for distance education?
We all know how quickly technology updates and changes. The initial issues faced by schools were families having sufficient devices to access distance learning, families having enough devices where there are siblings, and the strain on the community broadband. Now, these issues are few and far between, and any disconnect issues may be from a school updating and enhancing digital provision at a pace that community devices cannot keep up with.
How can this digital disconnect be bridged?
Talk with the community openly, honestly, and regularly. Many families will have networks in other industries facing similar issues so will be incredibly understanding and helpful.
STEM has risen as the go-to stream of education during the pandemic. What importance does STEM have in developing the skillsets of a student?
Students interacting with each other has been limited because of social distancing measures. STEM has always been a focus for schools in recent years and it has become a subject that schools can lean on to help address gaps in student collaboration and interaction through projects and problem-solving tasks.
Do you use solutions today to make STEM learning a seamless experience?
The traditional ‘hands-on’ experience of STEM learning has moved towards digital examples with green screens, virtual reality, and pre-recorded videos. The intentions and outcomes remain the same and this has led to a smooth transition for STEM lessons.
What about the security aspects of online learning. How can that be addressed?
Online video conferencing apps have added and developed many features and settings to ensure online safety is paramount. Sessions are password-protected, only accessible by those with a recognised school email address, and details are shared through school communication channels 15 minutes before a live session to avoid the opportunity for sharing outside of the school audience.