Innovations- Returning to School During COVID-19
Schools are more than just places to learn. For many they are a source of food, a safe place to be, a medical provider, and a mental health provider. The void felt by the closing of schools has been felt by everyone, but vulnerable populations have suffered the most.
The rush to come up with virtual learning plans did not leave much room for great innovation, but yet some schools have developed unique ways to deal with their challenges. The overwhelming opinion in the US is that no one really knows how and when the next school year will proceed or what it will look like. Chances are that it will grow and change throughout the school year.
- 1.18 billion learners are out of school in 146 countries.
- 67.7% of the world's population is affected by these closures.
- Ireland’s Health Information and Quality Authority has reviewed data and found that from the small number of studies identified, “children are not, to date, substantially contributing to the household transmission of SARS-CoV-2". Although, evidence still remains limited.
- Students from wealthier families, in a study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, finds that they are spending more time on learning and have better access to resources. Their parents also feel more confident in their ability to support learning.
- On average, teachers in the US are spending 6 hours of planning for 2 hours of instruction.
- Many special education students in the US are falling through the gaps as educators are unsure how to meet their needs virtually.
CDC Recommendations For Schools
- The CDC lists the following guidelines:
- Review, update, and implement emergency operations plans.
- Develop information-sharing systems with partners.
- Teach and reinforce health hygiene practices.
- Intensify cleaning and disinfection efforts.
- Monitor and plan for absenteeism.
- Assess group gatherings and events. Follow current guidance about non-critical gatherings and events.
- Require sick students and staff to stay home. Establish procedures for students and staff who are sick at school.
- Create and test communications plans for use with the school community.
- Cancel field trips, assemblies, and other large gatherings.
- Cancel or modify classes where students are likely to be in very close contact.
- Increase the space between desks to at least 6 feet.
- Stagger arrival and/or dismissal times.
- Reduce congestion in the health office.
- Limit nonessential visitors.
- Limit bringing in students from other schools for special programs (e.g., music, robotics, academic clubs)
- Teach staff, students, and their families to maintain a safe distance (6 feet) from each other in the school.
Areas of Possible Gaps or Needs
- Technology to assist/assess the following areas: emergency operation plans, information sharing, coordinating cleaning, communication, virtual options for field trips and assemblies, and mapping and scheduling.
Opening Strategies Across the World
During research several strategies were noticed numerous times like wearing masks, hand washing, seats distanced six feet apart, temperature taking, smaller class sizes, and deep cleaning of the schools. For ease of reading, these methods will be left off of each country's response, and only unique or interesting strategies will be mentioned.
As most schools are doing similar things across the globe, it became more appropriate to share singular strategies from as many countries as possible instead of just focusing on 3-5.
Strategies Used by Multiple Countries
- In almost all countries the use of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) has been encouraged where the teachers deliver live lessons or record them. They are then delivered through TV or the internet.
- Communication to stakeholders, most importantly parents, has been attempted though awareness campaigns and constant communication with parents through digital means.
- Online communication apps like WhatsApp are being used to ensure communication for teachers, parents, and students.
- Psychological support is offered through 24 hour hotlines to assist with the emotional pitfalls of the pandemic.
- Experts are recommending the use of school mapping techniques to handle classroom sizes, entering through multiple entrances, double shift schooling, and other ways the school must be reorganized.
- To combat not having adequate data, some schools are using podcasts, radio, or television.
- Gathering feedback from parents is essential to this process. Some schools are using SMS and chatbots to gather information from parents to improve the process for the upcoming school year.
- China is offering low income families mobile data packages and telecommunication subsidies.
- In larger areas students enter the building via a thermal scanner.
- Glass walls divide the eating areas so only two children can eat together.
- In Wuhan, all staff must be tested before returning to school with staggered arrival times to reduce congestion. They also are tested for the virus at the school regularly. If they test negative, they wear a green sticker.
- France is printing out packets for the 5% of students they can no get computers or internet access for.
- They opened schools first for older students, and in regions that were less affected by the virus first.
United Arab Emirates
- They have created a hotline for teachers and students to seek technical support as needed.
- Portugal is combating the lack of internet services for some students with a partnership with the post office. The post office will deliver packets to be done at home by the students.
- Spain is attempting to help low income families that need meals by sending them credit cards to be used at commercial food establishments.
- They also use apps like Edugestio that let parents and teachers work together to co-build the learning process.
- Italy is offering parents and caregivers support by providing online courses on how to manage learning during confinement.
- In Australia, students only attend one day per week to stagger attendance in the school buildings.
- In New South Wales the students only attend the school one day a week and do the rest of their learning from home.
- On a lighter note, one school in Belgium has replaced their school bell with the theme from Star Wars as an attempt to reduce some of the stress.
- In South Africa, low income students are offered grants to cover meals and internet data, but there are complaints that the amounts are not sufficient.
- In an effort to make the best of what they have, they are repurposing older technologies. Radio is being used to broadcast lessons.
- In New York, when taking into account the sizes of most classrooms, the most the room could hold is 12, meaning a staggered schedule will most likely need to be implemented. Some might go on Monday and Tuesday, while others go on Thursday and Friday, leaving Wednesday as a cleaning day.
- Many schools have partnered with community providers to create Wi-Fi hotspots, computers, and smartphones. Some businesses have donated used technology that the schools refurbish for student use.
- Miami-Dade sent home smartphones to double as Wi-Fi hot spots.
- In South Carolina buses that are used to deliver lunches beam Wi-Fi as they go along their route.
- The Richmond Public Schools are offering on-demand tutoring sessions to help with the transition to online learning.
- Many districts are offering webinars and online instruction to help parents understand all the digital tools they will be/are working with.
- In Singapore, with the younger students, they are starting 30-day challenges with the goal of taking small steps each day to learn better habits in personal hygiene. Picture books and card games have been created.
- Signs are used to show the children where they can sit and stand, but instead of big red crosses, they are using cartoons.
- Switzerland opened in some areas by dividing classes into two, with each group attending for up to 4 weeks before regular full classes resume.
- Parents are able to apply for a license to remain at home and not go to work to assist with childcare responsibilities.
- They state their ideal system would be for students to only attend school two or three times a week.
- On buses, there will be only one child per bench.
- Student will have their own working space and not move throughout the school each day.
- Libraries, gyms, cafeterias, and music and art classrooms will not be open.
- Student will need to bring their own food. School lunch will not be provided.
- Zoom calls are used by teachers to provide emotional support for the student and family.
- Students are administering COVID-19 tests on themselves to track if they have the disease. Results are revived via email. If negative, they get a green sticker to wear that allows them to move freely throughout the school without a mask.
- In South Korea, the Education and Research Information Service offers an online platform to facilitate sharing of materials by teachers.
Looking to the Future- Predictions & Recommendations
- Radio and TV programming could be distributed through Bluetooth or cellular messaging for populations that do not have appropriate internet access.
- Make use of FM receivers on phones to use apps like NextRadio.
- Physical books, pencils, and paper will be put aside in favor of laptop only work.
- Small group work in classrooms could be done online with children maintaining a safe distance, but using a tablet or laptop to complete the group assignment.
- One teacher suggests that he will plan like each lesson is the last one before schools close again, since it is impossible to know when flare-ups will be.
- Subject areas might have to be cut down to the basics, with less time being spent at school.
- Learning loss will most likely be a key part of returning to school in the fall. With schools closing so abruptly and plans made in a crisis situation, teaching and learning was not optimal. There will have to be some way to asses students when they return to see what they actually learned. This could take a significant amount of time when everyone does return. One study estimates that children will return with only 70% progress from their previous year.
- McKinsey suggests if schools can not open at full capacity, opening them up to the ones in need fist. Students that need non-academic support, wellness services, special education, or other special needs could return to school to receive the valuable services they require.
- Competency based education could be an answer to online schooling, instead of the traditional grade by grade education. This would give more flexibility in meeting the needs of all learners in a very diverse online educational setting.
- Increased usage of tools like Microsoft Teams is likely. These tools allow the teachers to see what the students are writing and lets them give real-time feedback. It also lets the teachers work privately with struggling students.
- Online child protection guidelines will need to be revisited and adapted to the current situation. Additionally, schools will need to shore up their security to deal with the amount of information they will receive digitally from teachers and students.
Areas of Possible Gaps or Needs
- Technology to assess/assist the following areas: Wi-Fi hotspots, teacher resources to produce online learning, ability to provide classes beyond the basics, assessing learning loss and providing remediation, assessing what students desperately need to be in a traditional classroom setting, competency based education, more tools that let teachers interact with students, and guidance for new online safety protocols.
- Additionally, a host of new tools will need to be mastered to manage the logistics of staggered entry into schools, buses, and online learning.