Professor Susan Danby and Professor Simone White offer their expert insights into how education can be positively shaped for learners and teachers in a post-COVID world. In this QUTeX blog post, perspectives will be offered on the future of learners and educators separately, with the knowledge that their collective work contributes to our education.
The future of learners
Prior to the pandemic, society and the media often focused on the risks of a digital online world for young leaners. Now, in a COVID-world, there is no longer a question about if digital technology should be in the lives of young children, but rather that it is now considered a necessary everyday tool.
The shift now is the value of the digital in supporting positive futures for young learners. I believe there are four areas that stand out as markers towards where we direct our attention and endeavours as we move towards a post-COVID world.
- Debunk the myth that children are digital nativesChildren do not magically know how to use digital technology. Children might know how to navigate a smart phone to play a favourite app, but not know how to use a mouse or a laptop. Children may be expert in being a user of technology, but not a producer. Many don’t necessarily have the capacity to engage, either because of where they live, or because they cannot access the internet, data and digital devices. Children’s engagement may be affected through their learning styles or their parents’ choices and reservations about technology. Our focus must lean towards supporting all learners as we charge towards a digital world.
- Reinvest in learning and best ways to engageHow do we reinvest in better ways to engage with learning? Teachers know their learning communities, and adapt teaching strategies for their diverse range of learners. Let’s recognise and value teachers and their professional stocks of knowledge, and reinvest in recognising that the art of teaching is more than delivering curriculum.
- Shrink the Australian digital divide for schools and familiesMany Australian families are with limited or no access to the internet and digital devices. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 97% of Australian families have the internet at home – which means 3 in 100 families are left without. Many large families share a single device for learning and working. And rural and remote communities are also disadvantaged because they do not have reliable Internet access. What innovative ways can we bring together government, business, education and social service agencies to work together to ensure more equitable access?
- Upskill learning communitiesUpskilling learning communities is more than upskilling schools and teachers. We cannot just throw materials at schools as a solution. We need to think more broadly to provide access to learning for communities and families and embrace informal sites of learning such as libraries. Of course, this requires funding to build open learning spaces in locally relevant ways. This is not the work of government or a select few – it requires a whole-society approach across generations, demographics and communities.
At the new Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child led by QUT, we are spearheading some of these challenges by integrating research into child health, education, and digital and social connectedness. The centre’s vision is to support young children growing up in a rapidly changing digital age – and the COVID-19 pandemic has made our work even more vital and urgent.
The future of educators
Australian society is witnessing first-hand the absolute vital role of schooling and education. I think all politicians, and indeed families themselves, are now looking at education professionals as key to not only our economic productivity, but more importantly to our social and emotional wellbeing as a society.
How can we keep this momentum going to ensure our teaching workforce is nurtured, protected and appreciated in a post-COVID world? Two challenges, and with them opportunities, should be forefront for education policy makers and teacher education institutions:
- There is a teacher shortage crisis in many communities across Australia.We desperately need more teachers. The teacher shortage is often most felt in rural and remote areas, lower socio-economic areas and areas where there is high cultural linguistic diversity. The opportunity presents itself for us as a society to use this crisis to truly appreciate the education profession. No one wants to work in a career that is undervalued and constantly criticised. If we can turn this opportunity to value and appreciate all educators and teachers, this could contribute to a shift in the perception of the value of the profession itself.In turn, we can encourage school leavers and career changers to come into the wonderful work of the teaching profession. But we also need to ensure we maintain our high standards and qualifications to do so.
- Supporting professional learning for educators in a time of expanding work and responsibilityDuring the crisis, teachers have had to pivot and adjust to an ever-expanding new set of skills and roles. How we can support our teaching profession in a way that best fits their complex roles and lives is a challenge. How do we upskill a profession, however, that is already stretched in this crisis to be able to support their students? One way is to look to new bite-size professional learning opportunities. At QUT, we offer micro credentials for teachers – sets of free courses (and some for a small fee) that teachers can dip into – fully online and over an extended period of time to enable teachers to engage in ways that best suit them. If teachers wish they can bundle learning together to count towards a postgraduate degree. You can read about our micro credentials in my QUTeX blog post here.
Overall what I think this pandemic has done is uncover the invaluable resource that is education – the importance of lifelong learning and the true value of educators – and highlighted that the world of education will be now ever more complex and take new hybrid forms into the future.
We feel at QUT we are opening up these spaces to better cater for the diversity of needs of educators – both pre-service and in-service – and we are keen to learn more about how we can best support leaders to build capacity in the teaching workforce.