School closures can impact the most disadvantaged children in our communities. Research emerging at the time of writing illustrates that we can actually quantify the number of hours and weeks of education lost by those without full access to home learning, and the effect of class differences on access to education is incredibly sad. But what can we do about it?
Firstly, before rushing to reinvent the wheel, we need to learn from the research we already have. There have been decades of research on how to maximise the impact of online and blended learning. For example, the format of flipped blended instruction, where content is shared through the use of technology and the application of learning supported through an educator, has been found to demonstrate improved learning outcomes. It can be difficult for teachers to access such research findings, so the NCCE is providing accessible summaries at teachcomputing.org/pedagogy.
Secondly, we urgently need more research on how best to support our students and limit disadvantage as much as we can, in particular around the online participation of groups that are typically under-represented in computing education and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Catherine Elliott’s column in this issue (pages 16–17) is a useful read to find out more about working with SEND children online. I hope that we can learn from all the experience we’ve gained in the period of school closures by reporting on what works and what doesn’t.
Finally, we need to think carefully about the future of education. Are there new opportunities or ways of seeing things? A World Economic Forum report suggests that there are some ways in which education may change forever as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Technology has stepped in to help us, the article suggests, but how does that change the role of the educator going forward—will they become more facilitator than deliverer? As we move into a world where we may have less opportunity for face-to-face interaction, in-person educational opportunities should be designed to maximise the impact of that precious time to support students, reduce isolation, and build resilience.
We can also learn from the impact of other emergencies on education. An article from the Brookings Institution uses the way school structures changed drastically in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to illustrate the long-term changes to education that can result from sudden crises. We’ve been introduced to online tools that may become a key part of the future of education, we may spend more time learning at home, and our educational opportunities may be more governed by the skills and knowledge we can evidence rather than ‘age and stage’. In sum, as we move forward, we need to be prepared to think laterally about the way education works, bearing in mind the needs of all children and all families, as we put the learning from these difficult times into practice in the future.