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How will future historians of education look back on 2020? Will it be marked as a year of unprecedented challenges, that set back our development goals by a generation? Or will the pandemic’s legacy be to awaken us to longstanding flaws in our operating assumptions for education?

In this issue we take pause to review the insights and articles (linked) we’ve shared with you over the past year. Our three emergent themes - teacher readiness, equity and system building - all predate Covid. If we really are to build back better, we must recognise that this pandemic has not created threats to students’ education as much as it has amplified them.

Our future is in our own hands, and it will be written by the scores of parents, teachers, educators and leaders committed to developing education systems fit for all students, parents and teachers, at all times.
Theme 1: Teacher readiness
Teachers all around the world showed remarkable adaptability this year as they rapidly adopted remote and hybrid learning solutions. Blended learning has re-entered the vernacular, but it is not merely a coping mechanism for Covid. Education’s ‘new normal’ must embrace blended learning for the flexibility it offers to students and teachers alike. When technologies like virtual tutoring are used with intent, they restore purpose to the teaching day by redistributing teachers’ effort towards the human dimensions of their role.
Teacher training qualifies as our highest priority for Covid recovery efforts. Blended learning can only be normalised when teachers are supported and reassured that online learning can exist in harmony with their core instructional goals. Teacher training must also address the fundamentals. Our data revealed the stark reality that many teachers lack core content knowledge in subjects like mathematics. In one sample of teachers in sub-saharan Africa, assessment data from the Maths-Whizz platform shows that teachers’ own subject knowledge lags behind that of their students (who themselves are around three years behind their expected knowledge levels).
Theme 2: Equity
All students have been affected by the pandemic, but not equally so. In a tale that is by now too familiar, girls are bearing a greater educational burden due to Covid, with UNESCO estimating that over 11 million girls and young women may not return to school in 2020 due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone. Our strategies for empowering girls and women with STEM, issued before the first wave of the pandemic, is as timely as ever.

Along socioeconomic lines, the ‘EdTech Matthew effect’ (whereby affluent communities benefit disproportionately from solutions intended to bridge the opportunity gap) has been an unfortunate characteristic of efforts to preserve learning continuity and stability. The inconvenient implications of #LearningNeverStops is that, in practice, learning losses are a regular phenomenon associated with extended school closures, with the most marginalised communities enduring the worst impacts.

There is no panacea for the problem of educational equity but now, more than ever, system leaders must turn to evidence-informed strategies for supporting their most at-risk students. One-to-one tutoring, which is associated with some of the largest effect sizes ever seen in research and is the basis of the UK government’s £1 billion Covid recovery fund, remains the privilege of an affluent minority. As online learning becomes more mainstream, virtual tutoring systems are poised to level the playing field. By continuously emphasising engagement and personalised feedback, virtual tutoring stands to benefit all students, regardless of their background. The affordability and universality of these technologies can make them the great equaliser educators are searching for.
Theme 3: System building
Our education systems underwent seismic shifts this year, with many evidently unprepared with the infrastructure or capacity to adapt to its new realities. It was a year where the developed world drew significant lessons from the Education in Emergencies sector, which has set the precedent for valuing education enough to factor it into contingency plans as a ‘life-saving’ response element akin to food, water, and healthcare.

From a learning outcomes perspective, the pandemic has confronted system leaders with two challenges: the recovery of learning loss (with several models, including our own, estimating losses of 7-12 months) and the resumption of a ‘new normal’ that leverages data to mitigate against the threats that arise from future shocks. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics has modelled, in stark terms, the difference between action and inaction - the recovery period could be halved from eight years to four years depending on the choices system leaders take today.
Our systems must embed the resilience needed to cope with inevitable future threats. The pandemic’s exposure of the shortcomings of current distance learning models provides new leverage for the creation of products and services that are suitable for all contexts and thereby immune to disruption by disastrous changes of circumstance.
Whizz Education
Copyright © 2020 Whizz Education, All rights reserved.

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