COVID-19 and education

Five Ways to Rethink Online and Blended Learning Post-COVID

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian universities rapidly shifted to online models of learning and teaching. Some argue that this shift was long overdue. But even before the pandemic, online learning was rapidly growing in popularity in Australian tertiary education institutions. Recent data collected by the Australian Department of Education and Training show that the number of students enrolling in online and blended offerings in the higher education sector is rising faster than the number of students studying on campus. But should online and blended learning stay post-COVID? The answer is clear: YES! 

Online and blended education allows universities to expand course offerings to an increasingly wider number of students. Online education offers increasing opportunities to students from historically marginalised groups who may have previously been excluded from higher education, including students from regional and rural parts of Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, students with disability, and students who are the first in their family to study at university.

Online education is more accessible to students who work part- of full-time while studying, or for students who have substantial family or carer responsibilities. Research including the student voice has identified several reasons why they are choosing to study online. Students have said they prefer online and blended learning because it offers increased flexibility (such as the ability to choose when and where to study), the ability to fit study around lifestyle commitments (such as family and work), and reduces barriers associated with fixed timetables, transportation, and the physical on-campus environment. 

Australian students who were not able to access higher education before due to geographic location, disability, work, or family commitments report that online education now offers them their first opportunity to participate

For these reasons, online and blended learning should feature prominently in Australian higher education institutions, and university educators and researchers should be encouraged and supported to explore new ways to deliver high quality teaching in primarily asynchronous online environments. 

But online learning presents new challenges. Media reports during the COVID-19 pandemic have suggested that online learning might not be meeting the needs of all students:

  1. Uni students with disabilities say remote learning must improve
  2. ‘COVID is being used as an excuse’: Sydney’s uni students are losing patience with online learning
  3. Faculties need policies for quality assurance of online learning
  4. College students ask: What’s up with my ‘ghost professor?’

These reports are corroborated by research findings. Several studies have included the student voice to identify challenges associated with participation in online education. Here are five challenges that students might experience when participating in online or blended learning, and potential and practical solutions. The proposed solutions may help university educators to rethink the design and delivery of online learning post-COVID, to ensure that it meets the needs of diverse learners: 

ChallengeSolution
Students have reported that they have difficulty navigating the online learning environment, or they don’t know what they are supposed to be doing each week.Create a ‘Welcome to the Unit’ video, and make it the first activity that students see and complete when they log in to the learning management system (LMS; e.g., Moodle or Blackboard). In the video, you can welcome the students to the unit, and provide a video tour of the online site. On your video tour, show the students where they can find the assessment information, the unit calendar and due dates, weekly learning materials, and any other important content. 
Second, keep the navigation of your LMS simple and intuitive. Use clear section headers to organise weekly content or topics. 
Third, provide students with a printable checklist with a list of activities they should be working on each week, and key due dates.
Students have reported that they need help learning to use course technologies and cannot find information about where to access institutional support, such as tech support or enrolment supportIn a clearly marked section on your LMS, provide links to:Disability support servicesTechnology support servicesStudent advisor servicesAny academic supports available to studentsThe online library 
In your first synchronous class with the students, review the different supports and services that the university provides, and show students where to access the links. 
You might also consider including this information in a Frequently Asked Questions document for students, which you can post as an announcement during the first week of the semester. 
Students have reported that the course content lacks purpose or is not pitched at the right levelCreate clear and measurable course-level and topic-level learning objectives. Your course-level learning objectives should appear at the very top of the LMS, and should tell the students what they will be able to say and do at the end of the semester. The assessment tasks should be designed to allow students to demonstrate the course-learning objectives. 
The topic-level learning objectives should be more specific and aligned to the weekly content. For example, when providing weekly topic-level readings or activities for the students to complete, state the learning objective name or number that the activity is aligned to in brackets next to the activity. Really strengthen the alignment between activities and learning objectives!
Provide multiple ways for students to learn and engage with the content. For example, when teaching a specific concept (or topic), you might provide a textbook chapter, a brief video lecture, a link to a blog post or website, and an interactive activity. This provides students with different ways to engage with material, that vary in complexity and form. 
Students have reported that online education does not provide them with opportunities to build personal relationships with lecturersFirst, set up an online ‘Introduce Yourself’ forum and ask students to introduce themselves and answer a fun question (for example, if you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?). Personally respond and welcome each student when they post an introduction.
Supplement the asynchronous (or self-paced) online study activities with some synchronous real-time activities, such as discussion groups, tutorials, or drop in sessions. 
Use discussion forums, wikis, google forms, or other tools to create collaboratively learning activities for students. To maximise student engagement, provide very clear instructions about the task and the expected contribution of each student. Make the activity relevant by linking it to one component of the assessment task. Be present in the forum or in the collaborative learning space by providing encouragement, praise, and scaffolding (all sorts of feedback!) in response to student contributions. 
Students have reported that course technologies and content are inaccessibleProvide an accessibility statement for any course technologies you use. An accessibility statement provides users with information about how the technology or software meets basic guidelines for accessibility. If the technology does not have an accessibility statement, look for different technology. 
Include alternative text for any images that you post on your LMS.
Ensure videos include a captioning option or a transcript. 
Do not use coloured text to convey meaning. 
Always upload word documents and PDFs that are accessible and searchable. Never upload scanned documents, which are not accessible or searchable. 

It is important to note that university educators have also expressed concern about online education. University staff have reported feeling like they lack institutional support to design high quality online learning experiences. Staff have reported that they do not have enough time or resources to design engaging online content, and others reported that the sector lacks quality standards for online education. Staff have raised concerns about the degree to which online education is designed with accessibility and inclusion in mind, with some feeling that the accessibility of online learning environments was an afterthought, rather than a priority. 

As we move into a post-COVID era and look to the future, university administrators must also ensure that educators have the time, resources, and support to design high quality online and blended learning experiences for students. Online education is not simply a cheaper and easier option for universities. Online education can make higher education more accessible, equitable, and inclusive, but it must be done well. 

To learn more about designing accessible and inclusive online learning experiences, please check out our new free e-learning course for tertiary educators and learning designers.

Dr Erin Leif is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) and Senior Lecturer in School of Educational Psychology & Counselling, the Faculty of Education,
Monash University.
Her research interests include Educating for Diversity and Inclusion and Enhancing Health and Wellbeing

Why we never want to be in Kansas

The year ahead for Australian schools: escalating workloads, industrial action and COVID-19:

On New Years’ Eve in 2020, teachers around Australia looked forward to leaving behind a difficult year of lockdowns and remote teaching, and starting a new, and hopefully better year afresh. However, on New Years’ Eve in 2021, teachers seem to have found themselves back at square one. Here we are, approaching term one, and states and territories are not in agreement about who will go back and when.

So just what will 2022 bring for Australian educators? In this review, we report on emerging trends in school education across Australia’s states and territories, and the professional and industrial matters which we think may confront teachers in the year ahead. 

Teacher workload and work pressures: a crisis at tipping point?

Achieving positive schooling experiences and outcomes for students depends considerably on ensuring teachers are well-resourced and supported to complete their important work. But teachers’ work has grown enormously in size and become more complex in nature. 

In recent research, we synthesised large-scale surveys from over 48,000 teacher-participants to analyse teacher workload across five Australian states. The most prominent finding emerging from these surveys was the near-universal increase in teachers’ workload, perceived to be driven by the ‘heavy hand’ of compliance reporting and datafication. This has impacted teachers’ core work, with a corresponding reduced time to focus on matters more directly related to classroom teaching.

Teachers’ hours of work were found to have increased over the 5 years between 2013-2018 and were reported as being slightly higher in Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. 

Total average hours per week (Primary, FT)Total average hours per week (Secondary, FT)Hours within total undertaking work activities at home or on the weekend
New South Wales555511
Western Australia535310
Victoria52.853.211.5 for primary teachers. 6 hours for secondary.
Tasmania45.846.290% of primary teachers work 5 hours. 70% of secondary teachers work 3 hours
Queensland 43.944.1Teachers report spending between 1-7 hours on a range of tasks ‘outside rostered duty time’, including weekends, each week

The complexity and demands of teachers’ work has also increased nation-wide. In New South Wales, approximately 95% of teacher-respondents reported that the complexity of their work had increased over the last five years and that the range of activities undertaken in their work had increased. In New South Wales and Western Australia, over 96% and nearly 90%, respectively, of respondents reported that the volume of collection, analysis and reporting of data had increased over the last five years. 

It is very common for teachers to work beyond in-school hours. Over 99% of teachers responding in Queensland indicated they used time outside their rostered hours to plan and prepare lessons. In Victoria, planning and preparation was undertaken by a large majority of respondents during evenings (93%) and weekends (83%). 

This increase in workload and intensification of work has occurred at a time of governments promoting devolutionary, market-inspired policy. Previously we have argued that policies which devolve increased decision-making power to schools have contributed to the intensification of teachers’ work, resembling a ‘tsunami’ of paperwork. 

However, there appears to be shifting ground around the future of devolutionary policy in schools. For instance, after a decade in operation, the NSW Government repealed Local Schools, Local Decisions and replaced it with the School Success Model after it became evident that there were no improved educational outcomes across the States’ education system from this devolutionary policy. 

But time will tell the impact of this new reform on teachers’ workload. Previously we have argued that a new policy which sits alongside the School Success Model – the Quality Time Action Plan – which intends to “simplify administrative practices in schools” and bring about greater shared responsibility and accountability perhaps won’t adequately address the workload concerns and administrative burden on teachers created by devolution, as our research has documented. 

Policy deliberations around school governance and devolution may signal a ‘back to the future’.  Governments have previously commented that schools have been given ‘too much’ decision-making power, however we argue that policy reform should focus on the ways in which governance and accountability mechanisms can support teachers to focus on their core work of teaching and learning. 

Union demands: the time to improve teacher salaries and conditions

Our research has also documented the campaigns being led by teacher unions across various states in protest against these workload pressures facing teachers, alongside calls for improved salaries and to address the worsening nation-wide teacher shortage. 

In December 2021, New South Wales public school teachers engaged in their first strike action in 10 years. This action came off the back of findings from an Independent Inquiry into the NSW Teaching Profession finding major concerns with teachers’ working hours and salaries. 

Elsewhere we have argued that this situation has been furnished by a challenging industrial environment, where salaries for teachers are locked in a 2.5% legislated wages cap and teachers are barred from arguing work value cases before the Commission to seek salary increases. 

Victoria’s teacher union is similarly planning strike action for 2022, which would also be the first strike action by Victorian teachers in a decade. Teachers are seeking increases to pay and superannuation in addition to reduced face-to-face teaching hours and classroom sizes. 

Meanwhile the Queensland Teachers’ Union has argued that more needs to be done to attract teachers to move to rural and remote areas of the state to adequately staff schools. It has even been reported that pre-service teachers are being granted waivers to teach in Queensland to address teacher workforce shortages. 

Industrial action, once a prominent strategy by teacher unions to pressure governments to improve teachers’ pay and conditions, over time has been constrained. However, the groundswell of concerns is prompting teacher unions to push back against worsening industrial and professional conditions of work. Indeed, union leaders have indicated that industrial action is likely to continue this year.

It’s time to listen to teachers 

It would appear that, currently, there is a disconnect between teacher workforces across Australia, and the policy-makers with power over their conditions. Teacher workload has escalated under systems of devolved governance, prompting a resurgence in industrial action from teacher unions.

Presently, many teachers are grappling with the idea of returning to face-to-face teaching in a few weeks. While some (although notably not teachers) may be arguing adamantly for this return, many of the teachers we know are hesitant about once again being asked to enter an unsafe work environment, where an existing teacher shortage will undoubtedly be compounded by the rampant spread of the omicron variant and associated sick leave fallout – an issue which is affecting the teaching profession nationally.

With no casuals to call upon, those who are able to teach will only have to take on more to share the load. Or instead we may find ourselves in the position of, for example, Kansas in the United States, where 18 year old high school graduates with a background check will be able to step into classrooms to work as a substitute teacher, to fill the gaps in staffing created by COVID-19. 

And so, as we look upon the dawn of another new, uncertain, and likely difficult year in schools, it is high time that we listen to and support our teachers – or soon there may no longer be any qualified professionals left in our schools to listen to.  

Meghan Stacey is a former high school English and drama teacher and current lecturer in the School of Education at UNSW Sydney. Meghan’s primary research interests sit at the intersection of sociological theory, policy sociology and the experiences of those subject to systems of education. Meghan’s PhD was conferred in April 2018. Meghan is on Twitter @meghanrstacey. Mihajla Gavin isa lecturer in the Business School at the University of Technology Sydney, and has worked as a senior officer in the public sector in Australia across various workplace relations advisory, policy and project roles.

Mihajla’s research is concerned with analysing the response of teacher unions to neoliberal education reform that has affected teachers’ conditions of work. Mihajla is on Twitter @Mihajla_Gavin

Why it’s a nightmare to use Zoom to get moving

Schools around Australia were forced into online delivery of physical education (PE) in Term 2, 2020, due to measures taken to suppress and restrict the spread of Covid-19. We looked at what really happened in classrooms. The results show us exactly how marginalised PE became.

What we found in our research, ‘Just do some physical activity’: Exploring experiences of teaching primary school physical education online during Covid-19, is that few guidelines were provided to teachers by education departments, and that teachers found out ‘what works’ by ‘trial and error’. Our study found PE teachers missed the face-to-face interaction with students, and that often new teaching skills needed to be cultivated to meet the challenge of online lesson delivery, whether by synchronous or asynchronous delivery.

Students in Tasmania where this research occurred were required to study online from home for approximately 10 weeks, with schools only being ‘open’ to families of essential workers who continued in the workforce while the rest of the population were under work from home requirements.

In Australia, physical education (PE) is an essential education provision that is central to the development of the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for lifelong health and wellbeing. It is a part of the essential learning area called Health and Physical Education (HPE), which all Australian students within compulsory ages of schooling are required to take. While regular physical activity is recommended for students to meet the achievement standards of the Australian HPE Curriculum (AC:HPE), it is important to remember that the rationale and objectives of the AC:HPE clearly indicate that PE should have an educative focus and an inquiry emphasis.

Regular participation in school PE is an important foundation to ‘becoming’ physically educated and to the physical literacy that informs physical activity as an ongoing lifestyle choice. Research has also noted that participation in PE has numerous affective, social-emotional and cognitive benefits. Despite the holistic outcomes associated with PE, it is often not given the time and resources it requires to develop students into independent, self-regulated and self-motivated seekers of physical activity by the end of compulsory PE in Year 10. This is due to schools prioritising time to other learning areas deemed more ‘academic’ and therefore ‘important’ to the priorities of the school. It needs to be acknowledged, that often PE has not helped its own image as a worthwhile site of learning through provision of school curricula that provides little more than a series of physical activity experiences. This has been described as keeping students busy, happy, active, and good (well behaved).

The study

This study was undertaken by researchers from the University of Tasmania and Flinders University, Adelaide. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects on the educative intent of PE when primary school teachers were forced into an online delivery of the curriculum. It is important to know more about this phenomenon to inform future situations like that experienced by Covid-19 suppression measures as well as existing distance education by online delivery.

Data was obtained from eleven Tasmanian HPE specialist teachers who were forced to shift to online delivery of primary school PE during 2020. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with these teachers, who taught in co-educational primary schools across a variety of Tasmanian locations.

Key themes

Analysis of teachers’ experiences led to the emergence of three key themes:

1. PE did not happen, but, in most cases, was altered to physical activity/fitness or educatively marginalised to just being a movement break between other subjects with higher status and priority;

2. Online learning platforms are already used by schools, but not with consistency. Using them to teach PE can be a lot of additional work and teachers had varying levels of willingness to use these platforms;

3. Connection with students is an important part of teaching, teachers preferred to connect with their students face to face and had concerns about delivery of feedback and student engagement online.

PE did not happen

Declining rates of physical activity participation, increasingly sedentary behaviour of Australian children and reports on low attainment of fundamental movement skills (and the problem of this when they are possibly predictive in the choice to be physically active) were already an issue before Covid-19. A focus on educative purposes for the progressive development of movement competence and confidence is one of the five interrelated propositions that shaped the writing of the AC:HPE. Yet, the educative ‘E’ in PE largely did not occur, rather, PE had been marginalised and replaced with physical activity tasks and in some cases to participating in online fitness activities. Online fitness videos can be a great resource for young people wanting to increase their movement levels during isolation, to accumulate sufficient physical activity through the day for healthy growth and development. However, physical activity provision of itself is not PE and HPE teachers are not personal trainers. Despite indicating an awareness of the difference between PE and physical activity, teacher comments indicated that they were happy just if their students were outside and active every day during isolation.

While students being active outside should be encouraged, particularly in light of recent research noting physical activity decreases during Covid-19, this physical activity should be undertaken in addition to PE lessons, just as it is in a ‘normal’ school day where physical activity breaks and ‘active classrooms’ are encouraged.  The educative focus of PE plays an important role in children becoming ‘competent’ in being active and developing the skills and dispositions required for lifelong health and activity, and the self-efficacy required to continue to independently seek to be physically active. While substituting physical activity for PE long term is going to be highly detrimental to this aim, it is important to acknowledge that expectations on teachers during Covid-19 suppression measures were unprecedented in living memory. Teachers were given very little time or professional development to prepare online content and teach online, and many participants perceived online teaching to be a temporary move until suppression measures had eased and teaching returned to normal.

Online learning platforms

Most participants appeared to be confident users of technology, yet some were concerned about the amount of screen time students were experiencing while learning online. This concern might go some way to explaining why some teachers chose to prioritise movement accumulation by setting physical activity tasks that would require students to get off their laptops but doesn’t mitigate against the expectation of teachers of all subjects to continue to progress students towards attainment of the student achievement outcomes outlined in the curriculum.

Participants who did teach online noted an increased workload due to different platforms being used and the time required to provide feedback to students. As one participant noted; “I’m giving myself a lot of work because I’m uploading the video to the 15 classes I teach, so it goes out to over 300 children and I had over 100 children respond every day. So, I’ve been on my computer the whole time responding to the children and watching their videos”. Using videos is a sensible solution to the challenge of online PE delivery, but teachers do need to be aware of the time required to give feedback.

Connection

Perhaps a reason for the loss of educative intent was the loss of connection teachers felt with the students and becoming physical activity leaders was seen as providing an online connection. Participant comments indicated both a concern for students missing the social benefits of learning together and working within a team, and their personal feelings related to missing their students. The ‘learning with others’ and the intra and inter-personal social skills development possibilities that come from PE teachers who deliberately plan for personal and social skills learning in PE, connects with the education through movement dimension that frames the AC:HPE.

While participants predominantly detailed the challenges of adapting their PE program for online delivery, several participants shared anecdotes of positive experiences with student engagement that had emerged during the move to online delivery. These included successful virtual cross-country carnivals and increased physical activity for some families. Exercise was one of the few reasons that Tasmanians were permitted to leave their homes during isolation, so it is important to acknowledge that some families may have increased their physical activity levels due to boredom and ‘cabin fever’. Nevertheless, these teacher comments indicated that online delivery of PE did have some benefits for students and their families, which teachers may be able to build on in the future.

Conclusion

The results suggest that for these teachers, the influence of Covid-19 forcing school curricula delivery online was (further) marginalisation of expectations for PE. PE is already recognised in the literature as a valued but not necessarily priority focus of learning, especially in primary schools. It appeared that the significant degree of contradiction between the value of PE and the provision of PE as a vague notion of physical activity accumulation became accentuated during online delivery. The departure of the ‘education’ in physical education became acceptable as physical activity accumulation was pursued.

For those who want more: http://www.iier.org.au/iier31/cruickshank-abs.html

A second paper focussed on the online teaching experiences of secondary HPE teachers during COVID-19 suppression measures is currently under review.

From left to right:

Vaughan Cruickshank is a Senior Lecturer in Health and Physical Education (HPE) at the University of Tasmania and is currently Program Director of the Bachelor of Education(HPE) and Bachelor of Education(Science/Maths) programs. His research interests are focussed on HPE, health literacy and how we can encourage people to be active and healthy for life.

Shane Pill is an associate professor in physical education and sport at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. He researches using qualitative methodology in curriculum, pedagogy, school leadership, and sport coaching. Shane is an award winning teacher educator, including the Australian Award for University Teaching (2016 and 2020) and Life Membership of the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

Casey Mainsbridge is a Lecturer in Health and Physical education at the University of Tasmania, Australia. His research areas are in health, physical activity, sedentary behaviour, pedagogy, habits and behaviour change. Casey is the Director of Student Engagement in the School of Education at the University of Tasmania, and has also been a registered exercise professional for twenty three years.

Pandemic Collection: Reflections on inequities amplified by the COVID-19 global crisis

The pieces in this collection are our reflections on the ongoing inequities in education that have been amplified or illuminated by the COVID-19 global crisis. We hope our reflections help readers consider how education work might respond to and address these inequities.

All of these pieces were written during early May 2020—prior to the death of George Floyd and the global movement that ensued. Though the reflections in the collection predate George Floyd’s killing, many of the issues raised in this collection are part of the same unequal system that produces Blak/Black death, through the virus and beyond.

We are all staff or higher degree research students from the Social Transformations and Education Research Group at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Our pieces meditate on the ways the teacher has been positioned through the crisis and what this says about how our society sees teachers (Amy McKernan); the many roles played by schools in the pursuit of mass schooling (Nicky Dulfer); the politics of expertise (Jessica Gerrard); schools futures and Indigenous history (Ligia (Licho) López López); possibilities for investing in community as key to education (Sophie Rudolph); opportunities for rethinking the local in relation to global problems (Rhonda Di Biase and Bonita Cabiles); and the importance of attempting to understand each student’s emotional life and journey in supporting learning communities (Michelle Cafini).

Our Pivoting Teachers By Amy McKernan

So what does “mass schooling” mean to us now? By Nicky Dulfer

Saving education: Trust me I’m an expert By Jessica Gerrard

Ancestral 2020 vision: Chronicle of a death foretold By Ligia (Licho) López López

Here’s our chance to refocus on education for community, not just for the economy By Sophie Rudolph

Turning global adversity into advantage: Working towards education for all By Rhonda Di Biase and Bonita Cabiles

Which boat were you in? by Michelle Cafini

Our pivoting teachers

By Amy McKernan

In my job I teach teachers. Some of my students are working to qualify as teachers, some are teachers already established in the profession. This semester, I have been deeply concerned for my students who also teach. They worked through the term one holidays to accommodate two possible futures – a return to school as we knew it and an about-face to distance learning.

They ‘pivoted’, and now they must ‘pivot’ again. They sit in my webinars with grey faces, tired and quiet, somehow still submitting assignments amongst all of this. Somehow, they are still determined to become more knowledgeable, more skilled, and better teachers.

My teacher students have worked even longer hours than before, implementing a whole new way of teaching, and redeveloping months and years of planning for a completely different world. They have drawn on considerable reserves of expertise and ingenuity to keep their school students learning, all the while closely monitoring wellbeing, and performing the emotional labour of caring.

I have watched over the weeks as the teachers in my classes have become withdrawn, resigned to the fact that they were the last to be considered in this global pandemic, that the decision to close schools appeared to be based not on the possible threat to teachers’ wellbeing, but on the economic wellbeing of families who must work and the safety of grandparents who might need to babysit.

I’m not suggesting that the needs of families should not be a factor in decision-making, of course they should. But the silence on teachers’ safety, including the safety of the many immunocompromised teachers, has been deafening. No one seems to acknowledge the likely mental and physical health issues teachers face as they managed the increased workload of teaching students both in and out of the classroom.

There has been an implicit assumption that teachers will take up a significant burden in this crisis. As is so often the case, teachers have little agency and little voice in making the big decisions that affect them. The evident lack of concern for teachers throughout the discussions of school closures has been so sadly reflective of the disrespect afforded to the profession in this country that I supposed I shouldn’t be shocked.

Most of us, including the parents currently supervising the schooling of their children at home, do not have a great deal of insight into the demands of teaching. If we did, teaching would be among the highest paid professions in the country, without question. It is my hope that in the future, when COVID-19 is a memory and the economy is returning to life, the students who are now witnessing their teachers’ innovations are learning that actually no, not just anyone (your parents) can do what teachers do. I hope the respect teachers truly deserve will grow.

I hope eventually we will see clearly the sacrifices teachers made during this crisis (and the way they were sacrificed). I hope we start to understand how important teachers are, and value them enough to stop sacrificing them in the name of economic gain. I hope, ultimately, those exhausted teachers sitting quietly in my webinars will, at last, receive the respect befitting their status as some of Australia’s most essential workers.

Dr Amy McKernan is an early career academic at the Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. Her research broadly investigates teaching and learning with confronting histories and narratives of trauma, violence and injustice. She is a teacher educator in the sociology of education, international education, and educational research methodologies.

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So what does “mass schooling” mean to us now?

By Nicky Dulfer

For the first time in my living memory, onsite school attendance has had to cease. Mass schooling, which has been described as a way of providing universal educational access through school attendance, has been disrupted in Australia and around the world. 

We have closed schools and opted for distance and remote learning models to help contain the spread of COVID-19.  For the vast majority of our 3.8 million students, this involves students attempting to learn in their home environments with their teachers providing content, support and feedback remotely.

As a result of school closures in Australia many people are just discovering how many roles schools fulfil.  To students in unsafe homes, schools can provide sanctuary; to the hungry, food; to the homeless, shelter; to the scared, security; to the lonely, friendship; and to the isolated, a sense of belonging.  For those of us who have worked in disadvantaged school settings this is not surprising.  Schools have long been a proxy home for many students.  School libraries can create safe places to sit quietly and read, school breakfast clubs can ensure everyone has the chance to eat something at the beginning of the day, school homework clubs can provide equipment and staff to support students who need some extra help, and school teachers can provide a valued adult relationship for students who seek connection and support. This is not to say that everything about mass schooling is positive.

To many students attending school can mean isolation, bullying, violence and ridicule.  It can mean being taught to be ashamed of personal cultural heritage and difference.  It can be a place that is not safe or inclusive.  For many students, schools are just another place in which they are not valued.

Mass schooling has meant that schools are also often sought after as places to institute certain political agendas. Governments have long understood this.  In the 1970s the Whitlam government instituted the Disadvantaged Schools Program as a way of ensuring schools could help support those students who needed it most. Until the 1980s students used to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ at every assembly as way of ensuring the Colonial past erased all that had gone before.  The Howard government offered additional financial support to schools if they flew the Australian flag.  Mass schooling is also seen as a way of instituting social agendas as schools are a way of reaching all students.  In the 1950s the Menzies government, concerned with malnutrition among children, instituted the school milk program.  In the 2000s concerns around obesity led to significant changes in what is available at the school canteen. Now, students all around the world are being educated on the correct way to wash their hands in classrooms.

Thus, school sites are often used to perpetuate both helpful and harmful political and social agendas.

In the time of COVID-19 one thing that has become very clear is the dependence of modern society on mass schooling.  The provision of mass schooling serves the dual economic function of allowing parents to work whilst educating their children to be useful to the workforce in the future. It also serves the social function of transmitting the social norms of society to students.  Additionally, mass schooling has been used as a place in which equity has been supported.

I believe one of the few good things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the revitalised conversation within our communities about what it is that mass schooling does, can and should do.

Nicky Dulfer is a Senior Lecturer at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. Her research areas of expertise include issues of inequality and pedagogy within secondary education.

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Saving education: Trust me I’m an expert

By Jessica Gerrard

Dr Norman Swan comes on the radio and I shush my partner. Dr Norman Swan has become a national treasure.

COVID-19 is apparently going to save experts. After years of the apparent growth of ‘populism’ and of the political denial of climate change, it appears it has taken this horrendous virus to demonstrate the utility of expert knowledge.

In the absence of political leadership, in the days and weeks after COVID-19 made its way to Australian shores, it was Dr Norman Swan – ABC Radio National’s health editor – who interpreted and disseminated the medical evidence on COVID-19. It is, of course, experts who are racing to find a vaccine and providing medical care.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has kept universities out of its cornerstone JobKeeper policy, throwing casuals – and the higher education sector – to the curb. There’s even reports of universities asking volunteers to cover teaching because of staff cuts. For permanent staff workloads have increased and universities (and the sector’s union) have already put pay slashes on the table.  

In these sorts of moments, a defensive move is understandable: we have to save education, right? Higher education, after all, is the place in which experts are produced. And isn’t now, of all times, the time to be protecting and nurturing the production of expertise? Defending the worth of and possibility for education for our future?

Expertise, however, is neither neutral nor categorical. Experts do not float disinterestedly above social relations. They are made by society and they have a vested interest in making particular versions of society. Eugenics, phrenology, conversion therapy, hysteria diagnoses – and dare I say it, even JobKeeper – were all driven to some degree by experts.

Expertise rests upon divisions between experts and so-called ‘laypeople’, and this division is marked by power. It also rests upon structural inequalities of education. Despite the vast expansion of higher education, contemporary society is built on a fallacy, not actuality, of social mobility for all. Hierarchical divisions in educational achievement are the bedrock of educational institutions, as are inequitable divisions in labour.

COVID-19 is apparently going to save experts, but it is cleaners who are saving us all.

Expertise is not just about producing knowledge: it is also practiced in relation to the ‘unknown’. The boundaries between the known and unknown are shaped by what we think it is possible to know about; what the social, technological and political relations of the day make possible to know about; and what is strategically denied (*cough* climate change).

COVID-19 demonstrates that the current moment is not defined by a withering of expertise, but its reconfiguration in relation to what is known and unknown (and asserted to be known and unknown) in the function of modern capitalist democracies.

Indeed, the recent proposals that materially de-value the humanities and social sciences demonstrate that the current Australian government is centrally concerned with the form and function of expertise. In this proposed reform particular forms of expertise are recognised as valuable above others.

Moreover, it’s no coincidence that at the time of rising post-truth there is concurrent fetishization of evidence and data. Particularly in education, data metrics are increasingly valued political assets: university and journal rankings, student evaluation surveys, impact scores, citation rates, h-indexes are all presented as numerical proxies for the value of university work.

So, what exactly are we saving? What education are we declaring an interest in for the future?

Perhaps at the very least, not one that unthinkingly asserts expertise as an unproblematic elixir. And not one that presumes that the production of expertise necessarily relies on divisions in labour and systems of meritocracy that structurally require unequal access to education and outcomes of it.

Shush, Dr Norman Swan is back on the radio.

Dr Jessica Gerrard researches the changing formations, and lived experiences, of social inequalities in relation to education, activism, work and unemployment. She works across the disciplines of sociology, history and policy studies with an interest in critical methodologies and theories.

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Ancestral 2020 vision: Chronicle of a death foretold

By Ligia (Licho) López López

Part II

Wati’t, will you tell me the rest of that origin story?

The one where another life begins in the future.

Right. The story of a future inhabited by peculiar beings who will call themselves Humans. Thousands of years from now, in the year 2020 entities from the virus world will decimate thousands of them. Humans will be forced to flee. They will mistakenly think of the virus in the only frame they know: War. So in the first months of a rising decade in the 21st century, they will wake up and will feel as if bombs were dropped on them as they have dropped bombs on others. With no time to pack their bags stuffed with Human supremacy, and the rest of their useless belongings including belonging itself, they will lose being and becoming Human.

What will those planes of existence look like Wati’t?

Full of wonder and wilderness! At first they will be afraid of what they will encounter. With no Normal saint or Economy god to misguide their existence, they will be swept with bewilderment. The first thing they will realize is that they are just one more element of an endless constellation and not the centre of it. Some of the cleverest ones, well they will not be that clever, really! but some of them will smuggle their useless concept of the Individual which will have no currency in other planes. Their existence will be relational. Upon entry to these unfamiliar planes of existence, Humans will disappear and become a collective of moving particles. Friction, magnetism, and sonic waves, not Identities, Borders, or Institutions, will characterize their movements in the new planes.

Remember that genius Human invention they called Schools? Well before being forced by the 2020 virus entity to flee the world as they knew it, Schools were Institutions. In these planes Schools will be sites of encounter. They will be located throughout and will not require a building called “school” for learning to take place. Because some habits are hard to die, some of them will invoke obsolete modern ideas to say “schools are the best place for children to learn.” But the majority of them having learned the lessons from the 2020 pandemic will ask: To learn what? To learn how? To learn whose knowledges? Can knowledges be owned? What counts as learning? What learning counts? Where, with what, and with whom can learning take place? In the new plane of existence, they will realize that moulding children into rubrics, test scores, statistics, international comparative data, and the next capitalist battalion of citizens will bring their demise. It will by 2020 and will again after 2020.

Instead of learning to become settler colonialists, at the site of encounter children will teach and learn about colonialism and the history that forced them to seek refuge in new planes of existence. Instead of taking, children will learn to borrow and give back in full respect of the sentient beings they will be in commune with. Children will return to their wilderness without the Human fear of “being backward” or “falling behind.” That will be pre 2020 history. Colour codes for children’s bodies will no longer be the norm. In fact, there will be no norms, gender or otherwise. There will not even be ‘children’ as the category upon which ‘adults’ manage and attempt to control the/their futures. Through wondering into the histories of human grids and classificatory regimes through online or VR learning, they will regain a sense of humility. That will be the ultimate social and emotional learning lesson resulting in new worlds unfolding. How marvellous!

Maltyox wati’t

Dr López López is a Caribbean, Queer, and Brown scholar of Indigenous background whose life begins in Abya Yala. She has lived, researched, taught, and learned in continental Africa, Europe, the US, and Australia. Her interdisciplinary research is situated at the intersection of curriculum studies, Indigenous and race studies in education, and youth and visual studies.

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Here’s our chance to refocus on education for community, not just for the economy

By Sophie Rudolph

On my daily local walk I pass a primary school which now has a sign on the gate saying there is limited access to the school while remote learning is in place. The ‘learning from home’ situation has meant parents and carers have been asked to supervise and facilitate learning that is set out and guided by teachers remotely. Teachers have been asked to transform their lessons and connect with students and families in unfamiliar ways, many going to extra lengths to reach those who have limited digital resources at home.

In recent decades education has become highly focused on the product of learning – NAPLAN results, PISA results, ATARs, marks and degrees are tallied, scrutinised, lamented, celebrated and compared. This focus on product both overshadows the process of learning and undermines education as a social good – in and of itself valuable. It can easily position teachers as technicians and students and parents as consumers, concerned primarily with their own individual success. However, education is much more than this and rarely is the lived reality of education so stark and straightforward.

During the COVID-19 pandemic children and young people have been frequently positioned as an inconvenience – the supervision and care they require being seen as an impediment to ‘restarting the economy’. The government was quick to push for learning to be transferred back to schools so that parents/carers can be freed to return to their roles within the economy. However, this overlooks the unpaid and underpaid labour that is done under regular circumstances to support the economy.

The lessons of this time therefore offer opportunities for valuing and nurturing some of the parts of education that have been disregarded by the shift to focus on educational product. A post-pandemic education system could take seriously what feminist global studies historian Tithi Bhattacharya argues are the ‘life-making’ activities of social reproduction. This is work that is largely done by women or in highly feminised professions and it is work of a social nature, not purely an economic nature. It is the process and relational aspects of education, not the product. Imagine if we thought about children and young people as important, thoughtful and valuable members of our society now, rather than just future workers getting in the way of the economy. 

If education were to value community more thoroughly, we might see greater time in schools spent building relationships with local First Nations communities to nurture understanding and awareness of Indigenous knowledge. We might see teachers, students and local community collaborating more to find solutions to problems affecting their communities. We might see curriculum that valued the funds of knowledge that children and young people have for pursuing their learning outcomes rather than waiting for NAPLAN or ATARs to tell us what students can and can’t do. We might recognise that the job of teaching involves emotional work and that teachers require time to recharge so they don’t burn out and leave the profession. We might think about restructuring work so that communities – teachers, students, families, carers and friends – have more time to come together more often to share in the process of learning and living together.

We could take a lead from young people who ask us to imagine what is possible, and work collaboratively to cultivate education communities that care for the human and more than human world, and not just for their ATAR outcomes and unfettered economic growth.

Dr Sophie Rudolph is a Lecturer at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne. Her research and teaching interests centre on issues of education equity, politics and ethics, through historical and sociological analyses.

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Turning global adversity into advantage: Working towards education for all

By Rhonda Di Biase and Bonita Cabiles

When listening to an expert panel talking about COVID-19, one particular comment resonated with us: “We will learn a lot about the virus, but we will learn more about ourselves”.  The subsequent discussion referred to our learning as people, as communities and as nations. We add to this, learning as a global community, and we reflect on this here.

In discussing the race to find a vaccine, this same panel highlighted differences in the way this particular global challenge has resulted in an international collective effort. A spirit of collaboration, not competition, has developed in the race against the virus.  Can this global momentum to collaborate be harnessed in new and creative ways in a post-COVID world? 

So too does this question apply to our vision for the world we want post pandemic.  Can we continue to work together in unprecedented ways?  Can our common goal become to realise the vision embedded in the United Nations’ globally endorsed Sustainable Development Goals?These goals include no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, and reduced inequalities. This pandemic provides impetus for a more deliberative discourse around issues of equity in education, including how we ‘do aid,’ without reverting to business-as-usual. The vision embedded within the Sustainable Development Goals offers fertile ground for international interdependence working towards education for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a disruption to the status quo of schooling that has exposed more sharply the cracks of education, especially among the most vulnerable. It has powerfully cast a bright light in many countries on what seems to be a perpetual state of crisis in education.

However, financing, which is a key to bridging educational inequities, remains compromised. In the latest UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, Sustainable Development Goals Secretary-General, Jeffrey Sachs, laments the sobering decline of development aid for education. In the aftershocks of COVID-19, will the global community be willing to work in a spirit of cooperation to ensure equitable education for all; or do we, instead, become inwardly focused and leaner and meaner as nation-states?

Our question is not unfounded. In news about international cooperation in developing a vaccine for COVID-19 the focus of discussion is already around who or which countries will get access. Will access to any successful vaccine depend on money or kindness, on power or a sense of equity and justice?  We ask similar questions about education and aid. We fear that as countries tighten their geographical borders and focus on impending recessions and debt and deficit; the sense of compassion, care, and solidarity may also end within their borders.  Low and middle-income countries, after the pandemic will, more than ever, need to work within a global community as they advance their respective national/local agendas of equity, justice, and inclusion in education, that have been exposed through this pandemic.

Local contexts offer extensive experiences and knowledge about how we can (re)think and (re)imagine collaboration to respond to and acknowledging the long-standing educational crisis that COVID-19 has pushed us to confront. Within this discourse, perhaps it is also time to foreground the voices of the local communities to construct ‘glo/b/cal’ cooperation, whereby local conditions are centred in global initiatives and international development.

Rhonda Di Biase is a lecturer at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne. She is currently a co-convener for the AARE Global Contexts for Education SIG.  She has previously worked at the Faculty of Education, Maldives National University as part of a post-tsunami aid project focusing on implementing student-centred learning and through an Endeavour Executive Fellowship. Her research interests include active learning reform, teachers’ professional learning and education reform in small states.

Bonita Cabiles is currently a PhD candidate at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne. She is currently a co-convener for the AARE Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (CALD) SIG. Her work explores issues of diversity and power in classroom practices with interest in Bourdieuian sociology and qualitatively oriented research.

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Which boat were you in?

By Michelle Cafini

American evangelical Christian pastor, Rick Warren, in his video, ‘Ten COVID commandments for emotional health’ states that long after a vaccine has been developed, people will still be dealing with the economic, relational and emotional effect of the virus. His words resonated with me when he said although we have all been in the same storm, people have been in different boats during the storm. Some in yachts, where they have had enough money, a secure job and a nice home to live in during the crisis. Some have been in rowboats, living week to week off savings and where being jobless has been a disaster. Others have been clinging to driftwood, experiencing homelessness, domestic abuse, and alcoholism to name but a few of the consequences of COVID-19.

As schools across the nation begin to re-open after a period of online learning, and staff busily adjust back to face-to-face teaching, it is important to reflect that things will not be “the same” as before. Teachers will be considering the social and emotional wellbeing of their students as they re-commence schooling in person. Things will not and may never be the “same” for some students. The experiences that students have had over the past few weeks and months will be different. While some students may have thrived at home, for others there may be deep emotional scars that may take a long time to heal – the death or illness of a family member, the arguments overheard between parents dealing with the ramifications of unemployment, increased alcohol consumption in the home, anger and abuse that manifested while families were in lock-down, the loss of self-esteem and social skills that are usually being developed during interactions with friends. All of these factors may have a considerable impact on the lives of different students, and the once happy, resilient, confident student in January may not present in the same way in July.

School leaders and teachers will be mindful of the boat their students have travelled in during the storm and may need to provide support for those who have lost their bearings. More than ever, embedding social and emotional learning into the curriculum is important. Young students who were just starting school may need support to foster friendships. Those who have spent lengthy time with caregivers may feel the anxiety of separation and will need to once again develop confidence and trust at school. Students who were just in the throes of transitioning from primary to secondary school and only just adapting to new expectations and routines may need to be assisted to develop social and self-management skills. And those at the end of their school journey may need the motivation to set course again. While many teachers would have been cognizant to look out for this at the beginning of a new year, teachers will be observing their students through a new lens, knowing that the experience of isolation will have had some impact – for some positive, for others not.

When the bell rings, it will never be back to the way it was. When the boats come back into the shore and schooling resumes in its entirety, teachers will be confronting the journey each child has been on. School may be the safe harbour that many of them are needing.

Dr Michelle Cafini has recently commenced employment at the University of Melbourne, teaching units in the Master of International Education (IB). She has over 30 years of experience teaching and leading schools in Victoria and overseas.

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