Even if schools all over the world reopen fully, it isn’t hard to recognize that online learning has become our new normal and may well remain so. The transition to online and hybrid methods of teaching was harsh, and anyone entering the workforce now will be expected to be technologically competent. This does not only imply basic skills, but also a familiarity with online learning and teaching platforms. Data skills are beginning to be highly sought after, with a greater number of students entering the field and, according to experts, artificial intelligence and internet-controlled operations will be the future that will allow students to learn effectively. If more people had been sufficiently tech-savvy, the shift would have been easier at the start of the lockdown.
Speaking of e-learning, a future-ready workforce would need a high level of not only general intelligence, but also emotional intelligence, especially in fields such as education, which involve continuous human interaction. A teacher must be able to connect with their students even in the occasion of not being able to speak with them face-to-face, utilizing the necessary skill of language. Being able to engage with pupils, parents, and administration across a screen is a requirement, and one must be able to deal with the challenges of indirect communication and possible connectivity issues. One would need to be able to be empathetic and patient, to make every child feel included. One would need to be creative, to be able to come up with interesting methods of teaching and reach every single student. Only then will one be able to raise motivation and keep a child’s attention on them, reducing risks of burnout and possible dropouts from school.
But just what are these new methods? A school prepared for the future requires the inclusion of, not only textbook knowledge or routines relying on rote-learning, but also techniques to impart practical knowledge. So far, the increased adoption of distance learning solutions has not always facilitated the acquisition of practical skills and organization of work-based learning, which are essential components for the success of technical and vocational education. Laboratory work in schools has been especially hard to conduct during a lockdown. Hence, curriculums need a focus on innovative ways to introduce practical aspects of a topic. A teacher must be able to explain a topic to a student. Only a long-term understanding of content will allow life-long learning of the same.
Even so, no matter how many pre-requisites a candidate checks on an application- detailed knowledge of computers, linguistic skills, imagination, empathy- the future of education is unpredictable. This is why a person involved in its workforce requires immense adaptability. Teachers may have a never-ending checklist of necessary skills, be it theoretical and practical knowledge of their subjects, languages, and computers, or the more psychological traits of confidence in their own abilities, approachability to allow for rapport with students and parents, and stability. School administrations must be able to work as a team, and adapt to further lockdowns or shifts in methods of learning, from offline to online or vice-versa. Hybrid options should be kept open, and curriculums and calendars must be available to change, to ensure smooth functioning of schools throughout the academic year, and reduce lags in learning, conducting examinations, and cuts in the syllabi.
And what else can schools do to empower the staff they so require? Collective work by the International Commission on the Futures of Education, established by UNESCO in 2019, has presented a few key ideas to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath.
For one, schools must ensure their social space is protected. While they may be online or offline, their existence as collective spaces of learning must be protected. They must focus on education first and foremost, calling for the participation of students in bringing about necessary change, and ensuring that all are aware how invaluable their teachers are.
The teachers themselves must be given financial and job security, and should also receive open access to educational resources and digital tools. This may be done via government schemes to ensure subsidization and availability of technology and devices to staff and students. Education must be a major portion of the budget, with sufficient funding given to schools. The administration must be able to utilize these funds effectively, allocating fair amounts to their employees.
That being said, there also needs to be a focus on advancing equality. Not only is this the job of the government- in funding underdeveloped areas- but also that of the schools themselves. They need to look into their hiring policies, and ensure there are no biases regarding social standing. A teacher’s morale directly impacts that of their students. To realize the maximum benefits of education, children require teachers who are fairly compensated and respected. Along with the teachers themselves, students from different backgrounds deserve equality of opportunity, too, and schools should see to this. Equity for both the students and the staff may be brought about through introducing the topic in the school’s syllabus. Disproportionately affected sections of society must be included, and themes of social justice and injustice must be handled and taught delicately. Scientific literacy should be promoted by schools, to avoid misinformation and misunderstandings.
At the end of the day, the workforce requires a great deal more than it ever has to able to stand up to current mounting challenges, be it the unpredictable coronavirus or the rapid data revolution. While an employee may have several skills, it is hard to have honed each one to perfection. Administration must be understanding of this. They need to respect their teachers and aid them in finding their footing in this new era of education. This may involve training programs and workshops at regular intervals, to help advance a teacher’s skills further in the areas of online technology, communication, and mental health. Students require teachers to back them up, and teachers, in turn, require the support of their school and its administration.
In conclusion, the future-ready workforce requires skills in various fields, including language, psychology, and computer science. And yet, there is no fixed skill-set. They must be adaptable to any situations that may arise, and willing to learn what they don’t know. Flexibility and resilience is essential to set higher standards of education globally. At the same time, however, teachers are not the only ones who play a role in this. Behind them stand schools, their administrations, and the government, all of whom must form an effective support system to the teachers teaching our children. After all, these children are our future, too.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.