How the pandemic has changed forever the way we teach

This year's global pandemic exposed as never before the urgent need to revolutionise teacher training as skills centres and vocational education and training schools were closed around the world, forcing a sudden switch to online learning.

Countries that had already started investing heavily online and blended education (where digitally-based distance learning is combined with practical training when and where possible) were better positioned to cope with the sudden shift off-campus, says Julian Stanley, a European Training Foundation expert in teaching and teacher training.

As this week's ETF focus on teacher training gets underway with a raft of online events, including a webinar on Wednesday November 18 on 'Exploring distance and online learning in Central Asia' and a session on Friday, November 20 'Should we change our approach to summative assessment?', he details the work the ETF had been doing to support the continuous professional development (CPD) of teachers in this most challenging of years.

"At a high level, we've been doing an international survey of teachers, their views and their working conditions, called 'Listening to Teachers'", Mr Stanley said.

Part of a two year pilot project with teachers in countries including Algeria, Tunisia, Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Belarus and Turkey, the survey is designed to provide policymakers, authorities and vocational schools with a better understanding of the training and professional support needs teachers and skills trainers require today.

There has also been a scheme to support teachers and those involved in teacher training policy to better understanding how teachers can be supported through networks and peer-to-peer learning at a time of rapid change in the demands facing the profession.

"We've addressed such issues as how to do distance teacher training, teacher welfare, the opening and closure of schools during lockdowns - a raft of things to find out where teachers are now and to explore through international webinars different approaches and practices."

A pilot project in the Western Balkans involving Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia has also begun to develop a methodology to more accurately map the training needs of teachers as digital competencies and familiarity with a range of software and online teaching platforms becomes increasingly important.

"The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that the old model of initial teacher training - something seen as giving a skill for life - is inadequate to today's needs," Mr Stanley adds.

"It is not even that there is now a need for incremental top ups, we need to address a need for teachers to learn entirely new skills - online skills."

It is not all-bleak news. The pandemic had demonstrated the resilience and flexibility of teachers, he said.

"We've learned that teachers' support is enormously important - not just for their training, but in their capacity to support each other."

The pilot had also demonstrated that the individual school system of teacher training and support was often key to determining just how successfully teachers were able to transfer to a new skills set and new way of delivering education.

"It varies from school to school and country to country - perhaps only 50% of teachers were able to take this on and a certain percentage of students - usually lower - were able to participate; in many countries keeping education going has been dependent on broadcasting both traditional - via TV -and online. That is wonderful as a stop gap measure to ensure that learning continues, but where there is no interaction between students and teachers then the quality of learning and motivation of learners is much lower and it is often difficult to gauge what progress is being made."

One key take away has been that even when the pandemic is over and all the emergency measures and lockdowns are history, teaching will never be the same again.

"Online will become a routine part of teaching, along with face-to-face when a return to that is possible," Mr Stanley adds.

"The positive thing is that we now have the models - many teachers have mastered key technologies and the accompanying pedagogy, they understand how to sustain the attention of learners and all the data protection issues."

In a nutshell, the future of teaching is likely to be far more blended and flexible than before the pandemic with practical skills taught face-to-face when possible and theory or video-based practical training used flexibly as necessary.

Learning in different places and the way online and practical is combined over time may not just give us a short term solution - but a longer term framework for coping with the challenges of a world still struggling with a pandemic."

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