The ‘new normal’: Uncertainties and opportunities for education

After several months of lockdown and shelter in place policies, the world is slowly opening up again. Businesses, logistics, agriculture and manufacturing are putting safety measures in place so that some employees can return to work. For most of them, this is a trial and error process that will need to be refined and adapted as time goes by. Traditional schools are also starting to reopen but this hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped, many countries have had to close schools again due to a new wave of infections.

The world is feeling out a ‘new normal’ with face masks, thermometers, hand sanitiser and socially distanced spaces. While this is a significant adjustment for adults in the workplace, children are also facing these strict measures in the few schools that have been able to open successfully. It’s hard to imagine asking our children not to hug their friends, especially since they’ve been apart for more than two months. Most countries have only allowed younger, foundation phase students back to school so far. The main reason for this is to ensure that families have access to childcare as businesses reopen and parents are expected back at work.

Japan, Taiwan and China have successfully reopened many of their schools between March and April. China's Ministry of Education requires students to have their temperatures checked at school entrances and display a "green" code of health via China's smartphone health code programme. Japan has opened roughly 40% of its schools, meaning that the majority of its students are continuing with their online education at home. Denmark was the first European country to reopen their schools after lockdown, allowing children from grades 1 to 5 and those in day-care return to schools under strict social distancing and safety procedures.  

Norway has also started reopening their schools, beginning with the youngest students in kindergarten and primary school up until grade 4. This return to school was only possible due to a decline of infections in each of these countries. France allowed some students to return in May but many schools were closed again due to a new wave of infections.

Germany has taken a slightly different approach in their school reopening by only allowing senior or final year students to return to write their final exams. South Africa has also prioritised its Matric students who need to complete their final high school exams to gain entrance to tertiary education. South Africa has only officially begun its reopening process in the second week of June so its success is still to be confirmed. The pandemic has not created the ideal environment for learning with high rates of stress and anxiety compounded with the need to complete the curriculum in a shorter space of time. This distress is heightened for students nearing the end of the schooling as they will not be eligible for tertiary education in the new year if they are unable to complete their final exams.

Just recently, one of South Africa’s education officials reassured parents that their children would still be eligible for homeschooling if they didn’t wish to return to school premises. Understandably, many teachers and students are reluctant to return to schools under these circumstances. The National Foundation for Educational Research in the UK recently ran a survey that suggests almost 50% of children would be kept at home by parents. This same survey indicates that 25% of teachers may also be absent due to health issues for themselves or their families. These feelings of uncertainty are shared amongst millions of parents and families all over the world, this is uncharted territory for us and we’re all making the decisions we think are best right now.

The pandemic has not created an ideal environment for learning with high rates of stress and anxiety compounded with the need to complete the curriculum in a shorter space of time. This distress is heightened for students nearing the end of the schooling as they will not be eligible for tertiary education in the new year if they are unable to complete their final exams.

While these countries are facing many challenges in their reopening, they do serve as something of an example for the rest of the world. Allowing other countries to find out what works and what strategies need to be improved. Unfortunately, there are still millions of students across the globe without a clear way forward for their education. Research from UNESCO data in May 2020 suggests that 100 countries have not yet announced a date for schools to reopen, 65 have plans for partial or full reopening, while 32 will end the academic year online.

There is a lot of uncertainty for the majority of our students, schools are working to reopen in the coming months but many may be closed again due to increased infections. We’ve seen this happen in France already, this continued disruption and uncertainty in education is an additional source of stress for families in every country. For those schools that can remain open, students will have to wear masks, maintain a social distance from their peers, adapt to smaller classes and longer school days.

The world looks quite different right now, we travel less, wait in socially distanced lines to do our grocery shopping and rely on online services more than ever before. While there are many aspects of the pandemic that are completely out of our control, parents can find small ways to create certainty and safety for their children by ensuring that their education remains constant. Online learning has been thrust upon the majority of families during this pandemic but many have not had the resources to experience the full benefits a virtual school can offer. At the moment, online homeschooling offers the most certainty and consistency for children all over the world. Those lucky enough to have access to this form of learning will benefit from continued education for years to come, no matter how our ‘new normal’ continues to evolve.

The majority of traditional schools can’t guarantee when they’ll open successfully (or that they’ll be able to remain open), this is unchartered territory and the world hasn’t figured out the perfect formula just yet. Online homeschooling can deliver the certainty your family needs right now with the guarantee that it will be available and consistent for years to come. Virtual learning also offers a unique opportunity for students who feel that they’re falling behind. Platforms like CambriLearn can offer a higher-quality curriculum that often takes less time to complete because students can progress at their own pace. Traditional schools need to accommodate different rates of learning to benefit more students as a whole, online learning has the advantage of allowing students to sail through content they understand well and take their time with more challenging topics.

This personalised, self-paced advantage of online homeschooling allows students to complete their studies up to one year sooner than traditional schooling, all they need to do is follow the curriculum and complete all their assignments. It allows students to not only complete their academic year and catch up any lost time during the pandemic, but it could also give them a head start on the rest of their academic career with teacher-managed learning.

The ‘new normal’ is filled with uncertainties out of our control but there are also incredible opportunities to take control of our futures, today. We have a chance to show our children that adaptability is a valuable skill and remind them that their academic goals are still within reach.