To learn, unlearn and relearn is now most commonly heard in the context of surviving, thriving, and being successful in the 21st Century. Yet, a vast majority of global schooling systems have represented the needs of the industrial revolution. Assembly line style seating arrangements in teacher-led classrooms with the inevitable blackboard in the background are common, not only in India but across the world. In such settings, students work towards the same goals and evaluations test their ability to remember instead of their ability to apply and use information.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, with school closures and global lockdowns, these industrial revolution-esque classrooms have not been an option. Therefore, teachers, regardless of how conducive their environments may or may not be, have been forced to learn, unlearn, and relearn to be able to continue doing their jobs.
Several teachers have modeled what it means to be successful participants in the technology-dominated world, by proving their ability to adapt and change overnight. However, this has hardly been a choice for them given that the consequences of not being able to deliver would extend to all
the young and eager students in their classrooms.
In the ICSE and CBSE schools landscape of the diverse subcontinent that is India, schooling has metamorphosed overnight. Teachers, a predominantly female workforce in India, have had to learn to juggle their home responsibilities and run between six to eight classes daily, all while being at home. They have had to learn how to support and be there for their students without spending entire days together physically. They have had to learn how to ensure that meaningful student learning continues without fully understanding the current situation or what the future is going to look like – a massive responsibility to say the least.
Another new learning has been having to use technology to facilitate any and every activity that would ordinarily happen face to face or manually. Teaching in digital classrooms has meant that teachers have had to re-learn and re-think what it means to engage students. They are no longer able to do simple things such as look at all the 40 students in the classroom to see what they are doing or how they are responding. As a result, to keep student attention and ensure participation teachers are now incorporating more innovative solutions like digital temperature checks, polls, and quick response questions.
More significantly, teachers have in many ways had to re-approach their roles in their classrooms. While traditionally, they were the owners and disseminators of key pieces of knowledge and information, in a world with the internet and information at your fingertips, this is no longer the case. Now, teachers can be seen curating information that is available online, instead. They are moving towards helping students understand and make use of the information they are learning. They have been forced to play the role of facilitators instead of simply disseminators. Finally, teachers have also had to unlearn.
First, it became impractical to attempt to teach the ambitious curriculum in a year plagued by the Coronavirus. This instantly meant relooking at and re-prioritizing what must be taught. Next, evaluating student work online meant having to rethink the approach to evaluations, especially since
most students were not used to typing long answers.
Finally and most importantly, teachers have had to unlearn or forget the old order. The format of digital classrooms simply does not support many traditional methods such as the textbook to notebook or chalk and talk. In cases where teachers are continuing to use these, students can simply turn off their video and audio and not participate. Many teachers have been left with no choice but to build their capacity and grow to survive and continue teaching. This may be the first time since the industrial revolution where global education has been disrupted.
Across the world, several teachers and students have struggled and learning has been temporarily compromised. Educators, parents, and decision-makers have been forced to question the effectiveness of our school education systems, to begin with. The fact that teachers have shown the resilience to learn, unlearn, and relearn under suboptimal conditions and in such challenging times has been incredibly significant. Teachers have taken a big step towards making a shift to a more progressive and effective and relevant system of education. Teachers are leading our much-needed leapfrog.