Helping pupils stay motivated and focused on school during the pandemic will be one of the biggest challenges for teachers in 2021, a top official said.
Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said teaching children outside their usual school environment and helping them to excel will be a challenge.
He spoke on January 24, the UN’s International Day of Education, to highlight the role of education in peace and development.
The theme for 2021 is “Recover and Revitalise Education for the Covid-19 Generation”.
“What children will remember from this crisis is the teacher who reached out to them, who called them when they were in difficulty, who understood their dreams and passions and their fears in this crisis,” he said.
“Those relationships will matter well beyond the pandemic.
“This year, the pandemic will push us to think much harder about what to educate young people for.”
He said in 2020 the big change education faced was the realisation that learning was not restricted to a place.
Schools were forced to radically rethink how to reconfigure places, people, time and the technology to educate pupils remotely and in new ways.
In the past, schools used technology to support and conserve existing practices, and pupils outpaced schools in their adoption of technology.
Now, schools need to use technology to connect pupils with innovative applications.
“We know how to educate second-class robots, people who are good at repeating what we tell them. In this age of accelerations, we need to think harder about what makes us human.”
OECD, which comprises 37 developed nations, found up to 60 school days were lost between February and mid-May 2020.
Mr Schleicher said schools must place greater emphasis on helping pupils think for themselves.
He also called for schools to integrate with the outside world.
“The past was divided – with teachers and content divided by subjects and pupils separated by expectations of their future career prospects. Schools were designed to keep pupils inside, and the rest of the world outside,” he said.
“The future needs to be integrated.”
He also said investment in teachers was needed to bring about changes in education.
Mr Schleicher said the pandemic had accelerated massive shifts in the labour-markets and things that were easy to teach and test were becoming digitised and automated.
UN data shows the pandemic affected nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries, and the closure of educational institutions affected 94 per cent of the world’s pupil population.
Dr Sonia Ben Jaafar, chief executive of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, said there was a need to address the challenges posed by the pandemic on pupils around the world.
It forced them to immediately adapt to online modes of learning, even when they did not have the means.
“This seismic shift in how pupils were accessing their education posed major threats to our progress as a society towards ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all,” she said.