A great experiment in education has taken place over the past 14 months: A complete shift in the way educators and students interact and in how schools are structured, has forced the world to reflect on the value of teachers and the functions of schools in society.

The unprecedented experiment—which hopefully won’t repeat itself—enabled educators and leaders to stop and re-evaluate their practices. For many teachers, the question of, “Will schools return to normal once they are able to do so?” has occupied the minds of educators recently. And while plenty have speculated on what’s to come, we won’t know for sure until the world more closely resembles what many consider to be “normal”.

While almost every aspect of education has changed, some components of schools were long due for a change. The interruption in traditional learning environments prompted such discussions and is finally leading to shifts in philosophies and practices around the globe.

Re-evaluating testing as a form of assessment

This time last year exam boards across the world pressed pause on their annual testing regimen used to assess students. This year some have decided to move ahead with standardised testing, while others have opted for another year of reprieve from the high-stakes model which schools spend so much time preparing students for.

Student taking exam
Assessment such as high-stakes testing, don’t provide students with the skills necessary to contribute effectively as global citizens. 

Standardised exams provide schools and universities with data to compare students, but these figures have long been criticised for their rigidity and narrow judgement of learning. Calls to shift the way in which we collectively assess students have grown louder in the light of this past year and a half of schooling. 

With advocates and leaders calling for more equitable and support-driven assessment strategies to take the place of traditional exams, the effect of these demands is already taking place in universities where standardized testing plays an important role in the admissions process.

Looking forward, school and exam boards need to take a serious look at the perceived value versus the actual value of standardised tests and shift accordingly.

Redefining success in schools

In a similar vein, schools, parents and students-themselves often perceive success in school based on scores of high-stakes testing. This immense pressure placed on students, teaches young people a singular definition of success and limits their opportunities for thinking creatively and independently.

This in turn contributes to the ongoing mental health crisis observed in young people—documented before the beginning of remote learning and exacerbated by the shift to online classes and lack of social interaction. 

The art of learning
Some schools value certain academic pursuits over other endeavours—shifting how we define success can work to create more creative and supportive learning environments

.While the isolation has contributed to students’ poor mental health this past year, there remains significant evidence that the pressure to be successful is driving higher rates of anxiety and depression in young people. 

Schools and educators can help address this issue by not only communicating with parents and students how diverse and multifaceted “success” really is, but also by not feeding into the system that promotes a singular vision of what it means to be successful in schools. 

Placing community members at the centre

Historically, learning has been a social activity, one in which we take part in person. It is based on telling stories to each other, modeling and demonstrating practices, asking and answering questions. 

Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes, a philosopher and online education commentator, acknowledges the importance of social interactions in schools, despite his long-standing confidence in online learning. The fundamental importance of the social aspect of schools will certainly take even more of a centre stage when educational environments can safely welcome back all members of their community. 

Which touches on another way schools appear to be shifting in response to the past year-plus of schooling: A focus on community will ideally emerge in schools. And more specifically, schools will respect and fulfil the needs of the communities’ most vulnerable members. 

Approaching communities through a lens of supporting everyone’s needs will ensure that a stronger group emerges from the challenges presented by the pandemic. The change that many hope for in light of the recent unfortunate circumstances will only come if schools take the necessary steps to impact change in their own communities.

Teacher Horizons remains committed to impacting changes in the international education sphere as we work to improve hiring practices that value the diversity of experience from communities all over the world. 

For my final post as the blog manager, I want to thank the wonderful community and network of educators at Teacher Horizons that have supported me (and thousands of other international educators) find success. Many thanks!

Written by William Melhado
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