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One year later: Critically examining the role of education

Diploma Programme (DP) teacher Sarvenaz Tabrizi discusses how COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has had a profound effect on global education systems and asks us to consider looking for opportunities to positively change the way we teach and the way students learn.

One year later: Critically examining the role of education

By Sarvenaz Tabrizi 

A year has passed since COVID-19 (Coronavirus) entered our lives and countries have reacted differently to this crisis. Here in Iran, lessons are still being held online and we go into lockdown from time to time. This is the case for almost every school and educator I hear about.

The educational system faced a shock globally and there are many challenges to draw our attention towards. The lack of access to education, particularly where the proper infrastructure for remote learning does not exist, has become a universal concern around the world. Students who miss out on learning could face long-term consequences and countries will likely see this have an impact on sustainability and economic development down the road. Less economically developed countries could suffer the most and lead to an expanding gap in education when compared to more economically developed countries.

Impact on teaching and learning

My focus over the past year has primarily been on the continuation and delivery of education.  In all countries, educators were suddenly required to increase their digital literacy skills to prepare themselves for adopting an entirely new way of running classes. Even though there have been big challenges for justice in education and inclusion specifically, many schools have been successful in continuing to teach and that’s the same case for schools in Iran.

“Economic hardships shed light on the competencies needed to succeed in this new paradigm”.

Proper assessment of students on the other hand, especially summative assessments, has been a constant concern for educators. However, this challenge has opened doors to reshaping the types of questions that could engage students in thinking critically and using existing knowledge to synthesis new knowledge. Educators ultimately want to track students’ progress and give a better picture of their skills and capabilities at the end of their studies. It’s clear at this point that educationalists must ask themselves how students should be assessed, but that is not all—they must also ask what should be assessed. What is it that we want students to gain when leaving school?

For example, could more emphasis on portfolios be beneficial to all stakeholders including employers? Students typically plan to enter the job market after receiving academic, scientific or vocational education—but do these routes currently guarantee a successful future for them?  COVID-19 had a negative impact on the job market but it also provided opportunities for new businesses to emerge. The harsh reality of economic hardships in many countries shed light on the competencies and skills needed to be successful in this new paradigm. The word ‘paradigm’ is relevant because there is no turning back to the previous norm.

Looking towards the future

So, one wonders what makes a country have strong human resources capable of finding jobs in a world of COVID-19 and beyond? Businesses will want employees to possess a specific set of skills. For example, they must be problem solvers, critical thinkers and good communicators. The United Nations has introduced 21-century competencies that could be used to prepare citizens for the future but data shows not all countries have embedded such competencies into their curriculum and if they did, not all were capable of bringing them to the classroom. The IB programmes put a lot of emphasis on the approaches to learning (ATL) skills and the IB mission vividly asks for students to be communicators and internationally-minded citizens.

Having experienced many challenges assessing students, it is obvious the time has come to take reform in education seriously. The scope of reform must include the ways in which we teach and learn, and both the methods of assessment and what students are being assessed for. We are at a critical moment in the world of education and it seems as if the pandemic worked as a catalyst, making the importance of drawing a connection between the world students will enter and the education they receive even more clear. Educationalists must take a serious look at the challenges presented in education and guarantee success for our students in the future.

One year later: Critically examining the role of education

Sarvenaz Tabrizi is an IB business management, economics and theory of knowledge (TOK) teacher. She has a passion for research in international education, 21-century competencies and curriculum design. She also enjoys art and music and plays the piano and Tar (a Persian musical instrument) in her spare time.  You can connect with her here.

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