Friday, 4 September 2020

Back to School: The Pandemic Edition

The Beginning

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Back to School: The Pandemic Edition

Back to School: The Pandemic Edition. As the Education Ministry prepares to begin slowly reopening the school gates, parents and kids across the country are wondering what, exactly, the new school year will hold. The ministry, of course, is yet to release in detail its plans for the coming year. We know that the new year will start on 17 October, and that schools will be implementing some form of blended learning, but what this will mean in practice isn’t yet known. And with the world still very much in the throes of the pandemic, it’s entirely possible that further disruptions lay ahead. This is your Back to School guide to what promises to be one of the more eventful school years of recent times.


Education during a pandemic: Lessons from history

Education during a pandemic: Lessons from history. Throughout the history of humankind, pandemics have come and gone. And in the era of modern history, the precautionary measures taken to prevent the spread of diseases are similar to what governments have done in 2020. Education and schools have always been a key element in stopping or further spreading a disease, but we have surely come a long way since then.

Universities had to develop escape plans for students when the Black Death hit Europe in the 14th century and killed half of its population. Oxford University, still a relatively new institution at the time, stopped lectures and sent students and educators away to the countryside. And when new waves hit the university, Oxford students put together informal escape plans to flee the town while countryside manors became official gathering places for displaced students.

Wearing face masks became mandatory for students in schools and universities when the Spanish Flu spread around the world taking the lives of 50 mn people in 1918. And when masks could not stop the spread of the disease, entire universities were put under quarantine and healthy students volunteered to help the sick.

When vaccinations became available, they were made mandatory. In the 20th century, many colleges required vaccinations before coming to campus. When a smallpox outbreak hit Vancouver in 1928, the University of British Columbia avoided the epidemic thanks to its large population of vaccinated students.

While the precautionary measures taken today are remarkably similar, we have come a long way. Current technology allowed students to stay connected with their schools and teachers and even took tests online. This has proven successful to the extent that this hybrid education scheme is becoming the new normal. When waves of diseases hit cities in the past, schools had to shut down entirely and students had to stay busy with chores instead of homework.

The effects of a pandemic can be revolutionary: In medieval Europe the bubonic plague resulted in the quality of education falling and the destruction of five of the continent’s universities. Interestingly though, it actually catalyzed an increase in long-term enrollment in UK universities after the outbreak had ended. A surge in interest in theology paved the way for an ‘education renaissance’ that enabled new ideas of humanism to emerge that would change the course of history.


The back-to-school kit-list: the pandemic edition

The back-to-school kit-list will look a little different this year: Whether your children are returning to school full-time or preparing for hybrid learning, there are some new essentials on the back-to-school kit-list. These range from the basic items that have become everyone’s new hygiene staples — face masks and sanitizer — to the more costly equipment now essential for effective remote learning.

Balance health considerations with fun: Masks, hand sanitizer and easy-to-clean lunch boxes are necessary, but they don’t need to be boring. You can choose themed masks and mask accessories from the likes of Disney, Star Wars or Marvel when you order online. Extenders that allow mask adjustment can add comfort, and decorative lanyards or cords will help make sure they don’t get lost. One teacher recommends buying 10-15 masks per child to save parents from daily mask washing, as well as making sure children always carry a couple of spares on any given day in case they get dirty. Sanitizer is best bought in bulk, and portioned into small, reusable containers.

Ideally, every child should have their own computer or tablet. Whether distance learning or at school, having individual devices is especially important these days. Not only does it reduce sharing (better for hygiene purposes), it allows children to remain fully engaged in a learning process more focused on online interaction than ever before.

Making screen time easier on kids is also vital. A pair of blue light glasses can help protect children’s eyes against strain and vision fatigue after long hours of screen time. Headphones — whether wireless, earbuds or noise-cancelling — will help maintain the whole family’s focus and sanity during days filled with Zoom lessons and calls. And make sure you have good internet connectivity, with at least one backup option on tap in case of emergencies.

Setting up dedicated workspaces helps children differentiate between schooltime and hometime: This could mean investing in a proper standalone desk that your children will be able to use for years to come or buying a folding lap-desk that they can set up anywhere in the house. What matters most is that they are comfortable, that they have a quiet space to focus, and that they have somewhere to store their papers, pens and school supplies.

Worried about organization? A dry erase calendar could be your new best friend. Schedules and to-do lists are very useful for at-home learners, many teachers and parents agree. But particularly in houses with multiple children, things can quickly get confusing. An easy-wipe calendar the whole family can share will help to keep everyone on track.

Bear in mind, your lists will likely be longer and costs higher. A US survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers estimated that back-to-school shoppers are now spending an average of USD 1.05k per household on supplies this year, up some USD 100 from last year. This is partly because more items are needed than in previous years, and partly because parents are often willing to spend more to make the back-to-school process fun and ease their children’s anxiety.

Along with the new kit, a back-to-school behavior list is key for parents and children alike: Do regularly check whether your child has symptoms like a fever or cough, says one US superintendent. If you suspect they are sick, don’t give them fever-reducing medication and send them off to school. Keep them home. Practice using new items like masks and hand sanitizer with your children so they know how to use them safely. Have a routine in place to keep both children and the house clean at the end of a school day, making sure kids returning from school wash their hands as soon as they get home. And try to be flexible and patient with both your children and yourselves as we move into this school year, which is unlike any we’ve experienced before.


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Your top 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in August:


The Enterprise Survival Guide to Coping with your Kids at Home

Coping with your kids at home: There’s a good chance that kids will be spending three days a week learning from home this year. This is the Enterprise survival guide.

Plan for the best, accommodate for the worst: A lot of planning will inevitably become your responsibility as you begin to integrate life at home into the new school year. Drawing up a schedule for the day beforehand will help maximize you and your kids’ time in the months to come. This should help provide clarity on when you can expect to give your undivided attention to professional life and when you’ll need to be most hands-on helping with homework, meals or activities. Some parents have tried to model the day after the average routine kids might have at school, which schedules recreational time earlier in the day and offers periodic breaks with some form of creativity and choice throughout. A list with rough timelines can go a long way in reducing time spent wondering what to do next. As with all lifestyle changes it’s okay if things don’t work out the way you expect. Growing pains are inevitable as you flesh out what works and what doesn’t. Try to remain flexible as facts change and your needs become clearer.

Manage expectations and communicate clearly with those around you: Make sure that your managers and spouse are aware of what your general household responsibilities entail with the coming academic year and provide options for how or when you’ll be getting work or other obligations completed. Factor in the extra childcare hours and the reductions in productivity that will likely arise from having energetic youths locked up indoors and in close proximity to you. Sharing household responsibilities can help alleviate some of these pressures as well.

Embrace screen time: As much as we might hate to admit it, a little extra time spent on phones and computers are all but inevitable byproducts of shifting kids’ learning online and into the home. Managed effectively, you may be able to score yourself a few distraction-free hours of work or downtime, while the kids learn something new watching Brainchild or reading a book from Story Time in Space.

Take care of yourself: Don't forget to carve out some time for yourself to breathe, meditate or exercise, maybe even try involving your kids in a yoga practice for some stress reduction as you spend more hours face-to-face. Breaks spent reading or trying out a non-screen activity like baking or drawing with your kids could be a good way for them to cool off while requiring little effort from you as a parent to map out.

Still need your precious alone time? Find a space where you can give your undivided attention to a single task for a few hours at a time or just put on some headphones. Getting some alone time has been crucial for some parents trying to maintain productivity during lockdown. In households where physical isolation is difficult, putting up physical barriers and kid-friendly do not disturb signs were the preventative measures of choice for some parents.


Becoming the teacher

Becoming the teacher: Many parents told us in the Blackboard survey earlier this year that e-learning forced them to take a more active role in their kids’ education. Here’s how you can better facilitate your children’s learning while they study at home.

A schedule is everything: Children work better when they have a routine, so set an alarm for your kid to wake up to every morning and maintain recess and break times, experts suggest. A schedule will help children know that they have work to do and make the time at home seem less like a vacation. However, don’t make the routine too rigorous and make some time for fun activities they can do alone or with the family.

Speaking of activities: Make sure your child isn’t stuck on the couch all day. Encourage them to get some fresh air or do some exercise throughout the day. This holds for the parents as well, for their physical — and mental — health.

Customize the space they work in: Dedicate a specific quiet place for your child to work in everyday and remove as many distractions as possible. It could be a desk, the dining room table, or just somewhere in your living room, but it should be a place where they don’t normally play games or watch TV. You can add classroom-esque decor or tools to really give it that extra work feel and make sure that they’re not always on their screens and can still remember how to use a pencil.

Give them both time and positivity: Children take more time to process questions than adults, so be patient and encourage thinking to boost their confidence. At the same time, positive reinforcement is the way to go when dealing with hiccups throughout the day. Praise them before nailing down mistakes in their homework and don’t get all hung up if their handwriting is messy at points.

Finally, have some faith in teachers: Teachers are doing their best to find new methods to teach and engage students of all age groups. Many also have office hours in case students need specific help. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these office hours to ask teachers for help if you’re facing problems, whether it’s a math problem or a ‘my kid won’t sit still’ problem.

You can read up on these tips and more at KQED and The Ladders.


Covid-19: A catalyst for innovation?

Education providers are being forced to innovate: One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it has provided educators with the opportunity to think outside of the box and finally implement long-shelved innovations. Augmenting traditional models of classroom learning with interactive apps, face-to-face video instruction, live TV broadcasts, or others online by ‘educational influencers,’ could become the new norm. Depending on cost and culture, learning centers will gravitate toward the mix of modalities that works best for them. It could be an exciting time for students as they develop skills they never expect to, such as filming, editing and submitting a workout video to demonstrate they’ve completed a physical education assignment.

Public-private partnerships: To provide students with quality education during this year’s peak self-isolation months, diverse stakeholders, including education professionals, technology providers, telecom companies, publishers and governments joined forces in an unexpected coalition. Those channels of communication and collaboration have been irreversibly hacked open, with room for growth and improvement. One great local example was ISPs providing students with beefed-up data packages when schools began shutting down, to ensure that pupils were able to reliably download their assignments.

Digital growth … and divide: One unfortunate downside of digitally-led growth in education, however, is a potential exacerbation of pre-existing inequalities. Digital growth doesn’t come cheap. Students who could barely afford learning tools to begin with, or lack the tech savvy to readily operate them, face the unfortunate prospect of being left behind, which is a true cause for concern in a field meant to be informed by egalitarianism.


The future of universities

Covid-19 will change universities as we know them: Universities around the world have been hit with a pressing need to accelerate the pace of a digital shift that was already underway, but in an often fragmented and lackluster manner. Taken by surprise, they suddenly found themselves not only faced with a new reality but the inherent shortcomings and long-term challenges of higher education, says an article in Nature on how the once familiar scene of knowledge-seekers in a courtyard overlooking elaborate and lavish buildings could soon be an image from the past.

Pure online learning is often not the best way for a complete learning experience. This is because it’s often static, and doesn’t go a long way. It’s simply not great to just throw online content at students, MIT Vice President Sanjay Sarma says. We’re already at a time of unprecedented digital access and ‘more online’ isn’t necessarily the solution.

We need new concepts: When universities resume this fall, the hope is for a “radically different” experience, says Sarma. “It has to be two-way learning.” Video lectures and online course material will become an essential part of the process, with face-to-face interaction crowned as a way to ensure things are being understood and that students receive a “two-way” experience.

What the future might hold: In the long term, universities might find themselves sprinting toward the reality already underway. The reliance of some high-profile names on revenue streams from international students will be called into question if overseas learning becomes less common and institutions recalibrate towards the local population.

It could be time to give way for a new type of university: Tfahe untimely disturbance caused by the pandemic could actually be a great chance to “seize the day to consider the creation of … the ‘new global university,’” Jamal Eddine Benhayoun writes for University World News. This university is a model for the future that operates irrespective of a physical location, and has a global community of students and teachers.

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