Pandemic Priorities

Principals Pen Thursday, 24 Feb 2022

In the third year of the pandemic, what needs to be prioritised at school?

Parents, carers and educators have been scrambling as children return to school. For some, there’s the sense that crucial content has been missed through lockdowns, delayed starts and student absences, ergo we need to work doubly-hard to catch children up to get their future back on track. Anxiety is high and the anticipated workload is great.

Education, as we know it today, is a man-made monster. We are conditioned to believe that the structure of our education system is necessary and good, and is the only way. After all, no one alive today has lived in an era that would suggest otherwise.

The reality, however, is that our education system has evolved over time into a de-humanised and de-personalised factory. School days are structured around timetables and bells, which make it convenient for adults to push children through the factory but which are not altogether conducive to basic human needs. We believe there is very specific content that children must memorise and skills they must master at certain points in their young lives. The Earth orbits the sun and we conclude that children are ready to be bumped up to the next stage of the manufacturing process, and have more content poured over them. We’ve sold ourselves to the notion that, without adhering rigorously to the box-ticking and compliance of today’s formal educational model, our children’s futures are under threat.

What if we have it all wrong?

In our race to push children back onto the assembly line of schooling where outcomes are relentlessly demanded and academic progression is a basic expectation, we are forgetting something crucial. Inflicting a formal education on a child without first meeting their basic human needs, is fruitless. This is despite any illusion that short-term academic gains might suggest.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs deduces that, to maximise cognitive growth and improvement, four fundamental human needs must be met: esteem, belonging, security, and basic physiological needs. Without the fulfilment of these needs, motivation is limited and a formal education is hollow. When there is a strong foundation in these four areas, children will typically soar well beyond what any formal education can dream of cultivating.

More than curriculum, more than technology, more than fancy classrooms; it’s the re-humanisation of education that’s needed as we enter the third year of the pandemic.

Teachers and other classroom staff, by their very nature, already have the heart and skills to re-humanise education. They just need to be given permission to prioritise basic human needs over the unforgiving and de-personalised nature of box-ticking that our education system has evolved into.

Last year Professor Stephen Heppell tweeted: ‘This school-age COVID generation, who’ve absorbed lockdowns, school closures and tragedy, mirror the evacuated generation from 1939. Their experiences created a post-war generation of inventors, musicians, designers and politicians who’d look beyond obvious to create extraordinary.’

When you think about the formal education children have missed as a result of the pandemic, be reminded that the way we’ve done education in the past has fostered a particular type of society which, let’s face it, was experiencing increased mental health challenges even before the pandemic hit our shores. There are other types of society that can be developed as our children are shaped by the creativity and resourcefulness they are forced to exercise through the unfamiliar circumstances we find ourselves in amid the pandemic. Their adult years won’t mirror ours, and this is something to be heartened by.

Hold lightly the formal education of the past. Trust in the power of God’s promises of hope and a prosperous future. Know that He can do abundantly more than we can possibly imagine. And rest in the knowledge that His ways are not our ways, so just go with it! Centre your awareness around the knowledge that God is with us always, and watch all the pieces fall into place.

In 2022, give yourself and those who care for your child permission – in fact, expect yourself and those who care for your child – to prioritise deeply human concepts such as connection, belonging, curiosity, emotional intelligence, self-regulation, compassion, kindness, joy and spiritual wonder.

The re-humanisation of schooling is the greatest need of children at this time. Their future depends on it.

- Jane Mueller, Principal