09.07.2020Haileybury: Preparing Schools – and Students – for a Post COVID-19 World

The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on school education was dramatic and challenged education leaders, teachers, parents and guardians. Haileybury pivoted quickly to provide a full virtual classroom online experience for the 4300 students from Prep to Year 12 in Melbourne. Rather than reducing education delivery, the School took the approach of re-purposing every aspect of our school day into a virtual form.

The results have been exceptional with the academic progress of our students being the same as it would have been if they were in the physical education environment. Parent satisfaction with the virtual program was 4.2 out 5. Importantly, Haileybury and its teachers and support staff provided an example to students of agility, flexibility, the ability to pivot, and resilience – precisely the characteristics we want in graduating students. And the students were exceptional in their response.

Our senior students may not quite realise it yet. Still, the challenges of the COVID-19 lockdown have probably developed their broader capacities and skills more than if they had been part of a conventional non-pandemic year. They are better prepared for a changing post-school study and work environment than they otherwise would have been.

Of course, the responses to COVID-19 by education institutions and systems has been varied. But what is clear is that students are heading out into a post-school world of study and work which will be significantly different from what it would have been had the pandemic not occurred.

As has been noted by many futurists, it is not that the future has changed — rather it has been brought forward. This is certainly true in education and for students graduating in the next couple of years.

The challenge for educators is to not slip back into pre-COVID-19 practices but to take the best learnings from the lockdown period and apply them to a new education framework. And this is where there is an interesting tension in the learnings.

We know that we can deliver academic education outcomes successfully for most students through the virtual experience. Some students have found this model enhances their progress.  But we also know that most students craved the professional interaction with their teachers and the social interaction and engagement with their peers that comes from being in the same physical environment. We also know that the subtle, nuanced human interaction that is so important to successful teamwork and collaboration is best learnt from a range of learning and co-curricular environments that are a part of physical school models.

The exciting opportunity now is to blend all these different elements into a reshaped blended education model that encompasses academic strength, development of strong human social and collaborative skills, and deeper critical thinking and analysis.

There has been a focus from business and government on having graduating students with the skills to be workforce ready. This vocational focus is important and has a place but shouldn’t overshadow the even more important focus that needs to be on critical thinking and analysis.  Without these we will not develop the capacity of our young people to learn the lessons of this crisis and to build a future which is based on allowing individual creativity the opportunity to feed into strong collective workforce capacity.

Education institutions have generally responded well to the COVID-19 crisis. We need to take that agility and creativity and build this into the educational future for our young people.

Derek Scott – CEO/Principal, Haileybury

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