In education, though no system or school has been completely untouched by Covid-19, the repercussions are uneven and the paths ahead are divergent, depending in large part on where someone starts and where they can go.
In the United States, some see the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate expected change or outright innovate our educational systems. Others see it as a systemic setback that will take decades to set right, just to get to back to where we were last year. Both can be true.
As we figure it out, there are insights to be had from the very diversity of the global education experience with Covid-19. And whether the reality is that Covid-19 is a chance to leap forward or we need to simply not fall too far back, plugging our ears to the voices of others facing similar challenges seems foolish. So, it’s important, though admittedly difficult right now, to expand our gaze to lessons and viewpoints outside our own classes and schools and districts and national guide rails to see how the experience of others can assist our debates and actions.
To do this, we owe a nod of thanks to a new e-book released this month by WISE, the education arm of the Qatar Foundation. The global non-profit has commissioned, assembled and released a strong and intriguing collection of essays from global education leaders on the pandemic, how it has changed teaching and learning and the opportunities and risks those changes bring.
The book, Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined, is described as, “a contemporary historical record of how schools, NGOs, governments, and international organizations responded to school closures during the crisis,” and it features insights and suggestions from about 50 education stakeholders and practitioners around the world.
“This anthology offers an opportunity to worldwide educators to make sense of what happened. It also presents a series of ideas and solutions from some of the world’s top education thinkers and practitioners from the frontline," said Dr. Asmaa Al-Fadala, Director of Research and Content Development at WISE and editor of the publication. “It is our hope that this publication will provide the education community with a reference point from the crisis from which future research, policy, and innovation can grow,” she said.
Let’s hope it does.
None of the essays is overly long or scholarly and their diversity is substantive. They are all generally upbeat though many may put too may education eggs in the technology basket, a solution we’ve seen turn into a problem all too often. Still, the compilation is a must read — a must review at a minimum — for education leaders everywhere, but especially here.
That’s because education approaches in the U.S. tend to be frighteningly myopic and reactive. Which means that our domestic responses to the Covid-19 crisis may be unproductive, even counterproductive. In other words, we would benefit from hearing a few new voices in our policy debates, in our investment discussions and education technology board rooms. At the very least it ought to be required reading for education majors, education teachers and graduate students, many of whom are likely impacted anyway.
But hearing new voices is only the first and most forward lesson.
The second lesson to take from the WISE book is that it highlights the new role international leaders are taking in education — that of example provider, knowledge peddler and connector. That role is softer and likely more influential than old models of ‘we have the money and the answers’ that pushed people and ideas to the side, too often jamming a square peg in every available hole.
It’s notable that this new breed of global education leadership is coming out of places such as Finland and Austria and Qatar and not Silicon Valley or, hold your breath, Washington, D.C. Leaders in SV and DC are, ironically, still stuck in the old ways of approaching change in education — telling people what they need to do, selling them solutions, dangling dollars to entice reform to their rules.
Maybe they’ll catch on that what they’re trying has not worked too well. Reading a book that’s brimming with different experiences and different approaching to a somewhat common education experience would be a good start.