Prep for the future – 21st century skills for teachers during a pandemic

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Creating a classroom that embraces 21st century learning and opportunities. Picture: https://www.gettingsmart.com

For decades all nations have grappled with the central question “what kind of education should we provide to our children”?

How should we prepare our younger generation for the unknown future?

In addition, what kind of training should the teachers themselves receive in order to teach our students for the future.

Curriculum has always been a complex and largely, a contentious issue.

Part of the difficulty in addressing this question has been policy changes, emerging new technologies, globalisation and the competing demands on schools and teachers.

This is not to say that a curriculum remains static. Quite the contrary.

To give a few examples:

  •  In Fiji, there was an Education Commission established in 2000 to overhaul its curriculum. Unfortunately, this opportunity was hijacked by the political upheaval that struck that year;
  • The US in 2001 passed an education law known as the “No Child Left Behind” Act;
  •  In Australia, the last decade has witnessed robust debates as it attempted to introduce a national curriculum with varying levels of success; and
  • Likewise, in the UK, changes were introduced to the content of all subjects in the national curriculum. Thus, curriculum in any jurisdiction is a dynamic entity.

Whatever the different forces and motivations that have driven educational changes in the past, one common pursuit, however, has been to teach students “21st century skills”.

This term has now become a cliche and there are volumes of literature specifically on this subject.

The consensus among experts is that these skills entail critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration and teamwork, personal and social skills, and information communication technology (ICT) skills.

Indeed, these are considered critical for our students in this rapidly changing world and it has been the job of the teachers to teach these skills.

Are the teachers ready for this challenge?

New skills

The global pandemic has proven one thing – that these 21st century skills are just as important for our teachers to put into practice.

Whilst evidence suggests that many self-driven teachers have coped well under these trying circumstances, there are clear implications for teacher education programs for future.

All schools in Fiji are currently shut (at least physically) and the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts (MEHA) is asking teachers to take on the task of teaching from home.

Teachers are urged to use the extended school closure to prepare additional supplementary resources such as activity sheets, recorded video lessons, etc. for their students.

They have been advised to use the communication platforms created by their Heads of Schools for dissemination and communication purposes.

Our teachers, just like those around the world, must demonstrate those very skills that they are supposed to teach their students.

For this reason alone, it is critically important that our teachers succeed in teaching during the pandemic.

In fact, the future of this pandemic itself is unknown and it is anyone’s guess how prolonged our school shutdown will be.

For instance, at the time of this writing, schools in Melbourne are expecting a brief return to remote learning – for the fourth time in the last 12 months.

As the MEHA has suggested, teachers will have to come up with creative ideas by tweaking their existing lesson plans for the digital world.

Good teachers are supposed to be good learners themselves and there is a myriad of free educational software out there to use if their schools are not using one particular system.

These include Google Classroom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or Moodle.

A teacher who can use a smartphone and the internet can teach remotely.

The reality, however, is that some parts of Fiji have poor internet connections. This is despite the internet gateway provided by the FINTEL’s Southern Cross Cable  Network, which is supposed to deliver high speed and good bandwidth.

New ways

Success even in these circumstances is possible, but it
will require critical thinking.

As the old adage goes, “adversity is a great teacher”.

Now is not the time to blame others for what happened.

Moping around and feeling sorry for yourself will do you no good, and can actually sabotage your ability to come up with solutions.

Most teachers who have experienced teaching remotely will attest that collaboration with colleagues has been most helpful. In their teams, they could take turns to record video lessons.

Personally, I have found recording on Zoom the easiest where we can annotate a document, Powerpoint or even videos. Teachers can save these videos in cloud storage such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Onedrive and then share the link with students thus saving on data costs.

Teachers can find more tips and tricks on www.myteachersfiji.com.

Psychologists warn us that the pandemic is affecting the mental health of many students. It is therefore vital for teachers to communicate your students individually.

This could also entail providing them with feedback via email, motivating them by setting some goals or just a general reflection about the emotional impact COVID-19 is having on them and on their family.

Indeed, these 21st century skills are critically important for our teachers to get them through this lockdown period.

These skills are ways of thinking, ways of working and ways of living.

It is only through a good grounding in these skills themselves that the teachers can impart them to their students.

Finally, the most important thing to remember about remote teaching is to practise self-kindness.

We’re all in a new situation and it will take time to get used to. Some things you try will work, and some won’t.
That’s OK. We’re all learning together.

  • NAVNEET SHARMA is the curriculum leader at Myteachersfiji. He has taught in various schools around Fiji and now he teaches in Melbourne, Australia. The  views expressed in this article are his own and not of this newspaper. Comments and contributions are invited via this email: bula@myteachersfiji.com
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