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Teaching over technology: educational priorities during COVID-19
© Shutterstock/Irene Moran

Teaching over technology: educational priorities during COVID-19

Feature 7 minute read

This World Teachers' Day, we highlight how prioritising teaching over technology is needed to minimise the educational disruption for disadvantaged children during COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the education of children around the world. With the enforcement of strict social distancing measures and school closures in many countries, there has been rapid, widespread and potentially permanent changes to traditional modes of teaching and learning.

School closures – for any length of time – can have a profound impact on learning. As well as reducing instructional time, school closures may affect the educational performance of students. Economic productivity can also be negatively impacted by school closures, with parents and caregivers forced to balance work commitments with care for children. Similarly, educational inequities may be compounded by children not attending school, with those from economically disadvantaged families less likely to have the education levels and resources needed to bridge learning gaps.

While many countries within the OECD have reopened schools following strict lockdown periods at the onset of the pandemic, there are ongoing school closures in many parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. As a result, UNESCO has recommended the adoption of distance learning programs and online educational applications designed to reach students remotely.

To minimise educational disruption, countries around the world have swiftly shifted to online and remote learning to ensure sustainable, high quality and flexible teaching and learning. At the centre of many of these learning strategies is the use of technology.

In many contexts, technology can provide learning continuity when students cannot be physically present in their classrooms. However, there are many barriers to successful remote and online learning driven by technology, including teacher preparedness, access to online resources and devices, and student support in the home. This is particularly relevant for disadvantaged students - such as children living in low and middle income countries – who are most at risk of experiencing learning losses over extended periods of time.

Supporting students during periods of remote learning is not just about technology; it is about teaching. In fact, best practice in the integration of technology and education is where pedagogy is at the forefront. While there are many low cost and scalable ‘off-the-shelf’ education solutions available, these may be unsuitable for the specific needs of education systems and negatively impact effective practice. For technology to be effective, teachers must first understand how to use it and then be involved in planning how it will fit with instructional needs.

According to the recent findings from 48 countries in the OECD’s Teacher and Learning International Survey, only 60 per cent of teachers have received professional development in the use of internet and communication technology, while close to 20 per cent of teachers reported a high need for development in this area. These results suggest that many teachers around the world are ill-equipped to deal with the sudden shift in educational delivery as a result of COVID-19.

There is an urgent need for professional learning initiatives to support teachers to better use technology and blended methods of teaching and learning. By building the capacity of teachers now, these methods can become a sustained part of practice that supports differentiated approaches to learning into the future.

With over 90 years’ experience, ACER understands the importance of recognising and supporting the integral role that teachers play in the learning outcomes of children. We work with partners to build the pedagogical capacity of teachers around the world, helping them acquire problem solving and analytical skills to support children to communicate more effectively, think creatively and work better with others. We know that, while technology may present new teaching methods, supporting the practice of teachers and providing professional learning opportunities in the facilitation and assessment of online and remote learning is needed for them to be successful.

Teachers, particularly those working with disadvantaged students or without extensive access to resources, need guidance to adapt curricula and assessment without depending on internet, devices, or a dedicated place to study. This requires support and ongoing training for staff at both a school and system level.

For those with access to appropriate technology, there are a number of possibilities for leveraging existing teacher practice and supporting students during school closures. However, regardless of the mode of delivery, teachers must be trained to support students and to ultimately encourage them to actively engage in the learning process.

In the short term, support for teachers can help to address the immediate educational needs of students who have been disadvantaged as a result of school closures. In the medium to long term, developing a clear and common understanding of the skills needed post COVID-19 will allow for the creation of indicators of student knowledge and capabilities, and ideas for teaching and learning these skills in the classroom, as well as remote learning settings. Understanding what is needed, what works, and for whom, also provides the basis for long-term monitoring of student achievement and progression.

Recognition of the work of teachers and their expertise can provide the support they need to rise up to meet the current challenges presented by the pandemic and enhance collaboration amongst their peers. Supporting collaborative types of professional learning between teachers and cultivating the creation of teacher networks can enable them to learn from each other and to provide leadership to their peers. These professional connections can provide teachers with the opportunity to share ideas, reflect on experiences, engage in rich discussions, give and receive feedback, and access support with remote learning and as students begin to return to school.

Acknowledging the influence that teachers have on student learning outcomes and focusing on teacher-led, rather than technological, solutions is critical to addressing school closures during COVID-19. Support and professional learning opportunities for teachers will help to reduce educational disruption for children in low and middle income countries and create new possibilities for teaching and learning in the future.  

Further reading

Read about ACER’s work and partners in the education and development sector.

Read ACER’s views on addressing educational marginalisation as a result of COVID-19 in India.

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