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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended school systems around the world. The pace has been frenetic as systems have had to stand up remote learning overnight, plan whether and how to reopen schools amid changing epidemiological circumstances, and support students academically and emotionally. The scope of the challenge has thus far left little time for deeper reflection.

Yet crises often create an opportunity for broader change, and as education systems begin to make decisions about investments for the new school year, it’s important to step back and consider the longer-term imperative to create a better system for every child beyond the pandemic.

The process starts with a key question: What are we trying to achieve, for whom, by when, and to what standards? Our research shows that top-performing school systems can vary significantly in curricula, assessments, teacher behaviours, and even desired outcomes. What unites them is a focus on excellence for every child, regardless of race, gender, income level, or location. That core value should inform the areas to keep in our current systems and where to innovate to create more effective and equitable education for all.

While greater use of technology in education may be inevitable, technology will never replace a great teacher. In fact, a single teacher can change a student’s trajectory.

While we mustn’t lose sight of what we have learned through decades of research and education reform, the COVID-19 pandemic is driving educators to accelerate new models of learning and innovate beyond the classroom. Lockdowns forced students around the world to learn from home, resulting in a dramatic increase in the use of online tools, such as videoconferencing, learning-management platforms, and assessment tools.

Today when we prepare to reopen the schools for children, the responsibility quotient is even higher. Right from developing a programme to bridge the gap in teaching and learning process to providing the utmost care with flawless sanitisation and hygiene process, challenges are many.

The school community has to be prepared with 21st century skills to be able to overcome the hurdles. The schools as the whole need to recommit to four basic principles which are as under;

  1. Core skills and instruction
  2. High-quality teachers and teaching
  3. Performance measurement
  4. Performance level and context

Also following eight ideas for innovation need to be considered.

  1. Harness technology to scale access
  2. Move toward mastery-based learning
  3. Support children holistically
  4. Help students adapt to the future of work
  5. Invest in new models of teacher preparation and development
  6. Unbundle the role of the teacher
  7. Allocate resources equitably to support every student
  8. Rethink school structures and policies

Although it may seem overwhelming, the time to start reimagining the future of education is now. In the digital era, schools need to expand their understanding of what it means to be literate in the 21st century: not replacing traditional learning but complementing it.

The list of educational innovations and possible interventions is long, and many of those changes are untested or associated with only emerging evidence. We don’t wish to experiment with our children’s futures. But equally, we don’t want to be held back by inertia or continue with failed experiments. Where should school systems start?

Bold education systems can take an agile and research-based approach, running opt-in pilots in small pockets to test parent appetite and student outcomes. Smart systems will also expand their partnership networks, collaborating with academia to bring the best of learning science, with employers to create linkages to the workplace, and with philanthropists to access funding. All school systems must challenge themselves to reshape their models to deliver a better education to every child.

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