The school year 2020 began as any other year, with teachers and students back to school or college, refreshed after a break, and eager to get back into learning.
Little did we think that the largest educational disturbance in recent history — the COVID-19-pandemic – was around the corner.
Most states and territories moved to home learning arrangements for students to stop the spread of, and prevent children from catching, the coronavirus.
Close to 9 out of 10 Australians (88%) with school children kept them away from school – the remaining 12% sent them into class as usual.
The online education experience in Australian homes has been favourable (at 71 percent approval).
This is a tribute to teachers and schools, throughout Australia, tackling the COVID threat head-on, and trying to keep the high performance culture going in learning environments.
It is a characteristic of strengthening education that methods have changed over the years. Blackboard and chalk became a whiteboard and marker pen, which then developed into a whiteboard with a built-in printer – so students could have copies of exactly what was written for them.
Acetate projectors became PowerPoint presentations, which then changed to Zoom calls and Loom recordings with screen sharing built-in.
As an exhibition showcase of adaptability, the reaction of educational establishments to the challenges presented has been incredible. They have stepped up to the mark by being adaptable and completely open to new ways of transferring knowledge.
Each generation of learners brings with it unique challenges to overcome. New technology and methods of learning need to be adapted to how students absorb and use information.
Online distribution during COVID-19 was reasonably straightforward because of the availability of internet learning and communication platforms and the technical ability of current students who adapted quickly and easily to the new parameters imposed on them.
It is this inherent technical agility coupled with familiarity with the technology that educational institutions will have to understand, teach, educate, and lead the next generation of students successfully.
The current crop of students is made up of Generation Z, who were born between 1995 and 2009, and the new Generation Alpha, born between 2010 and 2024.
Generation Z, are probably the most studied and picked over a generation in history. This is because feedback is possible as they leave their social, mobile, visual, and digital footprints. This is also not a localised picture, but a global phenomenon; with Generation Z’ers across the globe using the same games, programs, and software.
The studies have shown that internet engagement has now overtaken face-to-face interactions for generations Z and Alpha.
A world event, like the George Floyd murder, is better known than local news to many Generation Z’ers.
In Australia, the educational fallout from the pandemic seems to have been beneficial and overwhelmingly positive.
The whole period has been a vital insight into planning for Generations Alpha and Beta in Australia.
During the next four years, Generation Alpha will outnumber Baby Boomers.
Most of these children will still be alive in the 22nd century and will know nothing but electronic connection and interaction. Artificial Intelligence and algorithms will dominate their lives and act in a predictive way for them by providing services and products without them even knowing they need them.
From the point of view of education, building knowledge and thought around a screen, and utilising this engagement, whilst not losing physical contact and interaction with peers and adults, will be the major challenge.
Along with this, parents and educators are experiencing tensions between having to protect a child’s innocence online, educating them in a safe space and allowing outside play, association with friends and siblings, and engagement with adults outside of their immediate social circle.
Along with these issues is the elephant in the room – preparing children for a life of “success” has become a massive pressure for the children themselves, their parents, and even their educators.
This has led to the problems we now associate with the assumptions of achievement – stress, eating disorders, mental health issues, self-harming, drug-taking, alcoholism, and myriad other manifestations of overarching expectations.
In an interconnected world, these pressures become highlighted when measuring educational achievement across continents – how do you compare a State Senior Secondary Certificate of Education with, say, a French Baccalaureate or a Japanese Gakushi Shogo?
These questions are much easier for the arts than for the scientific and mathematical branches of education.
Art services and products are comparable the world over. Acrylic or oil paint, used by artists, for example, is the same product across the globe.
Printing services, too, use the same techniques, whatever language a book, or brochure, or pamphlet is written in. Lithography knows no boundaries. A printer in Germany would be familiar with a Heidelberg Press anywhere.
Digital home printing has revolutionised the ability to produce all you need in your home or office.
Everything from calendars – with your photographs – to notepad printing, wedding invitations and orders of service, through to restaurant menus and other projects could only be produced by a “professional” printing company just ten years ago.
This same ability to scale down once vast projects also applies to the provision of education.
It is now possible to do a PhD completely online – without having to go near a University campus or college – but you choose what you want to study.
Australia will probably gear future learning to AI (Artificial Intelligence) and educators will “recommend” subjects according to the student’s track record of their best subjects. Schools, colleges, and universities will steer students down the most useful path for their skills.
There will be jump-off points where the algorithms determine whether a student has gone as far as they can, educationally, and divert them to vocational training or suggest lines of employment.
It doesn’t stop with designing an academic curriculum for the 22nd century though. Well-being is also front and centre of the vision for future education.
Schools become anchors in their communities – and not just for students – staff and parents also benefit from an excellent school in their community. The social cohesion and balance this brings is vitally important with families becoming more scattered and social responsibility being stretched.
Gender identity is also being discussed in Australian classrooms, along with ethnicity, faith, racial backgrounds and Aboriginal issues.
With computers and other electronic devices at the forefront of the new teaching armory, new ideas about integrating them within the existing structure of Australian education, and the planned changes, will become a vital part of the ongoing discussions.