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Durham University

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Teacher Professionalism in the Time of the Pandemic

(11 June 2020)

You are invited to this talk by Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the OECD on Tuesday 23 June 2020, 4pm – 5pm. This talk is hosted by the School of Education and will be chaired by Professor Vanessa Kind and introduced by Professor Peter Tymms. If you would like to join this free event, please register via the link. Further details about joining the event via Zoom will be emailed to registered participants the week before the event.

Teacher Professionalism in the Time of the Pandemic: Abstract These are difficult times for education. We are used to considering school a place rather than an activity, and when that place is closed, everything becomes difficult. Pupils who don’t have access to technology cannot benefit from online learning. Pupils who have not developed the motivation to learn on their own or who don’t have parents to support their learning, will not succeed even if they have access to the best technology. And pupils who used to be spoon-fed by a teacher standing in front of them will face difficulties when they have to set their own learning goals, manage and monitor their own learning, and solve complex problems that require resilience and the willingness to try again.

In some way, the state of technology in education mirrors the state of mind of our school systems. Our school systems were invented in the industrial age, when the prevailing norms were standardisation and compliance, and when it was both effective and efficient to educate pupils in batches and to train teachers once for their entire working lives. The curricula that spelled out what pupils should learn were designed at the top of the pyramid, then translated into instructional material, teacher education and learning environments, until they reached and were implemented by individual teachers in the classroom.

But this structure, inherited from the industrial model of work, makes change in a fast-moving world that is vulnerable to disruptions and crises very slow. In a way, the changes in our societies have vastly outpaced the structural capacity of our school systems to respond.

While this crisis has deeply disruptive implications for education, it does not have predetermined implications. We have agency, and it is the nature of our collective and systemic responses to these disruptions that will determine how we are affected by them. Real change often takes place in deep crisis, and this moment holds the possibility that we won’t return to the status quo when things return to “normal”.

First, technology has had an important impact in the crisis and this impact will extend well beyond the period of school closures, affecting both learning and teaching. Digital technology allows us to find entirely new answers to what people learn, how people learn, where people learn and when they learn. Technology can enable teachers and pupils to access specialised materials well beyond textbooks, in multiple formats and in ways that can bridge time and space. But while technology can leverage and amplify great teaching, it does not replace poor teaching, so this aspect, too, comes back to people.

Second, the crisis forces us to think beyond the ‘how’ of education and devote more attention to the ‘what’. We live in this world in which the kind of things that are easy to teach and test have also become easy to digitize and automate. The industrial age taught us how to educate second-class robots, people who are good at memorising and repeating what we tell them. In this age of accelerations, we need to think much harder about what makes us first-class humans, how we complement, not substitute, the artificial intelligence we have created in our computers, and how we build a culture that facilitates learning, unlearning and re-learning throughout life. So education is no longer just about teaching pupils something, but about helping them develop a reliable compass and the tools to navigate with confidence through an increasingly complex, volatile and uncertain world.

Andreas Schleicher is Director for Education and Skills at the OECD. He initiated and oversees the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and other international instruments that have created a global platform for policy-makers, researchers and educators across nations and cultures to innovate and transform educational policies and practices.

He has worked for over 20 years with ministers and education leaders to improve education. He is the recipient of numerous honours and awards and holds an honorary Professorship at the University of Heidelberg.


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