In Search of a Compass To Chart An Education Path During and After The COVID-19 Pandemic

Learning Ecosystems and Leadership May 14, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused severe disruptions to the lives of people around the world in many domains imaginable. It is not just the harmful damage the Pandemic has caused to the health of millions, and the irreparable loss of the lives it has taken. The Pandemic has also caused ripple effects extending to relationships, employment, civic participation and other spheres of life. Among those ripple effects, the Pandemic has severely impacted education. Directly, interrupting the forms of school and university based instruction, as measures of physical distancing have caused education institutions to attempt to continue to teach remotely. Indirectly, as the impact of the Pandemic on the health and income of many families, has created less supportive home conditions for many learners.

The challenge of having to figure out how to continue teaching in the absence of the possibility of convening in the same physical space is one for which most educators and education leaders, as well as students, were unprepared. Just as they were unprepared for a significant drop in the support for education occurring in some families as a result of the sudden demands and stresses which the Pandemic caused. This is, to put it bluntly, a quintessential adaptive educational challenge. One for which there is no playbook, one for which we will have to invent the solution as we navigate it.

In facing adaptive challenges of this sort it is helpful to ask what’s truly important. At a time when our capacity to deliver instruction is limited, what should we prioritize? What skills should we emphasize as learners face new pressures and stresses at home? At a time when the future seems more uncertain, what purposes should we prioritize, and how should we teach?

Questions or this sort call for a navigational compass, for instruments that can help us discern what’s valuable and important as we make our way through the night and choppy waters this Pandemic has thrown us into. Learning from comparative analysis and seeking greater relevance are two pathways to such compass. Over the last six weeks I have published three Open Access Books which I hope contribute to the necessary discernment, as we make our way through this long night. These books are freely downloadable, in hopes that they become global public goods that contribute in part to our collective search for clear north through this disrupted world.

Educating Students to Improve the World, offers a multidimensional framework to change education. I argue in this book that the north star for schools in our times should be to educate global citizens, with the capacity to collaborate across all human made divides to address the many challenges we share: from pandemics, to global poverty, from health disparities to climate change. I review an extensive body of research on global education programs, and a wide range of approaches to global education, and suggest that the disconnect between scholarly and pragmatic approaches to advance global education have been hampered by the lack of a good theory. That theory, I argue, needs to simultaneously account for the cultural, psychological, professional, institutional and political nature of educational change. In the book I explain the core tenets of each perspective, and use them to synthesize some of the major contributions to the field of global education.

A second book, Audacious Education Purposes, is a comparative analysis of major national education reforms in eight different countries in which I test the theory presented in Educating Students… as we examine how these nations approached deep and ambitious transformations of the goals of the curriculum in search of greater relevance. Written in collaboration with fourteen colleagues in the context of the Global Education Innovation Initiative I direct at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the book offers a unique comparative study of recent reforms in Brazil, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Portugal and Russia.

The book Empowering Teachers to Make the World Better dives into greater depth into one of the core pillars of reform identified in the previous book: teacher professional development. Written in collaboration with twenty two former graduate students, we examine major initiatives to support public school teachers to augment their capacity to advance deeper learning and twenty first century education in Cambodia, Colombia, India, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Walking our way through a major adaptive education challenge such as the one caused by the Pandemic we are currently experiencing is, in some ways, like walking through the forest in the night. A good way to approach this predicament is together with others, collaboratively, for even if none of us knows, alone, where true north is, we are more likely to find it if we each bring a candle and, together, all these small lights shine brighter and help us see the road ahead. These three books explaining how to align schools and systems with a capacious vision of global education and drawing on the lessons of comparative experience of bold and audacious reforms of education purposes are a small candle as we search for a compass that can help us walk together through the long night ahead.