We all know that the pandemic has left an inerasable mark on the education landscape which, in parts, we are still mopping up. While this year’s cohort of year 12 learners are the first to have returned to sitting full GCSE exams, I am quite confident that all of you reading this would agree that in the aftermath of the pandemic, they are not the same as the year 12s we used to teach.
A new type of learner has emerged, one whose skills and experiences differ from those of the pre-pandemic era and one whose pastoral needs and requirements outweigh those of their pre-pandemic counterparts.
But this isn’t an article to join in with staffroom complaints about our new type of learner. This is my call to ask you as educators to recognise and celebrate their emerging skillsets and to embrace the need for adaptation and empathy.
Indeed, the comparison itself is counterproductive. Instead, by embracing the skills that learners have acquired during the pandemic rather than those we think they have lost, we can create environments where they feel valued and understood. This, in turn, can foster a more positive and supportive learning experience.
The student becomes the master
One of the most significant changes the pandemic brought about is the acceleration of digital proficiency among students. Whether they were attending virtual classes or engaging in remote learning, students had to become tech-savvy at an astonishing rate.
This newfound digital literacy is an invaluable asset. It allows students to access information, collaborate and communicate in ways that were previously unimaginable. As educators, we should recognise and continue to harness this digital proficiency despite most teaching returning to pre-pandemic methods.
The difficulty is that most young people’s digital skills have now surpassed their tutors’. The right response isn’t to bury our heads but to encourage them to share their technological skills with their peers while we continue to integrate technology into our lessons (and hopefully catch up).
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In addition to digital proficiency, the pandemic forced students to respond to rapidly changing circumstances, making adaptability one of their most valuable skills. The ability to adjust to unexpected situations and find creative solutions is a trait that will serve these learners well in life.
In the classroom, we can remind learners of these skills they already possess and create opportunities for students to showcase this adaptability. Encourage them to solve real-world problems and adapt their learning methods to suit their individual needs. By doing so, we empower them to become resilient and resourceful individuals.
The pandemic period also altered the locus of control for many learners. They were tasked with managing their own schedules and staying on top of assignments independently. This experience has cultivated improved time management and self-discipline.
As educators, we should not only recognise these skills but also help students refine them further. Encourage the use of planners, time management techniques and goal setting. By doing so, we equip learners with essential life skills that extend beyond the classroom.
A unique diversity
The disruption of traditional teaching methods during our learners’ secondary school years gave rise to a wide array of learning experiences. Students engaged with diverse resources from online platforms to hands-on projects to meet their educational needs.
This diversity of experiences has nurtured an awareness of different learning methodologies, approaches and practices. We can leverage this to create more inclusive classrooms in which they can take ownership of their learning journey.
Embracing the post-Covid learner requires a paradigm shift. We must move away from comparing students to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’ and instead focus on nurturing their unique skillsets with empathy and flexibility.
The world of education has changed and will continue to do so. Rather than resisting this, we should be at the forefront ensuring students’ needs are what drives its evolution.
The ‘new normal’ is here to stay. Comparing what is to what was only stops us from enacting what could be. After all, the one constant in all this turbulence is our responsibility to ensure our educational approaches reflect the needs and strengths of our learners, whatever their backgrounds and experiences.