Opportunities in education arising out of the pandemic

In an article published by Absolutely Education, BESSA’s founder Stephanie Cheah discovers opportunities in education that have arisen out of the Covid-19 pandemic situation

The world today is facing one its biggest public health risks with a severe impact on education that simply cannot be ignored.  By April 2020, the flames of the pandemic wildfire had reached all corners of the world, resulting in the closure of over 90% of all schools, colleges and universities and impacting over one billion students.  The virus spread so quickly that many schools were caught off-guard.  Not only did they have to transition with urgency to online learning platforms, but there was little time to plan or reflect on the potential risks (and opportunities) that such a sudden change could bring.

Amongst the UK independent schools, we have seen a wide variance in how they reacted to the delivery of their education provision.  For some, the digital infrastructure necessary for online learning was bare-bones and required urgent implementation and development.  Video conferencing equipment and other teaching tools essential to shifting effectively to the digital classroom had to be installed at lightning speed.  Almost every lesson plan required adaptation, particularly for practical or experiential learning modules.  There were implications to the broader curriculum too. 

Another challenge for schools was to avoid passive learning.  They realised that online learning could end up being unproductive if students were not properly engaged.  Moreover, having a dedicated online platform did not guarantee learning outcomes would be achieved.  Online teaching is a special kind of methodology that not all teachers are naturally good at – training and preparation was a very necessary step. 

As schools grapple with the tremendous change wrought by Covid-19, unexpected opportunities have provided a silver lining.  We are seeing a shift to the model of blended learning where in-person classes are complemented by the online provision, and this often results in better efficiencies and outcomes.  New ways of teaching delivery and assessments are being adopted and could lead to a major transformation (or even necessary reform) in curriculum development and pedagogy.  The quality of learning material used in the teaching process can also be improved in this process.  Most importantly, though, the massive rise in video conferencing use will lead inevitably to a rise in collaborative work.  Despite the cross-border movement of students slowing during the pandemic, the scope for partnership and teamwork amongst educational institutions and its students is unprecedented.  In non-academic terms, many students have commented on the enormous sense of togetherness and caring which has arisen within their communities during the pandemic.  Schools assisted with food delivery, making and distribution of personal protection equipment and providing teaching support or even housing to the needy.

BESSA, too, has transitioned during the pandemic.  We moved from being a purely physical exhibition to hosting the first digital schools show in June 2020.  A few months later, we launched BESSA Connect:  a free online portal for families to explore British education and connect directly with British-curriculum schools in the UK and Asia via their virtual booths.  Our mission is to make British education research easily accessible to all, with a particular focus on Asian-based parents where distance is often a hindrance to being fully informed about education choices.  The virtual exhibition hall on BESSA Connect has more than 20 schools and supporting organisations (eg. professional tutors) in dedicated booths with a direct avenue of contact to their admission officers or points of contact.  Videos of school tours and talks about educational topics give contextual information and advice to prospective families.  Be our guest and discover more about what a British education has to offer your child at www.bessa.asia.