Melina Furman
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A few days ago we were talking with my kids at home and I was telling them that we were living a historic moment, that we would never forget these days. And one of them said to me, "Mom, I want to live a historic moment, but a good one." I do research on education and I feel like the pandemic forced us into a kind of global educational experiment that's making us explore, unintentionally, what's going on in a hyper-connected world where we cannot attend a physical school. I've been thinking a lot about that these days. Is there anything we can learn from this educational scenario that we didn’t choose? And I do think so, that we're learning some important things. I'd like to share with you three of those ideas I’m thinking about these days and hopefully they will help us keep thinking further about education from now on. The first is that, for the first time, all teachers together have the urgency to take courage and try new ways of teaching. Innovation in education is something that has been discussed for some time now, but has been a compartmentalized venture. And overnight, everyone at the same time had to help each other take a huge leap. With a lot of effort and forced by the emergency, those of us dedicated to teaching we have to redesign our classes remotely and in that process we are daring to try new ways of doing things. And we realized we didn't have to reinvent the wheel. That there were many things already available but we had never had until now the urgent need to use them. Videos, tutorials, online books, remote learning platforms, social networks, e-mails, video calls, whatever gives us results to keep teaching and especially to stay connected with our students, with their families, which is so important these days. And the good news in the middle of all this, I think, is that once we try them, we use them, those strategies become ours, they become part of our know-how, of our toolbox. And little by little in the midst of the frustration that comes with having to adapt so quickly even trying to be patient, being kind to ourselves when things don't go so well, because we're also learning, we begin to enjoy the taste of trying new ways of teaching and learning. And this isn't just happening in the formal system. Today, teachers of all kinds are teaching online what they know. From yoga classes to knitting workshops. Even people with a vocation to teach are bringing themselves to do it. I don't know if you saw these days that old man who started teaching how to use the computer to do banking operations, for people his age. We're learning in community. The second thought these days is that we are witnessing what happens when we radically change how we use our time to learn. In a research we did last year, we asked groups of teenagers to imagine the ideal school. And there was something that came up over and over again. Boys and girls would mention consistently that the school they dreamed of had a space, at least in part, to choose what to learn, when and how. And all of a sudden today, overnight, that's happening. These days many families are beginning to realize that many times kids, especially when they are teenagers, learn best when they manage to organize their own time. Some study more at night. Others start with the subjects they care about most. Others connect with classmates to do homework. Or look for videos online to understand something they don’t finish to get. Or to learn something new they wanted. And this also helps us think about education from here onwards. Because we see that those spaces of autonomy for the kids can be combined with other instances in which we are all working together. And it also shows that in order for all kids to take advantage of those more autonomous moments, we have to teach them from a little age to manage their time, to manage tasks and everything that implies learning to learn. And my last thought is rather a question: What happens when, as it happens these days, we don't have the physical school as a place to go? Quarantine is making us realize — this time not theoretically, but for real, in our own flesh — the value of the school and the enormous task that teachers are doing every day. When kids cannot go to school, the need for it as a space that ensures everyone can learn becomes clear and stronger than ever. When we try to help our children with their schoolwork — I don't know if it's happening to you these days — we realize how difficult to be a good teacher is. This pandemic is making the differences between households more visible than ever. It's not just the one who has a computer and the one who doesn't, the one with Internet connection and the one with none. There is the one who has a quiet place to study, and the one who doesn’t; the one who has someone to ask, and the one who doesn't. The one who has to do all the house chores, and the one who doesn't. The school, with all its difficulties, for a few hours a day at least, puts in parentheses those inequalities and helps all boys and girls be protected and focused on learning. As an educator, I'm very concerned about where this is all going. I also wonder what will remain of what we're learning in this quarantine. My feeling these days is: Did you see when the tide goes down and the beach is bare? Among all the things the tide takes with it, what it breaks, what goes away, at the same time the beach unveils some of its hidden treasures. I hope that this historic moment, although, as my son said, is not at all a good one, helps us make those treasures we are finding our own. The desire to explore in community new ways of teaching, rethinking the use of time and ways of learning. And, also, realize how much we need the school and teachers, as a society. Today, physical classrooms are closed, but you never know, maybe a door is opening to keep creating, all together, and when this is over, the education we dream of. Thank you very much.