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We recently spoke with Andreas Schleicher, the Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the (OECD) on the impact of COVID19 pandemic. In this distressing time, Andreas focuses on the need for teachers to have entrepreneurial freedom and international collaboration across global education communities.

Andreas Schleicher is Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. As a key member of the OECD Senior Management team, Mr. Schleicher supports the Secretary-General’s strategy to produce analysis and policy advice that advances economic growth and social progress. He promotes the work of the Directorate for Education and Skills on a global stage and fosters cooperation both within and outside the OECD. 

The following piece is edited from a discussion between Andreas Schleicher & Saku Tuominen.

Based on your global research & personal experience in education, what do you see as working or not working amidst the COVID19 Crisis?

In this unprecedented time of school closures, there is definitely a growing reliance on technology-based solutions and they do work for those children who have access and for teachers who know how to use them. For many children and teachers, I believe this period can be liberating and exciting. However, based on some of our recent studies, one in ten young people don’t even have a desk to study at home, let alone access to computers or the internet. Additionally, only about 50% of teachers worldwide feel comfortable or have experience in digital teaching & learning. Many teachers are often seen replicating a traditional lesson on a computer, which showcases their lack of familiarity or comfort with digital pedagogies.  

Despite the global education communities creating amazing solutions, my major concern is around not reaching all children, especially ones in low-resourced settings or at homes that lack support and commitment. In my experience, the most impressive example of an at-scale solution to remote learning comes from the heart of the outbreak, China, where the local authorities have succeeded to put 50 million learners online within a month. What makes it special is that they didn’t rely on broadcasting technologies but focused on building strong relationships between teachers and students within their system. They combined social and digital environments in a way that reaches every learner. Ones they couldn’t reach digitally, they got school books delivered to the learners’ homes.

In this time of social distancing, social relationships need to be at the crux of everything.

How can struggling countries manage learning for all students? 

It truly goes back to the teachers. If we again take the example of China, despite the infrastructure and resources flowing top-down, the teachers in the country are highly entrepreneurial in spirit. They are familiar with the digital world and most of the K12 content is generated locally. Similar to Japan, Chinese teachers have a strong culture of research where they spend many hours planning & collaborating with each other. They are not used to curriculum raining down on them but instead, are habitual about co-creating instruction and learning environments using a great enabler, technology. 

For other countries to come out of this period successfully, one will have to focus on a culture where teachers are encouraged to be leaders, designers of innovative learning environments, co-creators, facilitators, and coaches for students learning remotely. Global educators who have these qualities they find a way to work with technology and overall, with the pandemic. In fact, if we don’t see systems encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit in their teachers, many countries will be seen to fail miserably. 

How do we tackle massive challenges around the lack of support and resources that support learning? 

It is too soon to share what is the best practice that is globally relevant, but one thing is certain - our teachers will have to take the lead. Teachers who have a tradition and culture of relating to individual students in and beyond their classroom will showcase best practices that we can all learn from. I believe they will take the responsibility to reach out to their students and support them in this uncertain time. 

You might have well-minded parents but they don’t always have the capacity to support their children’s learning. Like many Japanese teachers who spend time building relationships with their students outside of classrooms, globally, teachers will have to extend their reach through digital tools to students' homes. In my view, teachers might be the only possible solution to the massive inequalities that this crisis brings in our students' lives. 

To offer a different perspective, though the pandemic has brought many challenges in education, it has also reduced inequalities. Not everyone in a classroom learns, at least not in the same way. 

This situation has made one thing very clear- We won’t be going back.

What is clear is that learners will become more demanding when they get back to school. They will tell their teachers how they learn best, from what they want to learn to how they like to learn, and teachers won't be able to deliver their teaching in a way they always have done in the past. Through this situation, we might be able to learn how to cater to much more diverse learner needs and be able to reduce the inequality that exists in regular schooling. 

Once this is over, I believe and hope there will be more demands placed on education by students and their families. 

How do we break down school barriers and create bigger communities of learning?

Absolutely! This is the time to break down old barriers. 

This is the time when as a student you can choose your teacher, at least in the digital world.

You don’t have to learn from the teacher who stands in front of you but you can learn from the teacher who is exactly adapted to your learning style. I think many young people will use this opportunity to get a much wider view of pedagogical strategies. This of course also requires local governments to play the role of an enabler and build platforms where children can access true learning opportunities. Right now, this is why the digital world works, as it is a platform that connects everybody.

One can also learn from countries like Singapore and Japan that have very strong professional learning communities within and across schools that are helping them to collaborate and engage in research, design, and evaluation of their offering in the current crisis. In Europe, it is not that easy to find similar at-scale best practices, but Belgium & Netherlands have found ways to beautifully balance professional autonomy & collaborative culture that is now allowing teachers and education communities to co-create and co-facilitate learning for their students.

How does one or should one approach assessments at this time?

This is a good question. At OECD, we have discussed whether we want to focus our energy on this question and came to the conclusion that as of this moment, it is not our priority, especially in comparison to many other urgencies. However, if the crisis is to extend for a few more months, this will become a key question to ponder upon. We will have to reflect on how the digital world provides us the possibility to integrate assessment and learning. There is a lot of potential for not separating the two into two different activities, but to move to a state where good assessments become good learning. There is a possibility to capitalize on this but at this moment, I don’t think we need to prioritize it.

Over the coming weeks, what is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) looking to do and share with the global education community?

Amidst this crisis, we have been working on multiple projects and resources to share with the global education community. Currently, we are compiling data from students & teachers worldwide to study what kind of pedagogies are prevalent in current environments and what enables digital learning. I have also published a blog on how teachers and school systems can respond to the COVID19 pandemic, which also revealed the need to focus on student-teacher relationships and teacher preparedness as even in western countries, the majority of teachers are not skilled at either.

Soon we will be putting out students’ experiences in digital learning and insights from school principals on their own and their teachers' preparedness for this pandemic. We will be sharing which countries have been well prepared and which haven’t. What has been surprising to me is that no country has been seriously engaging in collaboration internationally. This is why I think HundrED’s work and long history of mobilizing innovation is so important. Not many public-private partnerships have come out of this situation. Instead, there is a lot more public versus private divide. 

I think this is the best time for innovative solutions to scale, maybe even across borders. At OECD, we hope to encourage sharing key learnings and resources across borders and look forward to collaborating with HundrED on their Spotlight on Quality Education for All During Coronavirus and find multiple ways to collaborate, share our learnings and act collectively.

Over the last few days, we have received 102 innovative solutions to meet the challenges raised by COVID19 pandemic head-on! On 2nd April, we will be hosting a global call for our innovators, ambassadors, youth ambassadors and other community stakeholders to discuss our current realities and brainstorm on collective solutions. Register to be part of the call now!