We should take advantage of the opportunity that the coronavirus presents to improve our children's education.
The shutdown of Israel’s school system has presented teachers and educators around the country with a formidable challenge—distance teaching, a change in the teacher-student relationship, and the integration of technology into teaching. All these have been included in the school system’s work plans for several years, and there are organizations specialists in the field, operating under the banner of “promoting skills for the information age.”
The limitations now imposed on schools have given rise to a range of activities, proposals, plans, and programs designed to meet the current situation. But beyond the important question of how to teach under these conditions, it is worth taking advantage of this opportunity to also ask, what should be taught? The coronavirus crisis offers a truly rare opportunity for meaningful learning about social, cultural, and political realities. In this new learning process education professionals should be integrating a critical look at the realities facing all of us during this outbreak.
On the face of it, one could argue that there is nothing to prevent the inclusion of current events as part of the regular school routine. Indeed, many teachers do so. But there are also many who do not—those who prefer to avoid doing so for political reasons, or because they lack self-confidence, or because they lack the tools to address potentially inflammatory issues. The current situation, which dismantles the classroom-based group study format, might facilitate conversations about what is going on in the world, and allow this to be part of the study program in a more relaxed and more direct manner.
Some possible examples: History teachers now have the opportunity to shed light on past epidemics, and to identify governmental and social processes that had a significant impact on the period in question at both local and global levels. Biology teachers can help their students learn how research labs around the world have been studying the virus around the world, understand basic concepts in public health, and link up with chemistry students to explore the development of mediation and vaccines. And STEM students can look into technological solutions for dealing with the epidemic, and learn about how local and global science and technology is being used to address crises such as this.
Now is also the time to hone students’ media and digital literacy, and not only in the context of communication studies. What does fake news look like in these times? What tools exist to identify the propagation of fear, or to analyze news broadcasts and the way they present the issue both locally and globally? There is no need to create hypothetical case studies; instead, students can be given instruction sheets for watching and analyzing news broadcasts, and especially-- the government press conferences held daily at 8 p.m.
And in civics studies, which usually place a strong emphasis on the application of various principles to the analysis of different cases, there is no better time than now for applying what has been learned to the current political situation: . This includes concepts such as democratic rule, the rule of law, and the tension between (for example) the right to life and the right to privacy; as well as questions such as how decisions should be made during times of crisis; what should be the role of the professional echelon in government in such times; and how should politicians be involved. It is also possible to examine the results of the recent elections and how they are being received during the current crisis; to talk about majority and minority in democratic regimes; and to explore the issue of emergency regulations and of the necessary limitations on government powers in a democratic society.
Where educational professionals can make a truly significant contribution is not only in continuing to teach and in adapting materials for distance learning, but rather--in understanding that the future generation is learning more from its current experiences than anything that can by taught via an online lesson or educational software. Students are internalizing the nature of hysteria and mass panic, and are witnessing a huge social experiment in changing our habits and behaviors as a society. The benefits of this experience will stay with them long after the coronavirus crisis has passed.
Today’s youth have been provided with a rare opportunity to identify deep-seated change processes, as they unfold. It may be that the most important lessons for this generation will be learned outside the school walls, through the sensitive mediation of those educators who are able to make the most of the opportunity presented by the current crisis.
The article was published in the Jerusalem Post.