The School Pandemonium in the COVID-19 Pandemic.
It's been nine months since the world began to face this unusual and painful situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had so many effects on the lives of most of the planet's inhabitants. In addition to the moments of fear, pain, empathy, anger, hope, hopelessness, and varied reflections on life and society, I have experienced all of this paradoxically in my multiple social roles.
As the father of a school-age child, a researcher in the field of education, politically engaged citizen, and university professor, reflecting on the impact of this pandemic on the various actors and institutions of the educational universe leads me to understand that the term pandemonium, in its figurative form, is what best reflects the moment. According to Roget’s Thesaurus, pandemonium is related to terms like hell, noise, disorder, confusion.
Some educational scenes of the pandemonium in pandemic times
· With no face-to-face classes, and having lessons on video platforms like Meet, Zoom, Skype, and through dysfunctional school content apps, students and teachers found themselves in need to build new forms of relationships. The most sensitive of these new forms is the possibility, learned by the students and hated by most teachers, to become “silent” and invisible in class. A click on the camera and microphone, and even on the loudspeaker when they think that the content isn’t interesting for them, with the guarantee of privacy and invisibility, students can do multiple tasks during classes that they don’t consider interesting and useful. For example, playing games, browsing websites and social networks, listening to music, sleeping, singing, and even chatting with others. While that, with no control over the collective as would in the regular classroom, the teacher’s monologue keeps going on the screen for only three or four attentive students.
· Frustrated and desperate with the explicit apathy of the students who couldn’t turn off their cameras, teachers used to only transmit the school’s and book’s contents, watch people lying down, walking, disheveled, wearing pajamas, eating, looking at the infinite, talking to other people, etc. Worst of all, wondering what are doing those who have turned off the camera and are not watching the lecture. Usually, what comes to mind are ways to forget about the latter or plan a test to “get them” in individual assessments.
· Not to mention here the families which made a strong pressure for the pre-pandemic school to continue during the pandemic, teaching to their children in the same way. Schools and teachers, with no deeper knowledge about these new forms of interaction that were imposed on them through communication and information technologies and the pandemic times, end up doing what they have always done, for centuries: transmitting the information. Thus, they put teachers and students to live in a digital/virtual world as if they were in the regular classroom, within four walls. They forget, however, that in the virtual world vanishes one of the functions of the traditional classroom, as well showed us the French philosopher Michel Foucault in the book Discipline and Punish: classroom allows the physical and psychological control of bodies and minds, exercised through the sharp, affectionate, or disciplined teacher’s look (sometimes supported also by cameras) on students in their lined school desks. The point is that students, free from threats because of turned-off cameras, or “disconnected” internet, for example, feel freer, and cannot be punished in the traditional way.
· Families with one or more children, working from home, besides the need to share the same space and digital equipment, now need to support or substitute the work of the diligent teachers about the students’ inquiries and homework. Parents, also, observing their children’s apathy and disinterest, many times have to sit and stay beside their child on the phone's camera or computer to compel them to pay attention in the classes. They have to keep coherent with what they demanded to the schools: to keep the pre-pandemic school in the pandemic. As a result, their professional work that must be carried out at home is compromised, and in general, more stress is generated in the always troubled family relationships, demanding more pressure on schools and teachers who do not know how to do it differently.
I could go on describing other scenes from other institutions involved in the current pandemonium, as the terrible situation of families in which the parents can’t stay at home, and their children have no access to technology and internet, but I hope that I have already achieved the goal of formulating a rough picture about the complexity of what we are experiencing at the moment, and the chaos established.
How to better understand the current situation, and think in the future of education in post-pandemic times? Reflecting on the past is always a good strategy. Therefore, in the following paragraphs, I will briefly discuss some elements of the history of education.
A brief educational history
The school as we know it was invented about three centuries ago. Its goals, among others, were of breaking the aristocratic perspective of education only for the children of the nobility, encompassing the emerging bourgeoisie and urban families of the nascent industrialization processes. To be effective, this school was modeled to transmit knowledge to the apprentices, by the teacher, and by the books. As it was not yet aimed at serving the entire population (only about 10% of them), the model adopted was based on principles of homogenizing the teaching processes, to the detriment of human diversity. As a result, legitimated by societies, this school normalized the exclusion of any and all differences that could bother the teaching and learning process. The logic behind is that not everyone needed formal education. For example, women, colored, poor, hyperactive people, etc. didn’t need to study, and could be left out of the classrooms. (to learn more about this process, see Araujo, 2014; and Esteve, 2004).
In contemporary societies (mainly Western), the advance of capitalism, democracy, and technology, lead to an understanding that an inclusive education for all was of interest not only to those who fought for the principles of democracy, equality, and social justice. Qualitative education, lasting for a lifetime, for the largest possible number of people was of interest to capitalism and the new driving forces of the economy that demand access to a wide workforce, with increasingly sophisticated skills and competences.
This change in direction and goals of education, which should be for all, aiming quality, and for a lifetime, is already underway and demanding slowly a generational process of reinvention of education. It has been pressing the pachydermous educational systems all over the world to move for the construction of new forms, contents, and relationships in the classrooms. What we call the creation and construction of New Pedagogical Architectures.
The New Pedagogical Architectures presupposes rethinking educational content, through the incorporation of new areas of knowledge in school curricula; rethink teaching methods through active learning that meet the principles of diversity and reject the logic of homogenization and exclusion; and they interfere with classroom relations, by focusing on the democratization of relationships, and the role of students and teachers in the learning processes.
Information and communication technologies are an essential part of this whole process. Advances in recent decades, such as the spread and cheapening of the internet, computers (especially in the cloud), and cellular telephony, are disrupting the school invented in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Essas mudanças já em andamento estavam sendo gestadas e implementadas em processos lentos, provavelmente geracionais… até que chegou a pandemia do COVID-19, e junto dela, o pandemônio escolar.
The school pandemonium
Em questão de dias, sem nenhum aviso prévio, em todo o mundo, as escolas foram fechadas. Aos poucos percebeu-se que a nova situação não era por alguns dias ou semanas, mas perduraria por meses… ou até mesmo anos, na opinião de alguns. Professores, estudantes, gestores, famílias, políticos, todos se envolveram no pandemônio criado, sem preparação prévia, sem uma bússola de orientação.
In a matter of days and not a generation, it became clear that the educational keynote would be a “headbanging ”, with several experts and laypeople with diffuse interests debating and looking for directions to an unusual situation that took the school beyond its limits, involving public health issues and even dilemmas of life and death. Families, afflicted with their evident unpreparedness to take care of formal education and perceiving in a more complex way the functions of the school in contemporary life, despaired. While schools had to get into a universe not unknown, but until then neglected: the importance of ICT tools in education.
The major bottleneck in the process was evident: the teaching work. Squeezed between all the forces of society that legitimately charged urgent referrals for the maintenance and running of schools and universities, and learning of children, youths, and adults, all this professional category was in evidence and under enormous pressure.
The central point of the bottleneck is that teachers, even those who graduated at leading universities around the world, had learned that being a teacher is to follow the pedagogical and epistemological model of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the transmission of knowledge, in a classroom between four walls. In a matter of days, from early childhood to higher education, they were asked to reinvent themselves and discover new tools and new ways of working. A lot of stress, and in this case, it seems to me that the word pandemonium is soft to explain the moments lived (and still being experienced) by these people, with no forecast of relief in the short term.
How to face the situation?
First understanding that disruptive and interactive technologies were not created to serve the past centuries schools’ pedagogical and epistemological models, based on the transmission of knowledge and exclusion of differences. On the contrary, the disruptive technologies that are presented to teachers today, if used properly, are interactive, empowering, and prone to foster diversity in the classroom, democratically and inclusively, in another logic of time and space for the construction of knowledge.
Second, understanding that the demands for the development of children, young people, and professionals immersed in a world that is much more diverse plural, democratic, and accessible to other sources of knowledge than just teachers and printed books, demand that school contents are reframed, contextualized, and brought to the interest of society and those who learn them.
Finally, as a third way to face the situation posed here, to understand the need for a radical change in the relationship between teachers and students, transforming the teachers’ role in the classroom, be it physical or virtual. As the holder of the knowledge that he has to teach, he needs to understand now that he/she should a mediator, curator, guide of the knowledge and information available in multiple and diverse sources and languages, adhering to the diversity of students who attend schools, universities and other spaces of personal and professional training.
Teaching work in the middle of the pandemonium and the post-pandemic world
As recognized today by most educators, the school as we know it needs to be reinvented, and the pandemonium experienced today exerts an accelerating power in this process that otherwise could be generational. This process is already underway, all over the world, but I predict it will be even stronger in the post-pandemic world.
In my reflections as a researcher, father, citizen, and teacher, a statement is presented: a large part of the misunderstandings generated by the pandemonium in the COVID-19 pandemic is because schools and teachers have not yet understood that they should not transpose the contents, forms and relations from the traditional school to the virtual world. After all, in the virtual and digital universe, times, spaces, and relationships have a different nature.
The great misunderstanding of the teaching work is that, in general, they maintain the logic of the four walls classroom (now transformed into the four sides of the screen). Teachers talk to the collective but continue to demand individual activities as if they were in a classroom supporting a student in his desk. To exemplify, while helping a specific student in a regular classroom, the teacher can raise his/her head and talk to other students at the same time, and also solve a problem of indiscipline with a look toward the one. In the virtual world, it does not work like that. With the cameras turned off, or even turned on but with tiny images on a screen, the perception and control of the collective are not possible in the same way.
Time spent in an activity or procedure explanation in the classroom is not the same in the digital world, which is much more agile and ruled by multiple perceptive and cognitive logics. As I like to exemplify, film studios transform a 500-page book into a 2-hour movie; advertising agencies convince you of a need through 30 seconds advertisement pills; some apps allow you to demonstrate a concept with an image, or a short video.
In my perspective, during the current pandemonium and in the post-pandemic times, schools should be aware of the human’s multiple intelligences, learn to use active learning methodologies, multiple languages, and project-based contents contextualized in the personal and social lives of students.
Assim, se em vez de ficar ensinando conteúdos e tentando cobrar individualmente e de forma homogeneizada a aprendizagem, os docentes delegassem desafios e problemas de suas áreas de conhecimento aos estudantes para que, trabalhando em grupo, pesquisem e tragam respostas a serem compartilhadas e discutidas coletivamente, sob mediação do professor, teríamos mais engajamento, mais participação… e mais aprendizado autônomo. A maioria dos encontros virtuais deveriam ser mais rápidos, de 15 minutos por exemplo, e mais distribuídos no tempo escolar, e em grupos menores, e com mais atividades colaborativas. Em vez de controle sobre corpos e mentes, teríamos controle sobre processos e produtos de conhecimento: coletivos, diversos, democráticos, inclusivos e criativos.
Well, I finish this post here, with the invitation to reflect on the causes and consequences of school pandemonium in times of pandemic. In the next post, I will continue the discussion bringing some possible ways to break the deadlock with excellence, ethics, and engagement, thinking of the post-pandemic world.
ARAUJO, U. F. (2014). Temas transversais, pedagogia de projetos e mudanças na educação. São Paulo: Summus Editorial.
ESTEVE, J. (2004). A terceira revolução educacional: a educação na sociedade do conhecimento. São Paulo: Moderna.
FOUCAULT, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison. New York: Pantheon Books.