#36 Inequalities in education

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#37 Finding a home in the pacific

#36 Inequalities in education

Could the Covid-19 Pandemic be a catalyst for social equality in education?

by Beth Miller, De Montfort University, United Kingdom

In this conversation I contend that amongst the clamour for schools to ‘return to normal’ teaching professionals need to step back, reflect on their Covid-19 experience, and use it as a springboard for creating schools for the twenty-first century.

While researching teacher attrition and resilience, which coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, I was able to hear from the chalkface of serving educational professionals about the pressures and unexpected highlights that they were experiencing. Overwhelmingly, the issue that caused the most angst and stress for these serving educational professionals, was the lack of clear guidance and policy coming from the UK Department for Education and the then-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson. Teaching professionals spoke of the ‘chaotic government policies’ that were consistently changing and overburdening teaching professionals with expectations that were practically undeliverable.These policies increased teacher workload and damaged the relationship between the profession, the DfE, the media and the public. Some teachers believed that along with teaching they had to ‘play politics’ as they were receiving ‘guidance’ on how to teach by external leadership who did not listen to the professionals and quite literally ‘don’t know what they are doing’.

More importantly, the pandemic highlighted areas of social inequality and the lack of infrastructure for some schools, especially those serving the more deprived areas of our society. Teachers reported that not only did the school itself lack the technology to deliver the online teaching that was being demanded, but many of their pupils did not have access to technology and other education resources in their homes. Although, schools serving these communities, tried to overcome these problems by sending the teachers out to the homes of these pupils, they still experienced difficulties. Importantly, the time that could be given to these pupils was insufficient because of the numbers these remote teaching teams had to serve, but equally frustrating was the environments they were attempting to teach in.

Most of the homes that they attended were multi-occupancy and due to having many family members in one home, there was a lack of suitable space for the pupil to fully focus and learn. Teachers feared this would widen the attainment gap between the pupils who resided in more deprived areas of the community and those from less deprived areas. However, trying to take the positive side from this gloomy picture, teachers note that they now have more awareness of the issues these pupils face and have more understanding of the difficulties they experience regarding completing homework and studying for tests and exams. As a result, this learning experience can be used by teaching professionals who serve the more socially deprived areas of society to rethink expectations and adapt pedagogy to provide the support these pupils need.

Moving forward there are many lessons to be learnt from the pandemic experience that could help to build stronger and equal learning communities. However, the question remains: will educational professionals be afforded the autonomy to make the changes needed to ensure a more equal education system?

In the next contribution to EURA Conversations Sophie Jerram writes on the reinforcement of Aotearoa New Zealand's Pacific island nation geography through the Covid-19 pandemic.

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