By Austin Lang

Everyone interacts with the education system, whether you are a student, parent, manager or colleague. The education system works to prepare young people for their futures and plays a role in shaping the future itself. How the education system operates will have a marked effect on our society’s structure and how we take on climate change uncertainty. 

In the last eight months, we have seen our education system rapidly adapting to the changes forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Society at large can learn from some of the solutions and adaptations that educators have employed. Like so many other moments of unrest, this pandemic is one where we can look to our educators for leadership. We have been watching how the education system has been morphing during this pandemic. Educators of all kinds changed and adapted quickly to ensure their students’ safety to slow the spread of COVID-19. They have moved classes online, created outdoor classrooms, and developed new activities to ensure physical distancing. These changes have required educators to adopt new technologies and teaching methods to fit these unique circumstances. 

The sudden stress of adapting to our new ‘normal’ has thrown the entire education system into a state of unrest. These rapid changes to teachers’ ways of interacting with their students have put pressure on formal and informal educators. Many teachers are now working in online classrooms, using video conferences and new tools to meet health restrictions. Understandably, many working in the education system are looking to get back to a sense of normalcy, returning to the way we were educated before the pandemic. However, some community leaders see the pandemic as an opportunity to build more resilient systems, including the education system.

Dr. Robin Cox, Director of The Resilience by Design Lab at Royal Roads University and Shalu Mehta, writer for the online publication The Discourserecently discussed a report by Cox, Jean Slick, and Thomas Homer-Dixon. In Surviving, Thriving or Radical Revisioning: Scenarios and Considerations for Pandemic Recovery and Response Planning, Cox et al. discuss shifts caused by the pandemic. COVID-19 has caused “a fundamental and irreversible system shift in Canadian society and human civilization more generally.” Cox et al. explain that “these large events often intersect and prompt change.” The changes that we see educators making can create new, more resilient systems that will render us better equipped to handle future impacts. Therefore, it is worth taking time to pause and think deeply about the changes we are making instead of running back to the same old strategies. By taking this time, we may develop modifications that create meaningful impact well into the future. 

Our future society’s success will reflect our education system’s success and how we could adapt to these uncertain times. Suppose the education system is rigid and unwilling to adapt both in structure and curriculum. In that case, it will produce a generation that will mirror the system. Take, for example, an education system unwilling to move online during the Covid-19 pandemic. This system would be forced to shut down. The system is exemplifying rigid behaviour in its unwillingness to adapt to new circumstances. The students in this system will be held back by the time missed in the classroom. They will also be taught that this failure in adaptability is the norm. The students will be held back in the basic knowledge of new technologies and mindset. A rigid system creates a rigid mindset that lacks the plasticity needed to adapt to unique circumstances and challenges. For your children, future employees, and society at large, a robust, adaptable education system is central to our current and future success. 

Emma Dorn, Jake Bryant, Stephen Hall, and Frederic Panier from Mckinsey & Company, a management consulting firm focused on helping organizations navigate change., have taken this opportunity to outline vital insights from their experience and observations the education system throughout the pandemic. Schools excelling through this time have focused on students’ success by utilizing new online tools and assessments. For example, an education system unwilling to move online during the Covid-19 pandemic would have been forced to shut down. The system is exemplifying rigid behaviour in its unwillingness to adapt to new circumstances. The students will be held back not only by the time missed in the classroom but in participation within a rigid system. According to Mckinsey & Co, this level of individualization is not as simple in a traditional classroom. Although new tools have been identified, the ultimate success of students comes down to having high-quality teachers. A single teacher can change a student’s future trajectory. These changes seem to be straightforward; however, amid a pandemic, these changes can be difficult and have exposed inequalities and shortcomings of the education system that were previously hidden or overlooked. The answer to these shortcomings is not as simple as handing out devices. It is how technology is being used and designed that will create the most significant impact.

We find education systems around the world forced to adapt to our new circumstances. The question now becomes what are educators’ intentions as they adapt. Are they looking to get through the pandemic and back to the way things were? Or are they innovating to meet their students’ needs now and well into the future? The adaptations that many teachers and schools are currently making could provide insights into adapting the way workplaces, healthcare systems, and communities look now and into the future. 

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