Written by Melissa Pritchard, Global Schools Project Officer.
As was recently reported at the 2022 Transforming Education Summit, Special Adviser Leonardo Gardineir stated that, “As urgent as it is to recover from the learning losses due to the COVID 19 pandemic, it is not enough. The world must learn to reimagine and transform its educational systems if they are to be fit for purpose.”
Pandemic Pivots, a panel discussion held alongside the UN 2023 ECOSOC Partnership Forum, explored the lessons learned from the pandemic and how they can inform a transition and ultimately improve the future of education. Moderated by Shannon Kobran, Regional Team Lead for Asia with the SDG Academy, the panel of presenters included Her Excellency (H.E.) Niki Kerameus, The Greek Minister of Education and Religious Affairs, accompanied by Stefanos Gandolfo, Head of Education Policy for The Greek Minister of Education and Religious Affairs, Oren Pizmony-Levy, Associate professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Futures at Teacher College, Columbia University, and Melissa Pritchard, Global Schools Project Officer and educator.
Her excellency kicked off the 75 minute panel discussion by outlining 3 main lessons derived during COVID-19 in order to ensure that the cost of the pandemic would be minimalized for the Greek Education system. Great flexibility, out-of -the box thinking, and boldness led the initiatives and reforms that were put in place during COVID-19 to strategically promote a positive legacy targeting a digital transformation and enhanced social-emotional learning. Greece saw the value in upgrading their infrastructure, including the skills and content of digital platforms and materials, and expanding connectivity across the country, along with upgrading digital devices in the schools. For instance, students that didn’t have internet at home could access it for free thanks to the government's initiative and partnership with the nation’s internet providers. Greek students of all ages were also able to purchase devices with a government sponsored voucher in order to ensure uninterrupted education during the pandemic. Their initiatives accelerated a digital school of the future, making sure teachers had the needed training and skills to use the rich platform and enhance their teaching with the newly available rich digital tools and high quality resources free to all.
The Greek Education Ministry also introduced a series of measures to address the issues of social emotional learning by launching a new mandatory module that was incorporated into the national curriculum called the “Skills Lab” that starts from the age of 4 to 15, aimed at improving soft and digital skills for the 21st century. Focusing on both the physical and mental well being of students, Greece increased the budget for school support structures by 150%, including doubling school psychologists during the pandemic, creating a new position called the school-life counselor and introducing a new anti-bullying initiative.
Representing the Center for Sustainable Futures at Teachers College at Columbia University, Associate Professor Oren Pizmony-Levy, highlighted the ways in which the pandemic reshaped its university courses and their research. The content of university courses was enriched by the different modalities that explored accessing content from a unique means and perspective including a flipped classroom model, guest speakers, blogs, and podcasts. He also noted that during the pandemic, there was a natural shift that led research to look at climate change as a central topic. Climate change became an even more important topic during the pandemic that became strongly associated with sustainability and globalization. This happened naturally because all around the world, people were experiencing the same thing; there was a common understanding and connection that came out of the pandemic. As a result, his center shifted their research and is now looking into the impact of the pandemic on teaching sustainability and climate education and how teachers are engaging with this topic.
The panel discussion ended with Melissa Pritchard’s perspective coming from the classroom interacting with students, highlighting three main shifts that took place for teachers and schools. Inevitably during the pandemic and online learning, students and their family had a unique glimpse into the life of a teacher as we literally invited students into their homes, conducting lessons from home, in front of a screen. This naturally led to a shift in the way teachers are viewed, seeing them through a more empathetic and humanistic lens. Resulting from the pandemic was a need to address the wellbeing of their students. Teachers were forced to see the child from a more holistic point-of-view, reinforcing the importance of the 21st century soft skills. The digital transformation that occurred as a result of the pandemic also opened up a wider range of professional development opportunities for teachers, helping them enhance and evolve their teaching approach to the context of the pandemic and beyond, without needing to physically leave their house. Melissa also reminded us that the pandemic was evidence that people, society, and the systems within, are capable of acting and reacting quickly given a particular situation such as a global pandemic. If it was possible to shift and adapt our way of living for the pandemic, then we certainly ought to be able to do it by 2030 with the Global Goals in mind.
Overall, the resounding message from all panel members was to not let the crisis be forgotten, but instead to treat it as an opportunity to be acted upon, to learn from, and to make our education systems better. In terms of moving forward in the education transformation, the pandemic has left us a legacy upon which we can make a more fair, inclusive, and dynamic education system for all.
View the full recording of the panel discussion Pandemic Pivots on the SDG Academy website.