Lockdown, learning, and leaving no young person behind

As a parent, and someone who has worked with schools for over 16 years, my main concern during lockdown has been how we can best support vulnerable young people.

Fantastic organisations like Barnardo’s, Childline and the NSPCC are doing everything they can to support these groups. However, they have highlighted how isolating this crisis has been for many, and the impact recovery will have on these young people and their families.

Many young people can’t access the learning opportunities schools are sending out, or don’t have support at home to access this learning.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen young people across Scotland stepping up - they have been volunteering in foodbanks, corresponding with residents in their local care homes, making facemasks and creating art for their community. We must take time to recognise how much they have been growing and learning outside of school during lockdown.

The importance of lifelong, not linear, learning

When discussing schools being closed, statements like ‘gaps in education’ and ‘young people will fall behind’ are commonplace. While it’s understandable and important that we talk about attainment gaps at a school and local authority level, I think it is unhelpful to talk about a gap in an individual’s learning.

Learning is not a linear process of filling a young person’s head full of information until they leave school and the process stops there. Missing a month or a year of schooling may leave gaps in content, but not in learning.

Learning is about starting from where that young person is and supporting them to gain the ability to develop their thinking, skills and ideas throughout their schooling and beyond.

Imagine the pressure on young people, possibly already struggling at school, who now feel they have a huge gap to catch up on and have been ‘left behind’ because they haven’t accessed home learning.

Imagine the pressure on parents and carers, already juggling hundreds of other challenges, who might hear these words and feel they have somehow let their child down by not home schooling to the same standard as a teacher would. Imagine the pressure on teachers who might feel like the next Academic year needs to be fast-paced to fill in any ‘gaps’ missed the previous year.

Developing a learning culture among Scotland’s young people

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been interesting discussions emerging about whether this time has shone a light on Education systems, what they aim to achieve, and what changes are needed.

In my experience, it’s really important that young people leave education with a wide range of skills, the ability to cope with various situations, an understanding of how to access information and – most importantly – a joy for learning that they will carry through their whole lives.

I have spoken to young people taking part in our Social Enterprise in Education programme who have told me they hate maths but love financial planning because they can see their money grow and know the social impact it will have. Others have shared how working on their business plan and knowing customers will see their adverts motivated them to improve their grammar and handwriting. Many explain times when they have faced a problem, and worked hard to overcome it, or failed completely and know so much more as a result.

Opportunities for young people to choose a topic that highly motivates them gives young people a thirst for learning, rather than feeling it’s a chore.

Evolving our approach to education

These approaches have been championed for decades, by brilliant teachers across Scotland and beyond.

There are also many organisations just like ours making a strong case for youth-led learning - wonderful initiatives like Learning for Sustainability have achieved a lot in raising awareness of the value of outdoor learning and global citizenship education.

Primary Education has been circling for decades between topic-based learning, then separate subjects and then coming back to topics again. However, this crisis has given us the opportunity to reflect on the Education system as a whole and the importance of learning-by-doing across the entire curriculum, not just though certain initiatives.

Learner-centred approaches are also essential for accommodating all types of learners, bringing perspectives from a range of backgrounds into the learning and supporting those with additional support needs.

This increases their confidence, sense of well-being and gives them an intrinsic joy for learning.

Time to reflect and visualise a new future

The world has been forced to hit pause for a moment - let’s use this time to reflect on what our Education system hopes to achieve. How can we support young people to acquire the skill of learning and a love for it? How can we can best support our more vulnerable young people?

Let’s promote the amazing work teachers and organisations do every day to support all young people to recognise their strengths, lead their own learning, acknowledge their background and celebrate diversity.

Let’s explore how we can develop an education system that will allow every young person to reach their full potential. Where young people are in control of their own learning journey, every step increases their confidence and no one feels like they have been left behind.

Emily Mnyayi is the Head of Education at the Social Enterprise Academy

Prior to joining the Academy in 2018, Emily was a Primary Teacher, Teacher CPD Facilitator and an Acting Head teacher in Malawi. She also previously spent 3 years setting up and managing the schools programme and youth outreach for the Scotland Malawi Partnership.

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