Schools post lockdown – Embracing a ‘new normal’ (Direct excerpts, themes and ideas from the FICCI Arise Webinar on ‘Schools post lockdown – Why, What, How?’ held on 30th May 2020)

Schools post lockdown – Embracing a ‘new normal’ (Direct excerpts, themes and ideas from the FICCI Arise Webinar on 'Schools post lockdown - Why, What, How?' held on 30th May 2020)

The corona virus crisis has led to chaos, in all directions and in almost every sector. Chaos, not only in the negative sense of the word, but more so, directed towards drastic and complete ‘change.’ We as humans are very resistant towards such drastic, overnight change and have been used to change being rather gradual. However, with such drastic change comes a complete shift of mindset, and a new way of doing things, even the ordinary taken for granted things. This results in a new way of life, as we know it – “the new normal.”

Education is one such sector that is seeing such phenomenal change. One question lingering in the minds of leaders, educators, and all stakeholders in education is – “What do we do when schools reopen?” With the possibility of localized school closures becoming the new normal for sometime now, having resilience will be the key for educators. They will have to have a readiness program of reopening with the resilience of reacting to situations, changing when situations change, and simultaneously ensuring that education is not compromised in this process. Seems quite the challenge for a sector that thrives on ‘challenging’ students to hone their future. Rather ironic, isn’t it?

An emerging trend that everyone is talking about these days is technology. This very much holds relevant for the education sector as well. While this is causing a ‘digital divide’ between the technology haves and have-nots, and that is a completely different issue altogether, lets right now focus on schools that have taken the plunge and gone online. Globally, schools have taken to different forms of technology to continue teaching — using the computer, TV and even the radio. And teachers have adapted. This shows that all along, there was always a capacity to use technology meaningfully and there is a possibility to develop this technology in our systems, but we never thought it was possible until we had no other choice. Now that we know we have the capacity, the question is how do we navigate what we call the new normal?

The future of learning is likely to be a more blended approach where we move between online and in school learning. However, scenarios will be different for different price points and different geographies and some changes will be permanent while others will be temporary. We have to wait and watch to comment more on this. Now regardless of the price point and the geography, there are 4 scenarios that will apply to every school. And this is a framework that can be used by every school leader and educator when preparing to manage change:

1st scenario: Learning will go back to pre-covid times

2nd scenario: Learning will be 100% online for a much longer time than expected

3rd scenario: There will be a mix of pre-covid traditional schooling & online schooling temporarily

4th scenario: A mix of pre-covid & online schooling will become a permanent feature due to various continuing lockdown phases and uncertainty of studnt attendance – this is the most complex scenario.

If schools, globally, prepare to manage for the 4th scenario to the best of their abilities and capabilities, then all other scenarios become easy. So the lesson is simple: Prepare for the worst, while having a positive outlook and hope for the best. 

Now, lets look more closely at the impacts that the 3rd & 4th scenario will cause. There will be various financial, HR related, tech and parent-student satisfaction impacts. There will be no control over the revenue and the overall budgets, hence focus of school owners should be directed towards cash flow. In terms of HR, every teacher and employee will be expected to put in a lot more effort, as parents will be watching all the time. Technologically, schools are expected to move online overnight with little to no experience in the digital domain. They will be forced to spend disproportionately on technology, which may lead to a resource utilization imbalance. And then of course, for parents and students: learning is impacted. For teachers it can be hard to sustain the initial euphoria and it can have effects of teachers putting in more effort but not being able to live up to parent expectations.

However, with every crisis comes a good opportunity to reset. Like Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” 

There are multiple opportunities that school leaders and educators can take advantage of: In the next 1-2 years, there can be a reduced cost for schools, a possibility of reduced fees for parents, improved quality and mode of teaching for children and therefore an improved operating surplus for the school management. This is also a very good opportunity to replace ‘technology aliens’ with ‘technology natives’ and clean up archaic administrative structures. There is a possibility to reduce costs and improve quality – especially when resistance to technology used to be very high therefore leading to little to no technology transformation to enhance learning in the past. It is also now going to be easier to collaborate with other schools – where there will be a mutual gain through sharing of knowledge, technology, cost, and therefore leading to more value creation for all stakeholders. There is also now a possibility to serve more students with the same infrastructure and resources. Schools may be able to begin catering to a larger number of students with reduced costs through the mode of blended learning (online + offline) – reducing overall costs with a scope to reduce fees.

When thinking about physical, structural changes, schools that have reopened globally have implemented various measures. For example, schools in Vietnam have just reopened with temperature checks before students enter the gates of the school, making masks mandatory, the use of hand sanitizers being made mandatory before and after classes and ensuring social distancing is implemented during classes as well as during the break time. It becomes imperative to maintain social distancing while also being as practical as possible. It is also imperative for schools to collaborate with healthcare experts and implement guidelines and standard operating procedures that are suggested by them.

 Schools as we know them as physical and social communities are being disrupted.  This is definitely a challenging but also exciting time for all those involved. For teachers, there is a trajectory of a new career path, and greater recognition of competencies, as outstanding teachers will gain recognition through their innovative and engaging teaching approaches. Educators and leaders will have to ensure faculty are well equipped to deal with these changes and at the same time spend resources on capacity building, and keeping in mind that smooth implementation of guidelines is a cycle of trial and error, hence understanding that patience is important. As mentioned before, there lies opportunities for leaders to operate with lower costs, higher efficiencies due to a digital transformation and at the same time cater to a larger number of students, hence in the long term looking at a higher profitability margin. For parents and students, they may be able to benefit from lower fees and better quality teaching using the benefits of a blended learning approach. And students – they are resilient. They have always been resilient, and they will learn to adapt to the new normal and will learn to thrive as leaders of a new generation.

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