The conflicted state of education is a power contest between compliance and leadership. It’s far too simplistic to see this as another home vs campus debate or a traditional vs digital skirmish. This a boss fight at the highest level between federal and state authorities in which ‘learning’ is little more than scenery. Decisions about closures and their timing and length involve a series of trade-offs between conflicting factors.
There is massive federal pressure on teachers to ‘get back to work’ which is widely distributed by government media sponsors and supporters .
Today, this manifested as the State admission it is using the federal ‘suppression’ plan and is aware and accepting of the known risk to staff and students
It’s not just a battle for online verses classroom learning but one in which federal politicians are unilaterally attempting to reshape public perceptions of schools, systems, teachers, unions. This has been framed in evocative war-time language for weeks in concert with faux admiration for ‘teachers’ while ruthlessly demanding submission.
Over several weeks, the federal government has tested and re-tested unions, school leaders and staff on the thinnest of evidence. It has made outrageous allegations which challenge the authority of the States to run schools independently.
Only Victoria seems to have offered any lasting opposition which resulted in a the federal minister attacking the Premier in a TV interview, largely unchallenged by the interviewer.
The NSW state premier stated that she fully expected there to be COVID-19 cases in schools and used the term ‘suppression‘ when asked about whether schools were safe. There is a desire to see all staff on site next week and all students the week after.
Weirdly, private schools seem to be in front here – asking students to return and discontinuing online education, which is apparently a reason public education should follow suit and a large part of the message being sent to teachers – this is the way.
All teachers are working hard to create an effective way for classes to come together successfully though digital channels. No ones bothered to ask what is working and what is not. The focus is on kids in the classroom as a number rather than any other factor.
The evidence for the effectiveness of school closures and other school social distancing measures comes almost entirely from influenza outbreaks, for which transmission of the virus tends to be driven by children. It is unclear whether school measures are effective in coronavirus outbreaks—for example, due to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and, most specifically, COVID-19, for which transmission dynamics appear to be different.
Where is the expert education advice?
It’s clear that there has been no Chief Education Officer advising Federal or State Government with evidence based educational-updates on what is happening. Instead, puff pieces about how students might fall behind are published in the media.
It’s difficult to see how school systems are able to operate both independently and in the best interests of the community. It seems the only thing that matters is to force teachers and students into confined spaces and onto public transport NEXT WEEK.
The opportunity to improve educational practices and improve collaboration between schools and bureaucrats has never been a goal,. The last few weeks has seen political acts successfully reinforce authoritarianism though ‘temporary’ arrangements and while private schools are offered billions to ‘try’ and get 50% of students back – public education simply being send back – knowing that infections will occur.
They both willingly ignore the reality that there is no vaccine and that community transmission is low because people have stayed home. Under this new landscape, the virus is not a flooded road preventing parents taking kinds to school – but that is essentially how it is being managed – with day to do dipping of the water level – death/infection numbers.
Creating effective online work-flows requires some level of consistency. It is impossible to achieve this when politicians shift their discussions and language every few days. Despite every teachers efforts – we have seen 7 weeks of ongoing disruption which prevented anyone creating sustainable ways of working online. This doesn’t feel accidental – but intentional in order to create anxiety and uncertainty among parents.
It is parents who will ultimately decide whether schools are full. It would be nice if they were asked for consent and be informed of the significant risks.