The General Teaching Council for Scotland

How will we learn from Covid-19?

Teachers’ professionalism is shining through as we adapt to new ways of working, says GTC Scotland Chief Executive Ken Muir.

As we find ourselves deep in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are beginning to question what the world will be like when we eventually emerge from the difficult place we are in right now. It has been interesting reading the wide range of suggestions from commentators examining crystal balls and offering best guestimates as to how this pervasive contagion will affect our lives in the post-Covid-19 world.

At the level of society, some suggest that the Covid-19 crisis will change our world and how we view globalisation. They point to the likelihood that our travel and shopping habits as we have known them will never be the same again. Work patterns may change dramatically, with our enforced use of technology heralding the onset of increased working from home or, at the very least, the realisation of the four-day working week.

Some commentators also point to significant advantages emerging from the tremendous global jolt delivered to society by the worldwide spread of the virus. Carbon emissions are reducing as travel is curtailed, allowing our planet, as one writer suggested, “the opportunity to take a much-needed deep breath on the long road to recovering its health”. Others see the emergence of a more compassionate and empathetic society with genuine concern, not only for planet Earth, but for the wellbeing of family, friends and the community. I sincerely hope the latter, above all others, proves to be true.

Rather than gaze into my own fairly hazy crystal ball and speculate on how things might look in the future, I want to offer what I think are some of the lessons learned so far in the context of education.

Teachers’ moral purpose and commitment to learners has shone through

There is no doubt in my mind that teachers and others in our education system have shown commendable commitment and flexibility in adapting quickly to the closure of schools. Many have moved their practice overnight from in-class teaching to one that involves them delivering learning almost wholly online. That change has not been easy for some (students and their parents as well as teachers) and it certainly hasn’t been helped by the inequalities in students’ home learning environments but it has been impressive to see how the teaching profession in Scotland has risen to this challenge. Never was Michael Fullan’s famous quote: “Scratch a good teacher and you will find a moral purpose”, more evident than in the way the Scottish teaching profession has worked tirelessly to ensure that the needs of learners continue to be met.

As teachers, we all know just how much a challenge every day can be in supporting the learning of a room full of students. This was perhaps best summed up by Professor Graham Donaldson in Teaching Scotland’s Future when he stated that: “Teaching should be recognised as both complex and challenging, requiring the highest standards of professional competence and commitment.” The reaction of many parents on social media who have been faced with enforced home learning in recent months has clearly opened their eyes to the reality of Donaldson’s comment and to the complex demands of being an effective teacher.

There have been some well-meaning suggestions about how “gaps” in the teaching workforce might be filled during this crisis. What needs to be remembered is that being registered with GTC Scotland provides absolute assurance that anyone involved in delivering learning is well qualified to deal with the complexities of teaching and adheres to stringent standards of competence and conduct. Such requirements must be maintained – even in a time of emergency.

Our Professional Standards and Code recognise the complexity of teaching. They ensure we have a teaching profession in Scotland that engenders complete trust and confidence, where high-quality teaching is maintained and where the learning of our children and young people is protected.

Covid-19 is generating ideas for the future that need serious consideration

If anything good is to come out of the Covid-19 crisis it must surely be that it is raising questions about what our future education system might look like. To what extent will technology and science take on greater significance in educating future generations? Will resilience and adaptability be promoted up the league table of life skills needed for future citizens? With the increased realisation that learning can be no more than a mouse click away, do we need to redefine the role of educators? Will the increased respect given to the way in which the profession has responded so impressively to the crisis make teaching a more attractive career to pursue? Might our national examination system change radically?

As Covid-19 has shown, we live in a highly interconnected world. How might our curriculum need to change to ensure our students understand and engage with this interconnectedness? Does the crisis we are enduring demonstrate sufficiently why Learning for Sustainability, essential for the wellbeing of all, is such an integral part of our Professional Standards?

We all live in hope that this cataclysmic global event will soon come to an end. The danger, of course, is that all of us in education go back and try to do the same things in the same way as we did. That most certainly won’t be learning the lessons from our Covid-19 experience, nor will it serve future generations well.