Rethinking School as an ecosytem

A School is compared to an ecosystem… What is an ecosystem?

Panel Discussion

An ecosystem is defined as a community of living organisms and non-living components in an environment. There are primary, secondary and may be tertiary consumers and producers. It is a continuous cycle…

School ecosystem can be categorised as follows:

The ecological systems theory by Urie Bronfrenbrener, states that the human development is influenced by different types of environmental systems. According to this theory there are 5 layers which help in honing the personality of the student who is at the core. The student forms the primary producer of the ecosystem and the families, communities, culture, colleagues, and professionals including the social and cultural values contribute to the system.

1.    Sustainable ecosystem – where in all stake holders work together.

As of mid-April, 191 countries had shut down all their primary and secondary schools, affecting almost 1.6 billion children. Some systems were able to train teachers, roll out online learning, and put in place student support services quickly. Others are still struggling, constrained by lack of access to technology or expertise. Furthermore, there is no clarity on when the children will be moving from a virtual learning to a physical environment of learning.

2.    Safe ecosystem – where in there is racial & ethnic identity, gender equality and safety for those who are facing trauma, or simply diversity of learners

3.    Enterprise Learning Ecosystem – is the totality of systems that encourage diverse teaching strategies, training, and professional development; enable multiple opportunities for learning; put the student in control; optimize peer learning; and focus on feedback.

4. The most relevant ecosystem to my mind is the Regenerative school ecosystem: Let’s look at this a little more in detail from the Corona Virus perspective.  

Let’s take for instance Bijal. Her school sends worksheets, videos and such online material daily for learning. Using one smartphone between the family members the parents are trying to help her cope with the studies. Father has just lost his job. Mother is a housewife. They are more worried more about their future than the Covid-19.  In such a situation, the child is bound to feel insecure and Helpless. In addition, everyday,the children are exposed to the news of how many world over have been affected, how many have died and so on. Fear of the future and helplessness could be two major factors that the schools will need to deal with.

There is no cure for COVID -19 is another stressor. Active involvement of the school counsellors as a support system is the need of the hour.

Some more areas where support may be needed: Schools have been conducting online classes – both synchronous and asynchronous. the learning climate at home is not quite the same as that of a classroom. The Mumbai flats are not large enough to give adequate private space to everyone. There may not be adequate devices – one for each. So if there are siblings, and the slots of online teaching coincides, there is a problem. It is also possible that WIFI connection is not stable and the synchronous learning that had to happen has not percolated down to the student as it ought to have.

Consequent to this what are the implications:

.    There could be an achievement lag – the learning environment at home is different from that of the school.

The lockdown has extended over a longer period leading to a summer brain loss.  Research has found that when the vacations stretch for a long period of time, brain loss is felt in areas of Math and Language skills.

3.         The fear and the helplessness could require some working on boosting the morale. building up of the intrinsic motivation – Provide autonomy, mastery, and purpose, all of which are critical to promoting self-management in the classroom. The front line warriors may not have the support at home to get their children to learn from these modules of online teaching. – The special children and the RTE children may also belong to this category.  

This support is needed by the teachers too. The lockdown was announced suddenly. Some of them are at home without the textbook or the reference material. A few of them do not have computers at home to produce content for online classes. There isno domestic help at home. They may have young kids and to top it all, they have to learn a new technique of delivering online. Schools need to support their teachers.

The Covid pandemic will end. Schools will start but will the world be back to normal?

A few things will have changed permanently. Mackinsey and Company talks about the 5 Rs about getting back to school.

1. Resolve – students, teachers, staff, and the community needs to follow the norms of recovery and resolve to follow these norms. Norms of social distancing in classrooms, bus, cafeteria and so on.  Norms of ayahs escorting pre-primary babies in and out of the bus, the entry and exit norms for parents at the gate, entry for visitors – the list is endless.

2. Resilience: Schools need to set up support systems to teach vulnerable students, and staff.

3. Return is about reopening schools and ensuring remediation for lost learning. How is the social distancing to be maintained in the classrooms? How do we run the school – change to shift systems? alternate days?   a few topics taught in schools, a few virtual classrooms, how much of synchronous teaching is to be done to motivate students to learn independently.  – some of these decisions ae to be taken.

4. Reimagine: leaders think what the “next normal” could be like, and how education systems could re-invent themselves. School leaders should ensure the professional development of their teachers on blended learning and providing social-emotional and cognitive support to students. Teachers have been working hard developing new techniques of teaching. Don’t let them get burnt out.

5. Reform: Decide on the priorities which are based on the needs of the individual schools. Academic  performance Vs non-academic is to be studied and prioritised.

How to covert the classroom into a regenerative ecosystem? A few guidelines:

1. While teachers communicate a great deal through our actions, we also communicate a great deal through our inactions – establish the ground rules.

2. Make the students introspect or reflect on their misbehaviour – We are not here to label the  behaviour as bad or good. We are here to show them the right behaviour. 

3. Teachers should encourage students to be more collaborative. Only then will they be involved and become producers of the ecosystem. Or else they may become passive consumers.

All this cannot be done by teachers or by the management. All the stakeholders need to work together to achieve this.

Finally a quote from Hilary Clinton ” It takes a village to Raise a child”

Published by Dr. Pramila Kudva

I am a teacher educator currently worrking as a Principal of a reputed school in North Mumbai, have more than 30 years of experience, with several publications to my credit and have authored a book -"From chalk to Talk The Art of Teaching.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: