Monday 05 Oct 2020

When the going gets tough, Ecolint goes virtual

“Ecolint exists for the sake of our students. If their learning is being disrupted or if their wellbeing or the wellbeing of those who teach and care for them is at risk we need to respond.” These were the words of Ecolint Director General Dr. David Hawley a few hours before the Swiss Federal Council announced the closure of all schools in Switzerland due to the spread of Covid-19. On this most inauspicious Friday the 13th of March 2020, as thousands of schools across the world shut their doors, so too did La Grande Boissière, La Châtaigneraie and Campus des Nations, a first in Ecolint’s 96-year history. Fateful and historic as the moment seemed, little did many know that Ecolint’s move from learning in class to learning online had been a while in the planning.

Since February, Ecolint had been preparing, organising and, most importantly, training all teachers, class assistants, librarians and other teaching staff on online pedagogical tools which could be used to continue lessons at a distance. Thus, when the difficult but necessary decision came to close the schools, all staff were ready and equipped to continue providing an education to all students. “For some teachers, discovering new IT tools and learning to master them was a challenge”, says Christine Paul, Technology for Learning Coordinator (TLC) at La Grande Boissère Primary School, as was “the lack of face-to-face contact with colleagues, despite numerous teleconferences held throughout the week”. 

The Move to Online Learning 
A guiding principle in the move to online learning was that no one would be left behind and all students, be they an Early Years, Primary, Middle or Secondary student, would continue to receive a high quality, fulfilling and comprehensive education. “In Primary school, we used the platform Seesaw to communicate and share work with the children. Every morning, the class teacher would share the weekly and daily work plan, which included the day’s list of activities, the names of the teachers responsible for each activity and any links needed. The class teachers would be available to help the children in the morning, and specialised teachers would take over in the afternoon,” explains Christine Paul, who also underlines the important role that parents played in making sure their children were correctly set up to continue lessons from home. In fact, one of the positive aspects of the school closures was a renewed and reinforced partnership between teachers and parents, both of whom had to work collaboratively during this time. 

Y1 student learning from home
Primary student Emily at her learning station at home

Thanks to the preparations undertaken well in advance of school closures and to the teamwork between teachers and parents, Ecolint students were able to continue learning and progress in their curricula no matter the subject. Even hands-on lessons like art class or P.E. continued, with proposed exercises, both artistic and athletic, that could be done as a family. For many students, the situation enabled them to develop their autonomy and self-agency in finding solutions to problems set by their teachers. For teachers, realising even more how important it is to think like a student was key to giving clear instructions that could be understood and carried out independently. 

Among the many lessons learnt by students, teachers and parents alike was that digital literacy is crucial for the future. “To think that you can protect children from screens at home by not giving them access to any technology means that they are at a disadvantage in situations like the one we are currently living in,” continues Christine Paul. While technology did certainly provide an immediate solution to the dilemma of distance education, both Christine Paul and Dr. Karen Taylor, Director of Education at Ecolint, concur that the virtual world can only ever be a partial solution. 

Ecolint teachers made sure that practical lessons like art continued during home learning

A Lesson Learned Online 
“Our learning objectives changed,” explains Karen Taylor. “With the school closure, we were able to consider alternative ways that children learn such as through silence, boredom, and idle wondering, in addition to what they learn through online platforms or creative activities offered by dedicated instructors. If we can explain to parents how much children can learn about being creative and resilient in unstructured time, then we will have gone a long way towards helping them understand that education is about a whole lot more than what takes place in a classroom, whether physical or virtual.” 

To this Christine Paul adds the irreplaceable nature of face-to-face education, for therein lies the key to developing empathy, optimism, solidarity and/or collaboration through such exchanges as laughing together or appreciating “normal” human relationships. At the beginning of May, Ecolint campuses reopened after almost two months of online learning, with a staggered return to school for Primary and part of Secondary. “When children returned to school, teachers found them to be much more autonomous than before, and certainly more adept at using technology for learning,” says Christine Paul. “We also realised that by using such tools as Google Meet for language lessons during lockdown, some students participated more readily because of the configuration in small groups than when the full class was assembled at school.” Many of our students have shown that out of crises come the possibility and opportunity to adapt and learn new methods of working, which have provided our pedagogical teams with food for thought on teaching and learning practices. 

Learning from home enabled students to develop greater autonomy and to become more adept at using technology for learning

Only a few months have passed since Covid-19 emerged, and in that time the world has changed dramatically. At Ecolint, new learning processes have been forged, new skills acquired, and new social habits adopted by students and teachers alike. Campuses have closed and reopened, with new rules guiding the day-to-day of our school community. Through its online provision, Ecolint continued to operate and remained committed to delivering an outstanding education in the best way possible. Despite these challenging times, Ecolint is determined to seize this historic opportunity to think differently about education beyond the current crisis and well into the future. 

This article was first published in the summer 2020 issue of Echo magazine

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