Humans Like to Forget
What Next For International Education?
It’s a dangerous business making predictions. Especially in a public forum such as Medium.
Look back in a year or two on the predictions and, what today seems radical, may be tomorrow’s cliché.
“Of course we were headed in that direction, it was obvious”.
Hindsight is always 20:20.
Or, the predications are so wrong, the eventual direction of travel so different, that one is seen as out of touch: “What was he thinking!?”
At the risk then of fingers pointed in the direction of exceptions, mistakes, and omissions, I offer a few thoughts on ‘What Next for International Education?”
In no particular order:
Not much will change
One only needs to look at how quickly things have returned to ‘normal’ in the UK, US and Australia. Where restrictions allow, people have very quickly returned to their old habits and familiar routines. The desire for travel seems as great as ever, the pubs are full (to the extent rules allow), people are back in cinemas, and masks are quickly being discarded.
Covid may have accelerated the take up of technology, and it may yet nudge us in some slightly different directions, but it is unlikely to precipitate the structural shifts many are hoping for. The way we approach education, how education gets done, and what children get educated in, may change very little at all.
What next then may be realignment but not revolution. The adoption of new technologies, built onto old systems and approaches.
Popping the cork in the recruitment bottle?
If you are a regular reader, you’ll know that international school recruitment has swung from shortage, through ‘shelter in place’, to surplus.
International school recruitment agencies have reported a 30% drop in positions advertised, for some positions more than 50%. On the other side of this are all the teachers who have ridden out Covid in countries and schools they would otherwise have left.
In short, for now, more teachers are chasing fewer jobs.
What’s next for recruitment is inevitable then: A reset. All those teachers who have been ‘stuck’ for the last year will want to move; some will go back home, making way for a fresh influx of teachers from the UK, the USA and Australia etc, others will move onto international schools in other countries — vaccines allowing, of course.
This reset will probably be sharp but short-lived. Longer-term we may well return to something close to normal (and as Diane Jacoutot of recruiter Edvectus writes, we may see an increase in local hires); in the short-term recruiters, candidates and Heads are going to be busy.
Time to polish up your CV perhaps?
And, expect that CV to become a digital portfolio, including video samples of lessons, examples of your planning, online marking and pre-recorded personal statements.
Location, location, location
Where a school is based is also likely to make a difference.
For the next year or so we may see a little more reluctance for teachers to move further afield. There will be a preference for locations which give good access to international airports, relatively short (and cheap) flights home, and lower chances of getting stuck should Covid cause local lockdowns. As Diane Jacoutot also notes, quality of local medical care will move up the list of selection criteria when teachers consider locations.
No more snow days
Ok, not many international schools actually have snow days, but many do suffer the equivalent. Whether it’s coups, riots, power cuts, floods, and, most obviously, global pandemics, international schools do lose days to crisis large and small.
Previously those lost days would have required catch-up. No longer. Schools can now quickly pivot to online learning; after all, schools have been doing it off-on-and-off-on-again for over a year now — we’ve become experts at it.
So, if it isn’t already, the ability to quickly switch to online learning when schools are forced to close will become the norm. Having ‘snow day’ lessons planned, uploaded, and ready to go will just be part of the routine — whether it snows in your country or not.
You’ll need to look good on TV
The same principle may also apply to individual student (and teacher) absences.
We’ve proven that hybrid learning works (sort of). We have been accommodating the needs of learners in the classroom and at home. How long then before it becomes normal practice for students who have been absent to have access to lesson recordings?
Sure, we were already giving them access to learning materials, tasks, and homework via a school’s VLE. Pre-Covid though they weren’t getting videos of lessons, at least not as a matter of policy. It is quite conceivable that schools will see this as a selling point, for-profit schools especially. All lessons, in all subjects, available at the click of a mouse for students to access.
It will only take a handful of schools to offer this for it to quickly become a parental expectation, at least in that catchment area. There’ll be technical challenges but, as we’ve seen, these will quickly be overcome.
As for teacher absence, we are already seeing schools reduce costs by offering remote classes in undersubscribed subjects. Why not also save on supply teachers? Even where absence is covered internally, there are savings to be made by using (cheaper) local staff to supervise students while they access online learning resources and pre-recorded topic exposition.
And, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of convalescing teachers being asked to offer remote lessons “You may be too sick to come into school, but are you too sick to offer your classes online?”. Best purchase a suitable pair of camera-ready pyjamas then.
Get used to being asked ‘Why?’
We are all used to being asked to justify spending on professional development. I suspect we are now going to be increasingly asked whether it really has to be face-to-face. Do you really need to leave school to do it? Do you have to fly to some far-flung location to attend a conference? Can’t it be done online?
The last year has proven that a lot of PD can be delivered online, and for the most part, effectively. The real benefit of much PD — meeting fellow professionals — isn’t quite the same, but that benefit will become harder to justify when the training or conference material itself can be accessed online.
Teachers: have your arguments ready. Leaders: have your counter-arguments prepared.
Humanity has a short memory
Nothing in the above is too radical. But then, I don’t think anything too radical is going to happen.
We humans are creatures of routine; old habits die hard. We are comforted by the familiar, teachers especially. Much of what has changed over the last year was already changing, it has just changed faster. We’d already recognised that content-driven learning was no match for skills-based learning; enquiry-based approaches were already a ‘thing’; online exams were already happening. The technology was already there, we’ve just got more comfortable using it — in classrooms, in exam halls, in recruitment processes, and in professional development.
That isn’t to say that the speed of change over the last year hasn’t been painful.
The direction of travel hasn’t changed though; we now just have a better idea of where we are going and are likely to get there a little sooner.
Dr Denry Machin is an educational consultant specialising in international school start-ups and school marketing. His latest book, ‘International Schooling: The Teacher’s Guide’, contains essential advice for newbies and old-hands alike on the highs and lows of teaching internationally.