Maintaining momentum for student learning

Continuity of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic remains a focus as students gradually return to the classroom.

Image: Georgina Harrisson (left), Jane Simmons and Mark Scott discuss the rapid transition to learning from home.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant disruption in all our lives but the importance of keeping education on track for school students is at the forefront of thinking for senior leaders in the NSW Department of Education.

Georgina Harrisson, Deputy Secretary of People and System Performance, and Jane Simmons, Executive Director Continuity of Education, told Secretary Mark Scott in the Every Student Podcast that it was important students didn’t lose momentum in their education as many transitioned to learning from home at the end of last term.

“We wanted to make sure students could continue to learn. We wanted to make sure they could stay connected to their school and their community, and we wanted to make sure that we could take an interest and have an understanding of their wellbeing through that time,” Ms Harrisson said.

A continuity of education team, led by Ms Simmons, was quickly formed to address the need for resources to help support teachers deliver lessons to students at home.

“We pulled together resources from right across the department, resources from our distance education schools and resources from other schools right across the system,” Ms Simmons said.

“It was a week we were able to build that backbone for our system.”

The establishment of the Learning from Home hub provided a central repository of resources and key information to guide principals, teachers and parents and carers in the delivery of learning for students at home or school.

There have been almost 3 million page visits to the hub which contains more than 8,000 individual learning resources of teaching materials, lesson plans and advice for parents and carers to support their child’s learning.

Upskilling teachers around the use of online platforms was a consideration. Existing professional learning was built upon with teacher professional learning modules made available on-demand.

Equitable access for students with limited or no access to internet and devices was another major consideration for the continuity of learning team.

“We wanted to make sure that we were able to meet the needs of the 2,200 public schools in our system,” Ms Simmons said.

Ms Harrisson acknowledged the pressures of the pandemic as students learn from home, and the added challenge of students who do not have access to a device or the internet.

The department has worked to acquire extra devices and internet dongles and get them out to students who need them most, including Year 12 students undertaking the HSC.

It’s now led to some different thinking and learnings around how technology can be acquired by the department and used by students to learn both from school and home.

The department is now exploring new leasing arrangements for technology as hardware can be quickly outdated by newer technology for learning.

“It’s a real opportunity for us to think about how we supplement learning at home and how we make it easier for every child to access the wealth of resources available to them,” Ms Harrisson said.

There have been other insights from the pandemic, with schools introducing new ways of engaging with students and parents.

Some schools have started using Zoom to undertake parent-teacher interviews and virtual counselling has been introduced to provide continuity in student wellbeing support.

“That’s really a great step forward on the back of bushfires and now during the pandemic, having virtual counselling as an option,” Ms Simmons said.

“We’ve always known this, but the relationship between a student and a teacher is a really special relationship, and that’s been really emphasised.”

Listen to the full episode now:

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