Lessons from lockdown: Tackling the challenges of Covid-19 in private education

Posted on 3rd Sep 2021 in School News, Russian Federation, International Schools

Dr. Oliver Squires, of Brookes Moscow, explains what his school has learned

While public schools and public school teachers are shielded from economic shocks, the impact of the economic shock from Covid-19 on private education has been potentially devastating. Certain countries have reports of private schools closing, teacher’s salaries being sharply reduced, and contract teachers losing their jobs.

During recessions, families make difficult choices on spending. In some circumstances, wealthier families have opted to take their children from public to private education to avoid COVID restrictions in public schools. The shift away from the classroom to the adoption of online learning in many parts of the world has families wondering whether the investment in private education is still worth the cost. Private schools must, in response, adapt to these challenging circumstances to ensure families that they can still deliver high-quality education and positive experiences for children.

As mentioned, Covid-19 has brought significant challenges to private education worldwide, which looks to continue. However, with the strong and decisive leadership from our Director of Schools, Mr. Charley King, and School Principal, Mr. John Downey – Brookes Moscow has throughout the year successfully circumvented these challenges to keep the school open and flourishing. Students can access their learning – whether in Moscow or overseas, connect and collaborate with their teachers and peers while meeting high educational standards and expectations.

While not everything went according to plan, the teachers and leadership from Brookes Moscow quickly adapted, tried new teaching strategies, and shared good practices with their colleagues. The lessons learned throughout this year have given the school community the confidence to move into the next school year, providing our students the educational opportunities and outcomes that they and our families expect.

The Lessons Learnt

Having a clear IT strategy

Having a clear IT strategy up-front allows the right decisions to benefit both students and teachers in the long term. A clear strategy allows teachers to plan their lessons according to the circumstances that face them.

Sometimes the right IT strategy is to, at times, have no technology at all. At Brookes Russia, we have incorporated reading sessions into our morning homerooms and sharply reduced the amount of in-class laptop access to our middle-year students. While on Distance Learning, students write out responses in their notebooks and upload pictures of their work to their teacher for feedback. Reducing digital screen time and the enforcement of traditional means of pen-and-paper has provided our students with a ‘deeper understanding of their learning rather than a ‘shallower’ understanding that can result from using too much technology.

Set expectations with teachers, students, and parents

Distance Learning presents unique challenges for students whose parents are busy balancing their own work-life needs, no in-person interactions with teachers, and technological headaches. To overcome these challenges, all three stakeholders – parents, teachers, and students need to cooperate and work together to make Distance Learning successful.

As younger students need a consistent routine with clear expectations, parents can help set up routines around distance learning classes, including snack breaks and playtime.

For older students, fixed schedules benefit students by helping them manage their time effectively. The inclusion of regular breaks allows essential mental breaks for students as well as ownership of their learning.

Students of Brookes Russia who are on Distance Learning keep the same timetable as if they were in-person with the expectation of keeping their laptop cameras on at all times and engaging with their teachers. Teachers are also required to report to parents any students who have missed lessons or have failed to engage sufficiently throughout a lesson while providing regular feedback on student’s work to help maintain and improve academic standards.

Allow creative and flexible teaching strategies

Teachers at Brookes Russia are encouraged to develop creative and flexible teaching strategies that engage and extend our students in all learning situations. Having flexible instruction allows students the opportunity to express their understanding in a variety of means. Flexible instruction caters to students of multiple learning styles while demonstrating that there is not always one specific way to complete a task. Providing clear choices and options to students allows them to demonstrate their understanding while giving them a sense of control in the process. This flexibility allows for the student’s work to be finished at a higher rate and quality.

Keep it simple

Simplicity is critical when it comes to Distance Learning. With the increased digital screen time that students and teachers face, all instruction should be as easy as possible for both the teacher and the students. By keeping instruction simple, students whose access to laptops and the internet are limited or variable can still access and complete their work on smartphones or other smart devices.

Our teachers at Brookes Moscow post problems to solve on our school’s learning platform; students are then required to complete them, take an image, and submit them back to the teacher for feedback. Our teachers also get students to record their explanations, ensuring that students know how to solve problems deeper.

Foster collaboration across the school community

With the closures and restrictions of schools due to Covid-19, it is vital to keep open lines of communications between schools and parents. The creation of the Brookes Trust (our Parent-Teacher Association) allowed parent representatives to be connected, provide input into school matters and organise school events. These representatives also passed on essential information to other parents who might not have otherwise engaged with traditional means of communication from the school.

The next couple of years will be vital for private schools as the new ‘Covid-19 normal’ starts to shape. They must be highly adaptive and cater to their students and families’ unique needs to keep their competitiveness and attractiveness. At Brookes Russia, we have the confidence that we can meet any Covid-19 challenge while at the same time ensuring we meet the demands and expectations of our students and families.

This article first appeared in the 2021/22 edition of John Catt's Guide to International Schools, which you can read here: