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“Should we continue student learning during covid19? A question of Maslow before Bloom”, by Armand Doucet.

Should we continue student learning during Covid19? What a profound question to ponder during these incredible times. Teachers must ask themselves this question: Are my students ready to learn today. This foundational question is always present in formal education, the elephant in the room, which is why “Maslow before Bloom” should be our mission going forward.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs. The key tiers for us in this blog will be physiological needs (air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing), safety needs (personal security, employment, resources, health) and love/belonging (friendship, family, sense of connection).

Source: Wikimedia commons/Saul McLeod.

Bloom’s taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity.

In the best of times, teachers and schools across the world struggle to reach educational learning objectives on Bloom’s taxonomy if Maslow’s hierarchy is not first met. But during this pandemic, these will be exasperated. Thus, a mission of “Maslow before Bloom” is paramount when designing the learning experiences in this particular context.

Stefania Giannini UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education said in a recent post “Difficulties rise exponentially when school closures are prolonged.” These problems differ widely depending on if you are in the Global North, Global South, major urban area, rural, rich, or poor. Context really does matter and that context can also differ within the same schools and classrooms. A short list would include issues of food, protection, social isolation, amount of support, access to technology, parents’/caregiver’s presence, substance issues, economic impact, mental health and the list goes on. Furthermore, I would add, that this pandemic will also showcase some of the major issues in our formal education systems around the world and how they are very much intertwined with societal inequities. Needless to say, a one size approach to addressing education and learning will not work during this pandemic.

Latest numbers indicated around 1 billion children are now out of school with these numbers likely to rise dramatically as the pandemic hits South America and Africa. Putting into context what this means for our students is extremely “weird” for most of us, however we do have some frameworks to work within as we try to figure this out, such as the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergency and the UNHCR Emergency handbook.

UNCHR’s refugee Emergency Handbook gives us a solid starting point to think about our question. Although a refugee crisis is vastly different, it still has merit as we consider how to approach education when our students are thrust into a vastly different world than the one they knew.

Firstly, education in emergencies provides immediate physical and psychosocial protection (normalcy by schooling, schedule, procedures etc.). Secondly, The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergency (INEE) suggest a safe and quality education during and after an emergency means that children and youth will be exposed less frequently to activities that put them at risk (this case physical distancing for COVID19). Thirdly, education provides a sense of continuity when everything else is in flux, and it provides a stable, safe and supervised routine that is attentive to their academic and psychosocial needs.

From these recommendations, it is clear that we should continue some sort of learning, but formal education following current curriculum outcomes is not possible. Therefore, let’s concentrate on learning and not formal education at this time.

Often times, schools are the social glue of our communities, the one constant in our children’s lives. It can be the place for their one hot meal, one positive social interaction, a place where they feel safe and it has all been ripped away. This pandemic definitely requires us to address these factors when we think of learning during extended school closures.

Yet, addressing this question purely from a child’s perspective would be grossly missing a major part of the equation. What about parents/caregivers? Some parents have lost their job and income worrying about food and shelter. Some are now working long hours at home. Some need to find childcare if they are frontline essential workers during this crisis. When we look at Maslow before Bloom in the learning of our students, we must also see it through the eyes of a parent who is not trained to do any formal education and facing countless other challenges.

Inequities with technology and assessment

The inequities we must think about as we look to help our students and parents are countless. The last two I will discuss have to do with online learning and assessment during a pandemic outbreak.

Technology inequities can refer to not having access to infrastructure for the online learning, software, hardware, bandwidth, training for staff or students and much more. Designing for this is a whole other question all-together that will be addressed in another blog. The major questions is how much of online learning should be happening for each age group and what is the support you will put forward to help with these inequities. Examples vary greatly from regions, in Africa where cell phones are the norm not laptops, families with one device which may be dedicated for an adult to work remotely from home, to homes with multiple devices and easy access to the internet. You might be thinking why shouldn’t we just mass broadcast formal education on national television or radio? While this could help with literacy and numeracy, its value is limited. Each context, each school will vary by demographic, technology resources and pedagogical practices/procedures.

As we consider what each of our students will realistically be able to do from their home, I believe the question of assessment answers itself. No formal summative assessment can occur at this time, but formative feedback may be possible.

So what do we do?

Maslow before Bloom. When you have made sure that your most vulnerable are being fed, and they have basic needs met (in this case soap and safe place to rest) then you can make this about social solidarity not social distancing. Find ways to keep the social glue of school such as connecting students via video-conferencing or messaging. Make this time about learning, not formal education. Distance learning might not need to include an online component. Partner with parents, but don’t dictate as their realities could be vastly different than yours. Make yourself accessible for questions. Relay to parents any ideas that can help them with their child’s learning such as easy, fun science experiments at home for younger ages, concentrating on the scientific questioning instead of results.

Lastly, remember that health comes first and foremost. I refer to health in a holistic context which includes mental health, no doubt taxed during this time. It is alright to say “Today, we are having a day long recess”. Parents need help with their child’s learning, but must not become overwhelmed as they juggle the realities of the pandemic. This will only undo any sense of normalcy that their new distance education may have achieved. The same goes for the teacher workforce, they are moms and dads as well. Do your best and be honest and transparent in your messaging. Stay safe everyone, remember physical distancing with social solidarity.

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Note: This blog post is based on the independent report “Thinking about pedagogy in an unfolding pandemic” written by Armand Doucet, Deborah Netolicky, Koen Timmers and Francis Jim Tuscano, to inform the work of UNESCO and EI.