No easy answers to testing questions
The practice of ‘blended learning,’ combining traditional classroom teaching with an element of online instruction, was in operation at some universities even before the coronavirus crisis changed everything. But with a new academic year beginning, ‘blended learning’ is very likely to become the norm at every level of our education system, from primary school to university.
And this throws up huge timetabling and logistical problems, to which there are no obvious answers. The published government guidance expects full attendance and a return to a full curriculum. But it also instructs teachers and older students to distance themselves from each other as much as possible, with adults ideally keeping two metres apart. It wants students kept in year or class group ‘bubbles’ to help achieve minimal contact between children.
The reality of this inevitably means that to allow for adequate social distancing, there is no option but to create smaller teaching groups, which in turn means there will have to be more lessons taught by the same number of teachers, who in all probability, already have full timetables. It also means a need for more actual teaching spaces to accommodate those extra lessons. In many cases those spaces simply don’t exist.
The problem will be most acute at university level, where everyone, teacher and student, is an adult. And with universities desperately short of funds due, in part, to the falling numbers of overseas students because of Covid-19, they are enrolling more UK students than ever before in a bid to claw back some of the lost income. So it is literally becoming a case of, ‘where do we put them all and who teaches them?’ The government has given its instructions but some of these throw up more questions than provide answers. As a result it is probable that like it or not, ‘blended learning’ is with us for the foreseeable future.
What our surveys show
In fairness, it isn’t easy for the government; an unprecedented situation has created unprecedented problems. But problems are there to be solved, and with 65% of our survey saying the government has dealt badly with the issue of returning children to school, it’s clear that for the majority, simply giving instructions isn’t enough, they expect greater levels of assistance and understanding from our legislators.
There are reports of rising university tutor group numbers – in some cases up from thirty students to around fifty – with lecturers then being informed that their actual tutorials can involve no more than ten students. In simple mathematics that adds up to five tutorials instead of one. How, where and when, are lecturers expected to provide this additional teaching? It can only mean increased online instruction, despite more of us than not saying we want no further online teaching. These significant problems will not simply disappear, so for the government it is perhaps a case of their school report reading: ‘Must try harder!’