Global update: Standing on the verge of normality

Vaccinations and strict restrictions are at last beginning to pay dividends in the fight against Covid and schooling is beginning to return to normal

Global update

Over the past few months in all the regions we report on, the number of cases of COVID has continued to rise yet the death rate per 100,000 has decreased significantly (see slide)  This extremely welcome news is attributed to the effect of the vaccination programme which has made dramatic progress since we last reported in April 2021. Resistance to its use continues in some quarters and the different manufacturers vary in their effectiveness. However, with well over 80 per cent of the adult population now vaccinated, herd immunity is an achievable objective. 

The most vulnerable were initially prioritised for vaccination, and then as administration rates ticked up, the jab was offered to all of the adult population and some children. The evidence continues to suggest that vaccination either prevents the spread of Covid or reduces its impact. 

It is the outcome we had been waiting for, and one which has allowed governments to gradually reduce the physical restrictions they have imposed on society, including schools. As a result, as students return from their summer break we can rightly be optimistic that the education they will receive will more closely resemble pre-pandemic standards. 

This is not, however, a level playing field. The regions we cover vary vastly in rates of infection and deaths per 100,000. The United Arab Emirates and the Channel Islands have the lowest Covid statistics, and the United Kingdom the highest. Within regions there are also marked variations depending on socio-economic background, population density and increasingly population mobility, with holiday and festival destinations in the United Kingdom becoming hotspots. According to the New York Times, vaccination rates among the regions we cover are some of the highest in the world at between 55 and 75 per cent – UAE (ranked 1st) Canada (13th) UK (19th) and Sweden (26th).  These high rates contrast starkly with a world rate of 34.6 per cent.  

There has been a common highly-regulated governmental response to the pandemic from all the countries we report on, with the exception of Sweden.  The restrictions they have placed on schools were collective and resulted in mass homeschooling and adjustments were made to requirements on a regular basis. On the other hand, Sweden sought to advise rather than direct, with decision making often left at a municipal level. 

All the schools had to contend with a change to how students performance was graded at the end of their time in primary and secondary school, with teacher assessments dominating. There has been an increase in pass rates, which has not as yet been formally attributed to the change in methodology. With those about to take public examinations next year having missed a good part of last year’s schooling, similar approaches to public examination assessments are likely to continue for another year.

It is against this general background that we now present our global update from the regions we report upon.

Canada

Mike Dubeau, Director General of the Western Quebec School Board, has been back behind his desk for the past four weeks, with students returning this week.  He said the Minister for Education in Quebec expected students to return to school from the start of term, later adding that there would still be access to a virtual school for those who wished to do so. As a result, the Board had appointed a principal to run the school and build upon the excellent work carried out in this area during the lockdown.  

Other trends which developed during the lockdown will continue.  This includes ensuring that the Board addresses the issue of diversity, focused on students and staff wellbeing, and builds upon its excellent communication strategy to all parts of its community. The increasing trend of parents opting to homeschool their children has somewhat abated but the numbers are still larger than the beginning of lockdown. 

Mike says he is looking forward to getting back to normal, which to him is about moving the Board’s work beyond that required by statute. The focus during the lockdown had been on keeping everyone safe, with development coming second. Now with the physical restrictions reduced, it is time to return to moving forward.  During his team’s twenty years experience using a theory of action approach to school improvement, he has focused the Board’s efforts on three areas:

Teaching and learning

Leadership and management

The work of the central team

For each of these he is working with the Board’s staff in all schools and centrally to establish where they are now and what their plans are to improve.  Establishing where they are now will be ascertained against the open criterion they had already set – their espoused theory – and the methodology they had agreed to measure performance against them before the lockdown. For example, in teaching and learning this means the thirteen competencies using lesson observations and student performance to assess against the thirteen competencies using levels of needs to improve to world class and changes to this over time – regressing, level, progressing

Over the next few months, Mike plans to visit each school and with the principal and their team, review the process, evaluate the results and support the principals and their staff to make the necessary improvements. As a result he will soon have a clear and up to date picture of the Board’s quality of teaching and learning and the plans in place to close the gap between where they are now and the standards they have set themselves.  We will be reporting on how this process is progressing in future posts. 

Dubai

The health authorities in Dubai have been stringent in controlling the pandemic, especially in schools.  The Knowledge and Human Development Agency have recently published their protocols for face-to-face learning in private schools for this school year.  There are 114 of them, covering all aspects of school life and include a reminder that they are expected to be adhered to. 

The wearing of face masks, one metre social distancing, heat sense testing when students arrive at school, the sanisting of workspaces and equipment and many other regulations are retained. However, there is in general a relaxation of the protocols. They provide a midpoint between the tight restrictions of the previous school year and the ‘normal’ restrictions that schools operated in at the start of the year before. These changes have been introduced because the number of cases in Dubai are relatively low and the vaccination rate relatively high. 

After all the trauma of expat staff trying to get back to their home countries for the summer break, (reported on in our last global update), we are pleased to say they all made it home, hopefully had a good break, returned safely and are now back in harness.  Students came back on Sunday and for our correspondents the previous week was given over to staff training and development. Due to the relaxation of the protocols they were able to meet as a staff for the first time in 18 months.  In order to meet social distance requirements there had to be two meetings, but they enjoyed the chance to come together as a team and celebrate the success of the year before and plan ahead. 

The excitement has also spread to the students, who during the pandemic often had a disrupted learning experience as they were all sent home to self isolate as soon as one of their classmates or teachers contracted the virus. Now many, resplendent in their new school uniforms, are looking forward to a stable learning experience, participating in the wide range of extra curricular activities, eating in the canteen, playing with their friends and showing the new headphones they received from their grandparents.  We hope that their optimism is borne out over the rest of the school year. 

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We will cover the other countries we report on in the second instalment of this global update next week.

Take care and stay safe

George