The Malta Independent 3 December 2021, Friday

Covid-19: School attendance rate has ‘returned to normal’ – head of school

Shona Berger Sunday, 24 October 2021, 08:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Since the new Covid-19 rules and regulations have been reinforced within schools, the attendance rate has returned to normal, the head of school of Senglea Primary, Anna Napier told the Malta Independent.

“The vast majority of children are really enthusiastic and happy to have returned back to school. Although it entails a lot of hard work, educators are motivated to get every individual back on board and are striving hard to ensure that education reaches its goal of improving the lives of others,” Napier said.

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The Covid-19 pandemic took the education system on a roller coaster with educators and other staff members experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. Students were also forced into an unstable situation impacting their education, well-being, social and emotional growth.

Media reports during the pandemic reported that the Ministry for Education carried out an internal study about school attendance during the 2020/2021 scholastic year, showing that there was a high level of absenteeism from a substantial number of students. Consequently, the government allocated more than €250,000 for summer catch-up classes during the summer period of 2021. This was done to help students whose education was affected by the pandemic.

Napier noted that the return to school has been beneficial not just from the point of view of learning the curriculum, but also for teaching soft skills and socialising. Although these are many times not the first thing that comes to mind when you speak of school and learning, they are actually part and parcel, and a big part of the education process.

“Through school, kids not only learn the content of the curriculum, but are brought up to be the responsible adults that form today’s and tomorrow’s society, and that will ultimately replace us in a few years time,” Napier said.

Technology should always complement in-person education and not replace it

Technology is a beneficial tool to keep the education of students going; however, Napier noted that technology should always be seen as a means to complement in-person education, and never as an alternative.

Senglea Primary is a school with a relatively small population where teachers get to know their students on an individual basis and the students themselves get to know each other in a very short period. This element of socialisation usually happens in-person, and whilst the school tried its utmost to switch to the digital means available, it could never replace the in-person reality.

Speaking about the major challenges brought about the pandemic for the school, Napier said that the first hurdle was to explain the process of online teaching to parents, students, teachers, among others.

Support from IT personnel was definitely crucial, and educators had to adapt to new pedagogical concepts and ways of delivering lessons, Napier said.

She also highlighted that engaging each and every individual with the curriculum that was originally planned to be delivered in-person, and which had to be adapted for the online environment in this so called ‘emergency education procedure’ was not an easy task.

“This ameliorated greatly during the second lockdown where the great majority of students and parents were already knowledgeable of the process and way forward. By this time, we had already managed to move from emergency education to education in times of an emergency - the core difference being that rather than simply shifting our methods, we also had time to plan and adjust accordingly,” Napier said.

Students supported by family members progressed better than others

Meanwhile, the positive participation and interest from parents was also noted and students who were supported by a family member progressed better than others. In addition, parents who did not have a thorough knowledge of technology but who started to take an interest in their kids’ learning process, became more enthusiastic and more willing to learn.

“It was truly a pity to see that those who lacked digital and technological skills and who were not encouraged from family members to participate, were actually ‘shut out.’ They found it more difficult to engage fully and take in the full learning experience,” Napier said.

Students are to be treated as ‘individuals’ and not just a number or a picture on a screen

Reflecting on the situation, Napier highlighted that the School Leadership Team, together with teachers, kindergarten assistants and Learning Support Educators identified which students were struggling most, how much they had missed out and the factors which impeded these students to learn.

“We identified the needs of each individual. In line with our school vision, which is ‘to create an environment where each individual feels cared for, supported and nurtured’, we worked around the philosophy of leaving no one behind and trying to treat every individual student as just that – ‘an individual’ – and not just a number or a picture on a screen,” Napier said.

Meanwhile, after being approached by the Dean of the University of Malta and the National Let Me Learn Centre (LML) Coordinator Colin Calleja in January, Napier said that together with the Senior Leadership Team, a programme was planned for students from Grade 3 to Grade 6.

The LML project is one that aims to bring out the best in every student. It is about “listening to the learner… it provides a straightforward approach to enhance each student’s learning by beginning with the simple but powerful awareness of each student’s interactive learning patterns.”

Napier highlighted that in her role as a teacher, “the LML project helped me recognise my own strengths and weaknesses and motivated me to work on a growth mindset. It helped me resonate and identify the need of every learner, where every individual has equal possibilities of success.”

‘It’s time to shift to teaching which tailors education to meet the needs of individuals’

In my present role as a head of school, Equity for Equality is one of my favourite mottos.  Implementing an approach centred around the 4Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication and Creativity) was exactly in line with the LML concepts.  It is my duty to empower educators to believe in every child, to communicate and convince parents that their child CAN and WILL learn,” Napier said.

She added that this opportunity to work hand in hand with the LML team came at an opportune time, as due to the pandemic the school’s educational system had been affected. The goal is to let all students be successful - which route they take, how long it takes them, or which method works best for them does not matter 

“Equity is now a more important tool than ever and it is time to bring about the much needed shift from giving everyone the same education, to tailoring education to meet the needs of every individual and to make sure they have the right tools to suceed,” Napier said.

 

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