Last year, Fernando Trujillo Sáez decided to evaluate how the school had adapted at the end of the pandemic course. This professor from the University of Granada interviewed teachers, families and students to draw a picture as complete as possible of the educational year. The conclusion he drew from those interviews was clear: the system was not prepared for what came upon it, although the course went ahead due to the efforts of the parties. This course, the EU took notice of the work carried out by Trujillo and through the Joint Research Center commissioned him to carry out this year’s evaluation, which has also been carried out in countries such as Denmark, Estonia or Hungary.
From the investigation carried out for this first full pandemic course, it is clear to Trujillo that the coronavirus has served as a “system analyst” and has uncovered the things that worked and those that did not, and has given us some surprise. “This pandemic has told us that two of the issues we were boasting about (that we are an inclusive system and that we are moving towards digitization) are yes, but that we have a long way to go”, explains the professor.
In addition, Trujillo is clear that now that the teachers have tried the honeys of the low ratios they will not want to return to the previous situation – which is exactly the plan designed by the Ministry of Education and the autonomous communities – and that they will give the battle to maintain teaching conditions that, according to Trujillo, have led by themselves to an improvement in results.
What are the main conclusions you draw from the study?
The main one is that the three groups that we have interviewed – teachers, students and families – are reasonably satisfied by the evolution of the academic year and by the fact that presence has been the fundamental characteristic of the course. Although families offer more chiaroscuro with the assessment of the year, all are left with that the school has not been a major contagion factor, which corroborates other data that point in this line.
Based on this general feeling, what has surprised me the most is the clarity with which the three groups see that the pandemic has allowed an analysis of what works and what does not work in the educational system in a structural way, not only this year punctually. Like it or not, the pandemic has been like a system analyst. Some strength has also been able to highlight it and I hope we know how to take advantage of it.
The next question comes out on its own. What are the main shortcomings?
The first general line is that this course has seriously suffered the attention to children with the most needs, those who live in situations of greater vulnerability, those who need specific attention. In the interviews, projects have emerged that were being worked on, for example with children with ASD who have stopped or suffered seriously. It has affected them by the need to limit groups or not being able to put themselves in pairs. It affects these students more than those who do not have these problems. Another issue is that the teachers who normally attend to these students have used this course to divide groups and the child who had a reinforcement teacher to learn the language better may not have had it. The reading for the future is that it is necessary to reinforce the personalization systems, of attention to diversity.
And the matter of blendedness that has marked the year?
Yes. The second weakness is linked to the possibility for schools that from 3rd year of ESO they could offer blended teaching. This has generated problems because the centers that did not have teachers or enough space have had to set up alternation systems. It has not worked, the teachers are very critical of this situation, the families too, understand that the students have been very confused, they have not taken advantage of the time, they did not have the technological tools … And the students themselves tell us that they It has seemed disturbing to go to class one day, not another, another for a while. This reveals the state of our digital education, and it is problematic. The future of education goes through the hybrid, by having presence in class but being able to use digital tools and platforms. The pandemic has taught us that we have a lot to learn for this school that naturally incorporates digital. This research has been done in other countries, and the differences between Denmark or Estonia and Spain are great, in terms of the vision and mission of digital education.
Talk about general issues related to the system. Something more purely educational or pedagogical?
There is a third line, finer but very important: the COVID protocols have led the school globally to use more conventional methodologies. The lecture, for example, without creating work groups or projects … There has been a certain methodological regression. I do not make a value judgment, it is what had to be done by protocol and thus security has been maintained. But some teachers sounded the alarms with which this more traditional methodology remains when the COVID protocol goes down. And these teachers ask that when we return to normality we recover more active methodologies, field trips to investigate, etc. We are in a long-term educational innovation process that has been stopped by COVID.
Since you bring up this issue, I suppose you are aware of the debate that exists among teachers about the advisability of innovating, to what extent, the effort of the students, approved, memorization, if we are lowering the level … What do you think of this?
From an academic perspective, the answer is short-lived. The methodology has to be adjusted to the reality of the classroom, to the objectives that one seeks to achieve, to the students with whom they work, to the environment of the center. The absolute priority is that, as professionals, we have to be able to master the widest possible range of methodological possibilities. The debate in networks is simplifying because the question is not whether memorization and a master lesson against everything else. As a teacher, I have to know how to give a master lesson and memorize content, but also teach them to transfer the memorized content to a different situation than the one in which it has been memorized. It’s a bit of a bar counter debate on Twitter. It did not make sense for a traumatologist to apply the same to all patients regardless of the blow or injury they have. Methodological diversity is a principle of any professional.
Let’s go back to where we were. What are the greatest strengths of the system?
Some are very obvious. For example, the awareness of the importance of open centers as a factor of equity. It is the great message that as a country we have launched. In a country like ours it was very important to keep schools open to maintain equity, precisely because of the problem we mentioned earlier, that the digital school is underdeveloped.
Teachers have also experienced what it means to work with a reduced ratio and have found that it allows a better coexistence in the classroom, greater personalization, but also better results. Our research is qualitative, but the unanimity with the ratio is absolute. And I dare to predict that it will become a battle horse with the administrations, that they will find a teaching staff who have found that when teaching conditions improve, results improve and I do not know if they will admit a return to as before.
This study has been carried out in five European countries. How has our response to the crisis been in relation to the others?
With the wickers we had, I think the best possible. They have joined the will for the presence, the contribution of resources (teachers have been hired, it is undeniable, the contribution to PROA + has been important, equipment has been purchased for the centers where it was needed) and the professionalism of the centers and teachers has We have given a more than satisfactory answer because the two things that had to be preserved have been preserved: health and learning. Now the key is to see what has gone wrong and improve along those lines. It is what I begin to miss, that reflection. At some point we have to face the reality of the school we want, if a crowded Pink Floyd guy in The Wall, or if we want something finer. At some point we will have to make that decision, having models. You look at Denmark or Estonia and you say, this can be done. It is not a university utopia.
Have you asked how the new course is faced now that it seems the extraordinary measures are ending?
It was not the central objective, but many teachers did mention the temporality of the decisions. There is a positive factor that many commented, which coincidentally fits with what the Ministry tries to sell that it does. This year the boys and girls had to measure temperature, enter one way, leave another … It has been perceived in the centers that there was less time available. Many centers have made adjustments to the curriculum and many teachers have told me that they have gone to the essentials and have perceived that going to the fundamentals has been a deeper learning.
That draws attention …
It’s interesting because, isn’t this what the former minister said is being done in relation to the curriculum? We are going to the nuclear, to the fundamental, to go to deeper and more lasting learning. There is an expression from the Institución Libre de Enseñanza that I love: “It’s okay with so much educational reform, let’s do reform tests.” They said it at the end of the 19th century. Teachers have done a reform test this year and have piloted, without knowing it and without talking to the Ministry, what could be the new curriculum. And that the teaching staff have been able to do this reform test draws us as a qualified professional, who plans and is capable of managing their resources. Another is to see if the Ministry and the ministries are able to take advantage of this movement.
There has also been talk, regarding the drop in level, of the general approved assumption of last year (which was not such), that a hand had been raised so that the students did not pay for the broken dishes of the pandemic and that this was a A disservice to them … Have you discussed this with the teachers for their study?
We asked specifically about evaluation and procedures. The unanimous response has been that it has been done the same as before the pandemic. Same procedures, better learning conditions because coexistence has improved as there are fewer students in class. Same evaluation, but better learning conditions, the result has been better. The teachers are clear about the equation.
Did even those who did not go to class daily compensate them when they were being half of the usual?
Of course, of course. In Ceuta they went half a morning every day. The four teachers there that we have interviewed have told us that there has been a compensating factor. They feel that teaching and learning conditions have improved. Coexistence has been improved, noise has been reduced … It is very common sense. This has compensated for factors such as alternation from 3º in almost the entire territory. This should be confirmed with a diagnostic evaluation, but we can verify this feeling in the teachers who have participated in our study.