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TRANSFORMATION | 20.11.2020

This school year is a breath of fresh air despite the limitations

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An interview with José Antonio Luengo Latorre, the psychologist in charge of the Anti-Bullying Team at the Sub-Directorate General of Educational Inspection of the Department of Education and Research of the Community of Madrid. It’s the weekend but he has met with MAPFRE to take stock of the changes and challenges within the educational environment eight months after the pandemic began, as Europe strives to keep its places of learning open as a stronghold for the development and protection of the future. 

“In my view, schools and universities are showing a maturity that has not received sufficient social recognition”. 

Question (Q.): Right now, how do you feel about the situation in schools and universities? Do you think the efforts made to prioritize in-person classes have been helpful?

Answer: In my view, schools and universities are showing a maturity that has not received sufficient social recognition. The selfless work of teachers and the behavior of students is a fantastic example of adaptation in the worst times. I go to schools daily for various reasons and it’s hard to find the words to describe the experiences of harmony, care and common sense that unfold everyday between halls and classrooms. In-person classes are essential. That much is clear. However, after living through the months from March until the end of the last school year, we have all seen that in-person classroom activity is essential to ensure the health of the educational system, for all involved, in all its fields and development contexts.

Q: Let’s talk about digitization, which was already urgent before the pandemic and has proved more necessary than ever. Was the last school year, and to an even greater extent this one, a real turning point for updating education and making the leap we so badly needed? How can we narrow the gap between students with more digital resources and those with fewer opportunities to access online environments?

A: Indeed, the situation we have been through has been a turning point with regard to ICT as an essential context of the teaching-learning processes. It has been a turning point for several reasons, and two in particular: firstly, because even in a strained and difficult context, we’ve been able to see for ourselves how versatile, flexible and imaginative we can be when thinking of the best way to plan teaching activities and the work to be carried out by the student body. This experience has been very hard for everyone, but it has also been deeply enriching. Secondly, it has shed significant light on the shortcomings in this area: resources, training, access problems, adverse effects… In this sense, it has starkly revealed the “dark shadow” of the digital divide in relation to the most disadvantaged populations. Working to close this gap as efficiently as possible has had a remarkable impact; we hope it can be overcome.

 

“I sincerely believe that as a society, we have not demonstrated much capacity for learning, consideration and rethinking our priorities”.

 

Q: Will this process, if accompanied by a commitment to implement technologies like 5G, close the gap in rural areas?

A: Investment in resources is certainly essential and will certainly have an impact on reducing the so-called digital divide in rural areas. However, there are other gaps — those related to the disadvantaged social and economic situations of many families, with sons and daughters, in urban areas, which also must be evaluated and properly addressed, with planning and judgment.

Q: What, in your view, are the most urgent priorities when working with children and adolescents in general?

A: That relating to access and resources, which I have just mentioned, is unquestionable. In addition, work in educational centers must take on the sizable challenge of teaching ethical and responsible digital citizenship, coupled with the use of technologies in developing ICTs to create cooperative teaching-learning environments. Both “windows” of improvement require adequate frameworks for initial and in-service teacher training.

Q: It seems that crises fuel discussions about the importance of education as a lever of progress, including environmental protection. Will this help to achieve real change? How have we changed?

A: I have my doubts. I sincerely believe that as a society, we have not demonstrated much capacity for learning, consideration and rethinking our priorities. That’s a fact. What we have seen since restrictions first started to be eased is an example, in general terms, of how we continue to misunderstand and misjudge what is at the heart of our society. I hope, however, that I’m wrong and that I can witness an improvement in how we look after our elderly, vulnerable populations, I would like to see us move past the 19th century school system that still prevails and treat our health-care workers with dignity. 

Q: Finally, there is talk of “Covid Generations” in reference to those belonging to year groups deemed less prepared or those of whom less is being asked than of previous generations. Is there a reason for this? Are you confident that the educational landscape for our young people will trend toward improvement in the future? Do you have a recipe for optimism, amid so much uncertainty?

A: I do not think that what we went through during the last school year from March until late June poses a real risk of plunging a generation into an unfathomable black hole. For all its limitations, and there are limitations, the example our schools are setting this current school year (I speak only of non-university teaching) is a breath of fresh air in the current context. My most sincere thanks to the faculty and all the students going into class each morning. The challenge is to transcend, as I have already pointed out, the school system in its current form. Physical spaces, curricula, teacher training, school staffing (in both quantitative and qualitative terms), and family-school collaboration are, among others, in my opinion, points on which we must deeply reflect. Without undermining other considerations, these are the key elements to consider for the future of younger generations.