The pandemic and lockdowns have had a monumental effect on the world’s youth. Not only have students missed out on hundreds of hours of education, but they are also reeling from the mental health impacts of the pandemic. Both of these have led to disastrous learning outcomes for students from primary to high school.
Outcomes become worse for students from low-income households, as well as black and brown students. According to NPR high poverty schools were closed for 5.5 more weeks than low and middle-poverty schools, meaning they stayed with remote learning longer. Without the resources to get online like a laptop or high-speed connection, many students of color fell even farther behind.
Remote learning throughout the pandemic has been ad hoc and greatly mismanaged. It is no wonder numerous students are now failing their classes. When the COVID-19 pandemic began schools closed and remote learning was meant to replace class time. With little knowledge of how digital technology can engage students, teachers regurgitated their in-person teaching methods online. But that is not what edtech is for.
With a proper digital platform and an understanding of how digital interfaces can add holistic pedagogy to education, students can improve their learning outcomes while improving their mental wellness. It is not enough to add digitalization to the classroom but to reform how youth are taught.
Failures of Digital Learning
The problem with remote learning has little to do with technology but is part of a larger problem in education, students’ attention. Nick Morgan of Psychology Today explains further: “Online, attention spans do seem to have become shorter—seven to 10 minutes seems about right”
Morgan, a Ph.D. in psychology went on to talk about whether the pandemic and more online time have impacted our attention. “The quick answer is ‘No.’ What has changed is not our attention spans, but our ability to engage with new ideas. We’re stressed out and information-overloaded, and that’s not changing any time soon.”
And that makes sense. The digital age has given us the tools to learn more, but all that information can overload students’ brains. And not to mention their mental health. But even without it, attention spans cannot keep up with our current education model. If a teacher lectures a class for about an hour it is an impossible task to ask students, much less primary-aged kids to stay engaged.
Moving from that lecture model, into an interactive learning model (IMM) can best take advantage of technology to improve learning outcomes. But what is IMM, and how can we as educators move towards a new style?
Interactive Learning Model
An interactive learning model is a system of education where learners are empowered to actively problem-solve issues independently or in groups through play, discovery and yes… lots of mistakes.
Some of the paradigms included in IMM are game-based learning, makerspace lessons, and community-based lessons. All these features act to give students the keys to their own education and redefine teachers as guides rather than lecturers.
Schools already implement some sort of interactive learning in schools. I remember learning about the constellations by sewing Ursa Minor into a pillow. To this day I remember how Ursa Minor looks, and how to sew. At its best interactive learning teaches us multiple skills at once. But where does technology come in?
IMM has never taken over the education space as most classes continue to mainly use the lecture style of teaching. As classes moved online teachers had to rely on the lecture model exclusively, as many of them had no training on edtech, and how it can be used interactively. The consequences have been bad enough to convince more educators we need a new approach.
Since then education technology has been at the forefront of a new IMM-heavy paradigm shift. Now it is the edtech industry reshaping learning. With better implementation, many hope technology can bring our students back from the brink. But technology is just how we educate, the other side of the coin is also what we teach that is important.
Interactive Learning for Mental Health
As Morgan mentioned attention spans are hurt by overloads of information and stress. Now technology can ameliorate a lot of the information overload we get by giving context and breaking up information into chunks, but stress is a different monster altogether.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents jumped 31% in 2020, compared with 2019. In February and March of this year, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher among girls aged 12–17 than during the same period in 2019.
The incidence of anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies have all increased in adolescents and even children from before the pandemic (which was still extremely high historically). Without proper mental and emotional health students will never make up for the learning gaps the pandemic produced. And this brings up another huge issue for the education system: why do we teach?
Wide-scale education came after governments realized the need for an educated workforce able to take direction and work in factories. In this era education was a large-scale industrial job placement program. Today the system is largely the same. The regimentation and education of students are done in a way to prepare them for factory floors, and office buildings that are becoming less relevant to our economies.
Education needs to prepare kids for the economy of today which is creative, intelligent, and exploratory. But more importantly, they must help kids navigate the twenty-first century with its myriad of mental, social, and intellectual environmental issues. A holistic education can do all that with the help of interactive learning.
Holistic education needs two things to be successful:
- To speak to the everyday experience of students
- To flow with the interests of learners
Back to my example of learning to sew Ursa Minor. That lesson was a great example of a holistic education experience designed with interactive learning. Not only did I learn about the stars, but also a life skill. The lesson came from a conversation our teacher had with us about skills we thought were interesting. Once the class agreed on sewing, our teacher came up with a science class like no other.
As poor mental health is now a lived reality for more students, lessons should follow the same path my teacher did and teach for students, not to them. Lessons should give kids tools to deal with their mental health, while also imbuing academic rigor.
Tech platforms, educators, and community groups are already starting to make the change to interactive and holistic models. Pure Natural Oasis, is a Canadian-based tech startup/wellness center that teaches youth wellness, literacy, and self-expression as a means to becoming better academic students, and well-rounded people. From yoga to mathematics, the school uses edtech to improve the complete well-being of students.
Moving forward all school boards would benefit from a transition away from lecturing kids about mitochondria, to facilitating their understanding of the circulatory system through practices like yoga. If not COVID-19 may have been the second-worst pandemic in the young century.