Sir Kevan Collins on teaching during COVID-19
One of the world’s leading thinkers on early childhood education has urged teachers and educators to listen closely to children as we work to understand the impact of the COVID pandemic on children around the globe.
Sir Kevan Collins – knighted for his service to education in 2015 – has shared his experience, concerns and emerging opportunities with the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector at the Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) National Conference held in September 2021.
“The story hasn't yet been written, the story of COVID. We need to understand a lot more from individual children, from their stories around what has happened and what it means to them,” Sir Kevan Collins said.
Sir Kevan brings a unique perspective about the evidence of “lost education”, as the English Education Recovery Commissioner (Jan-Jun 2021) appointed by the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
He also has a detailed understanding of Australia’s early years sector as a member of Goodstart Early Learning’s Board, the Board of the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) and as advisor to state governments.
“When you look at the data of disrupted education, what you see is implications,” he said.
Drawing on evidence of past disrupted learning events (natural disasters, widespread teacher strikes etc), Sir Kevan noted: “You saw lost earnings over the lives of people and reduced academic outcomes, but also national implications because that lost learning, turns into lost innovation and lost productivity.”
“So it really matters that we try to gather as educators to recover the learning that our children have lost and that's really what I want to talk about,” He said.
Sir Kevan believes high-quality early learning will play a crucial role in the recovery of Australia and our future prosperity.
Making every moment count
Many children have missed significant amounts of early learning and Sir Kevan recommends keeping focussed to help them make up for lost time.
“If children have missed time, we're going to have to decide on key things to focus on.”
“Getting the habits and dispositions of learning secure are perhaps more important than a bit of core content because we have to get habits that secure us for life,” he said.
This includes building a child’s ability “to listen, to foster attention - this is what I believe we should focus on.”
He said “persistence” was another area of heightened importance to support children to build determination and persistence with an activity – one of the best ways he notes is through modelling.
Another focus area Sir Kevan highlighted was building the capacity of children to reflect on their own learning behaviours and their own learnings skills.
“The ability to have knowledge of yourself and knowledge of the task. Now what does that look like in practice? That looks like, for example, before you begin a task, you might say. ‘I remember yesterday when you were doing this, you found it difficult. Do you remember that?’ Or ‘you found it easy, do you remember that?’ Before we do it, what are we going to do?”
“So-called metacognition is highly related to long term skills and attainment because it's about self-control and strategic control.”
In summing up the focus areas he said language was crucial.
“Listening skills, promotion of persistence and determination and building self-awareness. What binds them together? (Communication and) Language.”
“Oral language, our capacity to engage in lots of dialogue, dialogic teaching, the way that we constantly think about how we speak, what we say and the conversations we have with children. Nothing, in my view, matters more.”
Continuity of Learning vs School Transitions
Sir Kevan also urged his audience to move from a ‘Recovery’ to ‘Reform’ mindset when thinking about learning.
He believes that teachers and educators should work towards supporting children’s “continuation of learning” from Kindergarten/Preschool to school, rather than supporting “school transitions”.
Sir Kevan believes schools should be ready to support every child on their journey.
“We then need to think about the reform of the whole system and one of the issues across the world has been all too often, particularly for disadvantaged children, is the impact of sharp jolts or transitions in that learning experience.
“It's not about is the child ready; is the school ready to receive the child?”
“It requires a much greater shared understanding of the child's learning experience and the capacity as the child comes to the next stage of learning,” he said.
Despite the difficulties the pandemic has posed Sir Kevan is upbeat about the future.
There has never been a more exciting or important time to be a part of the early childhood education journey.