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Education post-Covid: what will the school of the future look like?

Challenges and opportunities for today’s societies and future generations

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown period has brought with it a series of side effects that, in some cases, have forced us to rethink aspects of our lives that seemed set in stone. An example of this is school and everything surrounding it, not only in terms of teaching, but also in terms of organisation and management of family life. The consequences of this upheaval soon made themselves felt: not only was one of the fundamental human rights, the right to education, interrupted – albeit partially – but the difference between well-off and highly cultured families and those with a lower level of education became clearly underscored. While in the former, the closure of schools was generally compensated with other activities of all kinds, the latter struggled to find adequate alternatives. In addition, problems within the family may arise due to children being at home all day, whether this means that one parent must make a sacrifice (much more often the mother) or with the support of babysitters which come at additional expense.

In light of this situation and, considering that coronavirus is not a challenge that will be won in the short term, it is crucial to step-up our ability to support families through substantial aid, economic and otherwise. An example is well-planned distance learning that allows students to keep up with knowledge and skills. But this is not enough. It is just as important that the educational aspect is accompanied by an approach that also considers the formative and educational role that the school plays in our societies.

Unlike other educational interventions, the formative aspect of school involves two interconnected components: intentionality, as the school’s specific task is to teach through education; and systematicity as schools set the goals to be achieved based on the general educational goals established by law and, to this end, seeks the methods, teaching materials, pedagogical solutions and curricular paths to carry out this task.

In order for this strategy to take hold, however, it is important to update and evolve the respective tasks of the three pillars of the educational system: school, society and family. In this context, models of alternative schools, both past and present, can serve as examples. In Italy and beyond, various schools differing from the classical method have emerged and have been multiplying over recent years, giving rise to a high demand for an alternative education for children.

It is possible to distinguish different school models according to criteria such as, for example, transmission models; learning; social systems. In addition, there exist several approaches to teaching and governing schools: it is possible to identify schools that focus on unique teaching approaches such as the “Montessori Method”, based on the ideas of Italian educator Maria Montessori; the Waldorf schools, inspired by the pedagogy of German educator Rudolf Steiner; the so-called “intelligence schools”, based on the theories of Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner and conceived to help brilliant, creative and unconventional students; and the so-called Paideia Schools, founded by philosopher Mortimer Adler. Further examples are the schools based on experiential learning, based on the ideas of American philosopher John Dewey, and the so-called libertarian schools, which do not have codified teaching: each day the children, along with the teachers, decide and organise the subjects that will be studied and the learning methods to be used.

In light of the above, the question naturally arises: what could, or should, the school of the future look like? To answer, it is important to examine distance learning during lockdown in order to understand its potential and avoid its risks. It is essential for the education sector to increase the specific skills of teachers and allow them to make proper use of devices (“media education”). The post-Covid recovery could, therefore, be an opportunity to rethink education in future schools and prepare teachers and, in general, education professionals to promote the development of what specialists call “emotional intelligence”, which is usually neglected by the school system that all too often concentrates on cognitive skills rather than the importance of feelings in the growth of an individual.