With a new academic year just begun while the world is still learning to cope with the impact of Covid-19, parents and students alike must have questions about the immediate challenges and how we are resolving them at school. We sat down with Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, our Head of School, to help answer these questions.
A new school year has begun while the pandemic rages on. What decisions has the school taken in the immediate and near term to ensure students have access to the same standards of learning as they would in a regular year?
We have given a lot of thought to and invested significantly into ensuring our teachers have the right skills to continue to challenge, engage and differentiate the delivery of the curriculum for the students. This has meant specific training in online learning, some of it by the Florida Virtual School. We have invested in software and hardware to ensure excellent connectivity and sound reproduction and minimise access issues to the extent possible. We have spent a lot of time in our planning to ensure that our teachers include asynchronous as well as synchronous learning opportunities in their plans by providing time and tasks off-screen, that they are building in rest periods, especially for the younger children. All of the techniques that can make online learning a little bit more accessible and easier.
We consult with our parents and students all the time. And we’ve been getting satisfied, very satisfied or extremely satisfied grades from our parents in relation to how we’re managing online learning. So I don’t believe we have the same standards of learning, because, in some areas, the learning has become better. While we are not yet able to check the quality of learning from external sources as we usually would, from all of the feedback and all of the assessments we’ve done, I believe we’re achieving the same levels of understanding.
Screen time is increasingly a concern for parents, especially those with younger children. How does B.D. Somani balance this against the curriculum?
We have become skilled in managing a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous learning. We try to limit time on screen to 20 minutes at any one time and build in breaks to allow eyes to rest and the students to relax a little. We also work very hard to differentiate our tasks and engage our learners so that they are eager to join School and to learn during and outside lesson time. Online learning is demanding of students in an entirely different way, and we have aimed to accommodate our lessons to meet those demands.
Has B.D. Somani conducted any skilling programs to help teachers adapt to the changed learning environment?
Of course. We have been very active at School, Primary and Secondary and Department levels as well as providing individual opportunities to learn and develop skills. As a school, we arranged for Florida Virtual School, an organisation with a 30-year history of expert online learning, to run end and beginning of year sessions for all our staff. This, along with IB courses and the many workshops now available online, have allowed our faculty a rich and varied menu of development opportunities.
How will school holidays and term breaks play out this year?
We have changed our calendar to take into account both our current online learning model and the future of either hybrid learning or (hopefully) a return to face to face learning. We have started early, built-in regular breaks along the way and are monitoring the health of our students and the faculty.
How is B.D. Somani keeping parents up to date on all the developments?
The School is an effective communicator, and we use multiple channels at our disposal to keep our parents and community up to date, including email, our comprehensive school website, faculty blogs, and social media.
Should schools be allowed to reopen later in the academic year?
What is B.D. Somani’s plan to manage a quick transition to regular classes?
Yes, we have a plan, or to be more accurate many plans. There is a greater need for scientists and artists to be in School to allow for lab and workshop opportunities. Also, very young students need time at School. It may be that we can bring in smaller groups for specific days or parts of the day. We have to allow for safe distancing, hygiene, classroom management and other norms for safe operations but we are prepared for all of these as we wait for greater clarity from the government.
What is your message for parents at this start of the new year? Especially those with children in milestone years who are concerned about academic progress?
Be hopeful and determined. Be strong and courageous. The pandemic will pass. Life will not only continue but flourish. We must do what we have always done – make the best of what we have, be persistent and work hard. Find the joys and humour that each day brings and celebrate family and friends. Stay safe.