By Danielle Kutchel
When the call came to close schools at the height of the Victorian Covid-19 pandemic, teachers had only a short amount of time to pivot from the face-to-face classroom to a new online world of learning.
For Rob Kelly, multimedia learning specialist at Berwick Lodge Primary School, the process was “a challenge”.
“When it was announced by the Premier that Victorian schools would be closing for term 2, we had about three days to get our teachers and students ready for the transition to remote learning,” he recalled.
Staff at the school swung into action immediately, and Mr Kelly and the ICT team frantically helped upskill the teachers whilst fielding questions about the new arrangement.Even though Berwick Lodge Primary School is a leading school in the multimedia field, Mr Kelly said nothing could have prepared them for the pandemic.
“Luckily for me, I work with brilliant colleagues who took everything in their stride, but if it was not for Michele Tan (ICT leading teacher) and Berend Jensen (IT technician), I would not have been able to facilitate the transition as effectively,” he explained.
Multiple professional development sessions were held to help staff come to grips with their new tasks.
“We worked through the school holiday break and upskilled ourselves, too. Looking back, I am very proud of what we achieved in that time,” Mr Kelly said.
According to the educator, one thing that did help was having a fleet of modern devices at the school, as working with older devices would have been far more challenging.
Since the transition, Mr Kelly is the only staff member at the school who has been on-campus every day, right from the beginning of term 2.While he chose to do so, and for legitimate reasons, he said it was not a decision he took lightly.
Surrounded by the children of essential service workers, he was acutely aware of the risks of carrying or transmitting Covid-19.
Now, as students return to school, it’s time to flip back to in-classroom learning – but it’s possible there will be a place for online remote learning in the future.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has flagged mining the “gold” of remote learning to apply to future education contexts.
Mr Kelly said he believed primary schools would maintain face-to-face learning as far as they are able to.
“As a friend of mine always says, ‘secondary school is about teaching subjects; primary school is about teaching people.’ To teach and learn effectively in the primary sector, you need face-to-face interaction with students. I don’t think that will ever change,” he said.
“We foster social and emotional development, not just academic development. Students cannot learn those skills from a book or online class.
Nevertheless, he said the experience of flipping a curriculum in just a few days will stay with him for a long time to come.
“It was unprecedented and something that I will remember for my entire career,” he said.