With the world in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic and governments globally, rightfully, responding with some of the most stringent measures including closing schools and colleges, the future of our children and education is once again in the spotlight. Around the world, schools continue to be shut down thereby creating real uncertainty for many students about their future career and study opportunities. The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) has cancelled Diploma Programme (DP) examinations. The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and A-Levels will no longer take place, and Advanced Placement (AP) exams will now be run in a more limited way with online testing. The implications for young people seeking to apply to universities for the upcoming academic year is of significant concern. I know that many parents are deeply worried about their children and their future.
In Baku, schools were shut down early on in the crisis. As a precautionary measure, the government closed all educational institutions in the country and suspended all celebratory activities planned for March. Given the global expansion of the crisis, this suspension has now been extended to April too, thus jettisoning a whole semester of formal academic learning. We all know that learning is not confined to what happens in a school classroom, yet the sudden closures of learning institutions around the world are causing a significant disruption for educators striving to meet expected learning outcomes.
No government or society expected to face a crisis of this magnitude. However, I am pleased that the vision devised and implemented by the European Azerbaijan School (EAS) has enabled the school to respond effectively to the crisis. Through the development of information technology (IT) and the ‘Bring your own device’ (BYOD) programme, the school has been able to transition smoothly to a fully online learning platform. At EAS, no student has lost any learning time as teachers were able to swiftly move from a classroom-based style of teaching to a fully online model.
Since the start, the school Board and senior leadership have worked tirelessly to position EAS as a ‘School of the future’ where learning ‘anytime, anywhere’ would become a part of daily student life. The initial provision of laptops and iPads and a gradual transition to the BYOD model has helped students to adapt and accept responsibility for their own learning. Differentiated teaching practices have helped to enhance and empower the learning needs of students across the board. From the beginning of the development of EAS, there has been continuous ongoing professional development for staff. Teachers at EAS have been supported by training workshops by the Azerbaijan Teacher Development Centre (ATDC), and the introduction of digital coaches to train staff to use online tools and explore innovative and new teaching approaches.
The implementation of the BYOD policy has also allowed the EAS to give students the confidence to use online tools, so vital given the challenges we all now face as a result of the pandemic. Recent visits to the British Educational Training and Technology (BETT) show held in London where the most significant global brands and educational institutions share their vision and ideas to transform the sector, has also been an important part of the school’s ongoing professional development programme. As a part of discussions during the exhibition, educational leaders share best practices, ideas, and technological innovations to help enable educators and students to flourish.
As a result of regular attendance of the BETT show, EAS has also gained a degree of knowledge and insights to enable the development and implementation of an IT plan to engage learners and enhance their creativity. Through the implementation of these measures, EAS has been able to transition to an online teaching model without significant interruption to learning. Feedback from parents has been incredibly positive.
This programme of learning is based on an educational theory developed by John Dewey at the beginning of the 21st century. For Dewey, the ‘experience’ is at the heart of the educational process. Indeed, education is defined exclusively in terms of the extent to which it develops skills. Thus, the quality of our educational experience is judged in part by how well it facilitates future experiences and develops skills that can be applied in the real world.
The vision of EAS as a school is that it ‘provides each student with a diverse and vibrant education which promotes innovation, creativity and critical thinking’ – to the extent that students become ‘empowered lifelong learners’. EAS has done this in seeking to bring the future to the present and to make, what may initially appear impossible, possible. The vision of the Board and leadership has enabled the school to be responsive and meet the crisis that we are now all facing head-on. If there is one positive to come from this pandemic, beyond the realization that we are all bound together, it is the understanding that leaders at all levels – from classroom teachers to policymakers – need to equip our educational institutions to deliver what will become an absolute necessity: creative individuals who can use technology ethically and efficiently to promote innovation, creativity, and increased global connectivity.
*Mr. Tale Heydarov is the founder of the European Azerbaijan School, Azerbaijan Teachers Development Centre, Libraff bookstores network, TEAS Publishing House, and until recently served as the President of Gabala FC football club (Azerbaijan Premier League) and Gabala Sports Club.