Editorial: Be proud! Be hopeful! Be determined!
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 3, 11 May 2020, page no. 5
Well, this year isn’t going to plan... and not just marginally so!
The coronavirus pandemic is the one-in-a-hundred-years disruption to society, the economy and education that we prepare for but are never ready for – because we don’t know which type of event it is going to be. A pandemic following on from an unmatched bushfire season in the middle of a struggling economy? I certainly didn’t have that in the sweep.
As I write this, the number of active COVID-19 cases in Queensland is down to 20 of the 1045 confirmed cases in a population of 5.12 million. There have been six deaths. It could have been much worse, but the restrictions have worked and can now be relaxed, slowly, for the risk of a second wave of infections remains very real.
Queensland teachers and principals accomplished an amazing feat at the end of Term 1 and the start of Term 2: the total re-engineering of school education from school-based to remote learning, both virtual and paper-based. It was accomplished over five pupil free days and two interrupted weeks of school holidays.
It is lumpy, as you would expect given limitations of time and resources. Some of the hastily constructed plans were overly-ambitious. Who, other than the experienced distance educators in our membership, really knew how difficult this could be? It exposed again the gaps between students who have and the disadvantaged, and if anything amplified them.
But school education continued during the pandemic through the extraordinary work of teachers and principals and other school staff. It should be a matter of pride to have been part of this – a source of stories to tell the “youngsters” on the teaching staff about in the years to come.
For all that, the pandemic and the restrictions it required have caused a major and continuing disruption to education. It will not be possible for students to finish this year where we planned they would be educationally. It will not be possible to catch everything up (either with or without an overwhelming workload). And so a triage of what is more and less important will be required.
I give one example. What will report cards say at the end of Semester 1? They will contain some information about progress, but each should carry the following disclaimer: “Due to coronavirus, do not make any life-changing decisions based on the contents of this report card.” Any attempt to make the report as valid as previous years’ is futile, and therefore not worth the dedication of additional time and resources.
It is not possible to make this year normal. It denies lived experience to attempt to do so. It will be easier if we accept that this year is not normal and work accordingly.
Apart from anything else, the health and safety of staff and students remains the highest priority, and it will continue to disrupt the operations of schools. But it will not be compromised.
“Disrespect” is a term I have heard frequently over the past week. Firstly, it was about the lack of warning about the change in plans for some students to return to school from 11 May. The second reason was the demand for a freeze in pay, in breach of enterprise bargaining agreements, a demand that finally came fully into the public domain at the end of last week.
I don’t intend to repeat all the detail that was in the Newsflash of 8 May. And there will be plenty more said about this issue in days to come. Two things only will I repeat:
It is unconscionable to withhold the pay increases of teachers and principals who have worked harder than ever before in making the changes for education to continue.
It makes no economic sense to remove the money that would be paid to teachers and principals from the economy at a time when the economy needs to be stimulated.
“Tis not too late to seek a newer world”
We should not be too anxious for things to return to normal, or at least to what was normal before this year’s events.
Addressing excessive workload remains the Union’s top priority. And if it has not been possible to actively campaign on this in the middle of a crisis, the changes made for the pandemic should give us sharper perspectives on what is important and what is expendable in school education.
The campaign will return, and soon, for you and your colleagues to provide your ideas about how to sustainably reduce teacher and principal workload.
And more broadly in our society, we should not return to a “normal” that sees so many people in insecure employment who can be cast aside so easily; that sees such meagre social security benefits for the unemployed; and that sees shortages of protective equipment and more because it is no longer manufactured in Australia.
We don’t need a return to normal; we need something better.
Stay safe and well.