The future of education: Pandemic stories

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At Engine Service Design, we’re constantly looking to reimagine improved services and experiences for the future. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted some incredibly important areas in education that we believe could be addressed, using service design to improve the educational journey.

You can go back to read our first blog in this series here: How COVID-19 lessons can help us reimagine a better future for our children’s education to find out how and why we need to create a more collaborative system that benefits teachers, children, and parents alike.

In this blog we explore the perspectives of a teacher, a schoolchild, and a parent to give you an insight into three very different experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking at education from these three perspectives allowed us to understand the challenges and frustrations from all angles, and then place them at the centre of our thinking when designing a solution to address them. This is a fundamental component of the Engine Service Design System, and essential to human centred design.

These are fictional stories, but collated following various interviews and conversations with real people, and pulled together to sum up these important stories which we’re sure some of you will relate to…

COVID-19: The Teacher’s Story

“I went into teaching because I wanted to make a difference in children’s lives and that’s always been the most rewarding part of my job. I definitely don’t do it for the status or the money! Before the pandemic hit, I was finding the admin increasingly challenging but there was nothing better than helping a child overcome a hurdle or learn a new skill. It was wonderful to see children grow and develop and I enjoyed the time I had with them.

I’ll be honest, the lockdown came as a shock. Our school didn’t have the infrastructure to teach online at the start and we set work for children to do, to be marked by parents. It was great to have a bit of a break to start with but that didn’t last long. I worried increasingly about the vulnerable children and what was going on in their lives, and how they were all getting on. Not to mention I had my own two at home as well.

By the second lockdown we had much better systems in place and I could teach more classes online, but I hated teaching to blank screens and not being in the same room as my students. And juggling online teaching and supporting the keyworker children in school actually increased my workload in the end. It also got a bit tricky dealing with some of the parents at times, but I have a really supportive Head Teacher, which helped.

Now that we’re back to some type of normality, I’m glad to get back to the classroom. However, I’ve been shocked and concerned by the academic and particularly the social level a lot of the children are at. Some have changed significantly; some are not attending all classes and others appear to be suffering with greater levels of anxiety than before.

That said, some kids have amazed me by how resilient they seem, probably because they thrived outside a classroom setting and had the right environment as well as supportive parents. It’s going to be a long, uphill struggle to get back to where we were, and we’ll need some help, but I remain positive that we’ll get there somehow.”

COVID-19: The Schoolchild’s Story

“I always enjoyed school (mostly!) because I was doing well in the majority of my subjects, and I could spend the day with my friends. I really like playing sports too and I was in the football team. I didn’t like the food though, so I took a packed lunch and got to swap things I didn’t like with my mates.

I was excited when we didn’t have to go to school because I thought it would be more fun at home, but then the teachers started giving us work we had to do at home and said our parents had to help us instead of them. I got really bored and I didn’t like it because it took me ages to get the maths without the teacher explaining it and my mum’s rubbish at it!

My older sister did all her work really quickly and then got to go on her phone and I was still trying to do my lessons. But I got her to help me in the end instead. My parents kept arguing because my mum wanted my dad to help us with lessons, but he said he was the only one with a job now, so he needed to work instead. He was constantly on Zoom calls, so I couldn’t really ask him anyway.

Then we got online classes, which was a bit better because my mum didn’t have to teach me, but some of the teachers were quite boring and we kept having problems with our Wi-Fi. Some of the kids liked Zoom more but I wanted to be with my friends. I really missed playing in the playground and doing sports as well. And my sister got worried about her exams and wouldn’t help me with my homework anymore.

Now we’re back at school I’m glad to be there most of the time, but sometimes I wish I didn’t have to go every day! I love seeing my friends more but the football team’s a bit rubbish now. Mum says half of them aren’t fit any more because they didn’t do exercise every day like we did. We had to go for a stupid walk every day, even in the rain.

There was definitely some cool stuff about lockdown, and some stuff I’d rather forget.”

COVID-19: The Parent’s Story

“Where do I start?! Before the first lockdown I had two kids at primary school and one at secondary school. They all seemed settled and happy. I’m a hairdresser and I work from home so I could choose my own hours, which was great. The first lockdown was a nightmare! I missed working and we really needed every penny as my husband’s self-employed too. He’s a graphic designer and a lot of his regular work dried up. We had to buy an extra laptop for home schooling and we’re still paying it off.

The school gave us work for the younger ones, which I had to supervise and help with. I found it really hard. My teenager had more structure and support from his school but was worried about his GCSEs and getting behind. They all missed their friends and I felt like I was permanently making food and clearing it up and yelling at everyone to tidy up or to do some exercise. And I felt guilty most of the time that I wasn’t doing all the extra things other parents said they were doing, it seemed so hard to keep up. By the second lockdown it was all more organised and a bit easier, although still far from ideal.

When they first went back to school, I was very relieved. But then it seemed like at least one of them was always off because someone at school had COVID and the whole class or year had to isolate, so working was difficult. Then my middle one got anxious about her grandparents dying as her best friend’s grandad died of COVID. We’ve been trying to get her some sort of counselling as she’s anxious about going to school now, but there’s a long waiting list.

The other two were happy to go back to school but every day’s a battle with my daughter. On the one hand I liked having them at home as I felt more connected to what they were doing, but on the other I’m just glad to have my life back! I really worry about how much they’ve all missed out on and what the future will bring.”

What was your lived experience through the COVID-19 pandemic?

We appreciate everyone’s experience was different, so we’d love to hear your perspective too. Every insight we capture is treated in the strictest confidence, but maybe, if we all work together, we can build the momentum needed to create a better future for our children, one where no child is left behind.

If you’re in a position to influence the future of education, if you work within government, or within a private educational institution and believe in improving education for the better, we’d love to hear from you too. You can book an informal conversation with one of service design experts below.

In the next blog in this series, we share the output from this Education Think and Make series, where we’ve utilised our Service Design System to look at how we might Design a Better Education System for Our Children

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