Eleven theses for a counter-isolation pedagogy

By the Pansophia Project: María Eugenia Arias, Mayra Botta, Delfina Campetella, María Laura Carrasco, Cristina Carriego, Agustina Lenzi, Mariano Narodowski, Emiliano Pereiro and Gustavo Romero

In these confusing and uncertain times due to forced homeschooling, authors from the Pansophia Project propose that we pause and reflect on this new reality before deciding on the best way to move forward to preserve key educational gains. Eleven theses on pedagogy are presented here to provide food for thought as we navigate the current COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Digital culture can breed a false sense of security
If COVID-19 had been unleashed just 20 years ago, even the most fortunate of us would have had to rely on radios, cable TV, dial-up internet access and flip cell phones. No digital platforms, social networks, video calls and no streaming services were yet available.

What would have happened to schooling? We would have had to accept that months of education would be lost, while we planned for the return of children to their classrooms.

Today’s digital culture could lull us into thinking that we are going to lose less or lose nothing at all. After all, we have mobilized technology to keep schooling going, right? But in fact, maybe we need to pause and reflect as we design a counter-isolation pedagogy for today and for similar shocks in the future.

2. Pedagogy is the opposite of isolation
Modern pedagogy aims to educate as many children and young people in the best possible way: in school. Pedagogy is, therefore, the opposite of isolation. Its tools rely on an encounter between teacher and student in a school – a non-transferable and unique encounter that is structured around knowledge.


3. A house is not a school
Houses are nothing like schools. A school is a complex organization led by specialized teachers who earn their wages from their work. Schools are spaces where students must go to learn a body of knowledge common to them all. They are state-regulated and, mostly, state-funded. Schools are part of the public sphere, and an integral part of what unites us as a community.

Schools may even provide the care, control and affection that may be missing at home. Even so, nobody is paid to be part of a household, and households themselves are only ‘regulated’ in extreme circumstances, such as during quarantine.

4. Confinement isn’t ‘normal’
Learning at home does not mirror learning in a classroom. Faced with a lockdown, our initial response was focused on performance and efficiency. Initial bewilderment became hyperactivity and then exhaustion as we tried to impose a sense of ‘normalcy’ on a situation that was anything but.

No one was prepared for such an abrupt change: most schools lacked the technological capacity and few parents were prepared to teach their children fulltime, in a formal manner and by themselves. The image of a home equipped with the materials and resources of a school has been accurate for only a tiny fraction of the world’s households – if that.

5. Lockdown deepens inequalities that schools have not been able to resolve
Schools provide the greatest potential for equity in human history: populations that were excluded from knowledge for millennia now have access to learning. Yet schools have failed to reach everyone and the access to knowledge they provide is not immune to broader processes of segregation and inequality.

While some resources for distance learning are available for free, socioeconomic conditions reinforce existing disparities – for many, even free resources are unattainable. And of course, the economic impact of lockdown harms children and teenagers from the most vulnerable groups, whose health and food deficits have increased, reducing their chances of continuing their education.

These inequalities are not erased by lockdown: they just become deeper. Available data shows that a lack of internet connection and technology leaves most students worldwide unable to ‘virtualize.’ And those who have connectivity may find it hard to interact with their teachers via cell phone.

The social distribution of technology will remain unfair as long as network access remains limited to teach and learn. And something that has been denied will become only too clear: students do not abandon schools but schools abandon students when we do not give them a realistic alternative.

6. Remote teaching is not equal to moving the school to the teacher’s house.
Remote teaching means relying on information and communication technologies (ICTs), and adapting the teacher’s work implies a profound transformation. The means change, but so does the nature of the education itself, which abandons face-to-face interaction, is provided remotely and requires major modifications.

Structured and planned remote teaching usually requires changes in content and even the actors involved, with greater reliance on the support of tutors or counselors to monitor each student. In theory, it demands careful, systematic and predictable design and planning. That, in turn, typically entails time-consuming preparation of specific materials from didactic guides to evaluation tools and the division of teaching functions into different roles, such as content specialists and virtual design experts who are paid specifically for the design of remote classrooms and lessons.

In lockdown, however, the opposite is happening: teachers add all the different roles required for remote teaching to their school responsibilities – and all for the same price. The rapid and immediate virtualization of teaching carries a high cost, and teachers, parents and learners pay for it.

Rather than a systematic approach to remote learning, what we have is a kind of emergency remote schooling. That is not enough.

7. Technology is an aid, not a solution
There is a belief that for every problem there is probably a technological solution. This technological solutionism is foolish when it fails to answer the biggest question: can technology solve the educational issues posed by lockdown? It is clear that the technology at home is no substitute for the technology that is available in some schools. But just as important as the technical limitations are the didactic limitations: re-opening the debate between the defenders of traditional schools and the ‘techno-fundamentalists’ who advocate for the replacement of school technology with artificial intelligence.

This fascination with technology is an obstacle if we expect it to achieve the same results as schools during lockdown. Better to move forward with tools that foster innovation, making sure that all teachers and families have devices and connectivity.

8. Create educational continuity in other ways
It is time to adapt our expectations to the new reality, allowing ourselves more flexibility, and selecting content, activities, care, quantities and qualities in a smart and measured way. Schools resolved the challenges of catering for students of different ages and educational levels two centuries ago. But without schools, the solutions – classrooms, breaks, timetables and tests – become illusions. And the younger the student, the greater their reliance on adults and the lower their chances of learning without depending on a school. Trying to replicate a school schedule during lockdown is also unlikely to succeed.

Some teachers use more complex platforms and could impose a schedule similar to the one in school if families have the economic, housing, technological and cultural conditions to go along with it – i.e. the smallest and richest sector of the population. Perhaps lockdown entails testing options that will enhance the educational experience once it ends. But even in the best-case scenario, there is no certainty that the digital model will work as well as the school model.

9. Go back to basics – time to prioritize
Social isolation forces us to detach ourselves from the school timetable and re-think teaching: what are we going to do and how are we going to do it once we reject the idea of doing for the sake of doing?

Prioritizing content and experience seems less ambitious, yet more realistic than trying to force continuity for something that is no longer there. Prioritizing means building relevant criteria for disciplines, contents and knowledge, but also for the bond with and among students. Prioritization criteria should be the foundation for every decision and should be filtered by the question: why? The schoolteacher is only one type of teacher, and maybe this forced exile encourages us to question the meaning of what we do.

Perhaps the first priority should be dealing with the socio-emotional situation of our students and of ourselves: the context cannot be ignored, and pedagogical continuity requires ongoing reflection from teachers that cannot be paused due to confinement.

Prioritizing is the bedrock of building a counter-isolation pedagogy. It means establishing deep feelings that connect us through knowledge and encounters that, while remote and mediated, allow us to reconstruct the pedagogical relationship that is missing.

10. Build a flexible, realistic and pansophic project
Perceiving the sound of a person’s voice, their writing and even their image on a screen, but without experiencing the actual presence and gaze of the other is a challenge. This pretense that things are somehow the same must give way to a realistic approach that allows the continuation of educating in the context of lockdown.

We lack a play book for this – not because governments, international organizations, and specialists have become silent, but because nobody has instructions to give. Once again, no one taught the teachers, and teachers themselves are having to figure it out. Acknowledging uncertainty is the first step to avoid hyperactivity that rings hollow or the anguished “nothing can be done” paralysis.

Moving forward, it is essential to map out the situation, creating a realistic diagram of the contingency of social isolation conditions that can adapt to the variations that we are facing. It needs to be pansophic enough – in other words, an approach that ensures that all human knowledge is equally accessible to all human beings, despite socio-economic and other such barriers – to enable a counter-isolation pedagogy through which we can maintain opening the paths of education for ourselves and others, even during lockdown.

11. When experience is not enough, we need to draw on the present
There are no magic recipes for the new. Counter-isolation pedagogy needs to consider everything that needs to be thought about and done, but not just anything. Having no prior experience with confinement and school closures on this massive global scale, we need to draw and reflect on the lessons we are learning now as we navigate the challenges in the present. After all, education itself is the possibility of thought. And thought is the virus we all need to catch.