"Teachers rising to the challenge of a global pandemic", by Steffen Handal.
In Norway, schools and kindergartens have been closed since the middle of March. Only children whose parents have a socio-critical profession have been attending. The Government has decided that early childhood institutions will open April 20th and grade 1 - 4 one week later.
Union of Education Norway (UEN) has supported our authorities’ drastic decision to close schools and kindergartens as a measure to reduce the spread of this very contagious virus. It was important to do whatever it took to save lives and prevent the health system from collapsing.
The decision to close schools forced the teachers to change from analogue to digital teaching methods from one day to another. And that was exactly what the teachers did. They immediately took responsibility to provide the quality education to which pupils and students are entitled. In Norway, and all over the world, the teaching profession has met the challenges in a professional and ethical manner, going beyond the call of duty. We have tried to find solutions for the most vulnerable children. Children who are forced to stay home with, for instance, abusive parents or parents facing other challenges. We have also, to the best of our ability, tried to ensure that disabled children and children with learning disabilities received the help they needed. Union of Education Norway recorded a podcast where professionals discussed these challenges and where we provided advice to our members.
Our responsibilities as teachers do not cease even if schools close. As a teacher and President of Union of Education Norway (UEN), I have never been prouder of Norwegian teachers and how they have reacted to and tackled these unexpected and disruptive changes in their personal and professional lives.
The teachers adapted to the new reality in no time. Leadership and professional cooperation at school level were established immediately. Teachers from all over the country have been discussing challenges, sharing digital teaching experiences, learning methods and recommendations on digital platforms. The creativity, dedication and community spirit teachers have demonstrated are nothing short of impressive.
Union of Education Norway has encouraged our members to contribute to the best of their ability – even when they are asked to carry out duties that are not part of their normal job descriptions. We must all play our part in times of crisis. We must be flexible, but we also need to be alert.
In Norway, an enabling act was passed before Easter. The parliament is delegating power to the government for a limited period in order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic as effectively as possible. Such an act might be necessary, but we still need to be vigilant. As teachers and unionists, we must defend democracy.
Our communication with national and local authorities is currently very good. Social dialogue is institutionalised in Norway, but that does not mean that the Nordic Model cannot be challenged in times of crisis. We must, therefore, make sure that social dialogue is maintained. Our rights, wages and working conditions must be evaluated and discussed as we move forward. Nobody benefits from burned-out teachers.
The authorities must involve the teaching profession when the education system is undergoing continuous changes. They must make decisions based on professional judgement, secure quality education for all and build trust.
Building trust is imperative. We have all realised how dependent we are on each other. We need to trust the media, the authorities and each other. The parents must also trust us, the teachers, to continue providing quality education to their children. At UEN, we have also given priority to maintaining the dialogue within the organization. We have managed to keep the formal and informal contact between different levels. I am convinced that this is a prerequisite to maintaining and strengthening trust within the organization and our credibility in our external communication.
This pandemic has revealed the importance of quality public services free of charge and available for all. Health workers, police, researchers, and teachers are professionals and individuals who are making an extraordinary effort. In times of crises, we are dependent on them. And they on us.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.