What more can the education sector do to support pupils’ post pandemic?

The pandemic has put pressure on young people like never before with the latest figures from the Centre for Mental Health showing that one in six school-aged children has a mental health problem (2020) up from one in ten in 2017. 

According to the charity Mind, 59% of young people said they would enjoy school, college or University more once restrictions ease but want more information about mental health in school, college, University and work. These figures really shine a light on some of the issues that have been thrown up over the past 18 months and the hidden cost of the pandemic on our young people.  

As we start to return to a sort of normality, mental wellbeing and the way that young people learn post pandemic, are issues that the whole education system needs to tackle now – from schools right up to further education colleges.  It is my belief that the two are interlinked and that schools and colleges can do so much more to support children and young people to cope with the pressures of juggling college life and home life adequately.  The relationship with education needs resetting and space given to students and pupils  to discuss problems and issues easily not only in terms of education but also in terms of mental health support. So how can this be done? 

Service Design

The first step for any school, college or University lies in working to identify areas of need and then spending time planning and arranging what they believe they could do better. If education leaders truly want to provide strong support to all their communities – pupils, teachers and parents – then a clear pathway that sets out how to improve communication is key. For me, that path can be mapped out using service design techniques which require strategic thinking, looking at a school or college’s existing capabilities and where they could be improved. Throughout the process, current apparent needs but also future long-term benefits of hearing, understanding and responding to these needs in diverse ways need bearing in mind.

By identifying what may be lacking in their provision and building on what worked well they can create a road map towards a more holistic provision.

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Small steps

Being away from online learning and back to face to face learning with the relaxing of some of the worst of the pandemic restrictions and bubbles is an important step back to normality. It is up to schools, colleges and Universities to now need to identify their greatest areas of need and take small steps to get to where they want to be. For most, it is an opportunity to step beyond the current systems into a more connected world that is more communicative and uses technology to improve interaction between a variety of different users.

Technology is a great enabler and if used correctly can transform a college or workplace. This has been proven in the greater level of engagement and for some, successful personal outcomes using Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom as a vehicle for teaching and learning. However, there has been a lesser focus on comparable solutions for engaging on wellbeing needs, assessing sentiment about situations and providing information for pupils to self-help. This could be as simple as capturing mood level or indication of fulfilment or engagement via the types of digital capture points we are all familiar with from shopping experiences or even public services. Machine learning solutions such as www.sinequa.com can help here. The key factor is though, how is this data brought together, meaningful insight achieved and then appropriate interventions applied.

Building a community

There is often a lot more that an education community can do to make sure that their communication channels are fit for purpose. It may be that a school or college will want to build on their digital capability to offer new community platforms for engagement, be it to staff, parents, pupils or stakeholders. There are many good platforms in this space, but www.civilspace.io and www.delib.net/citizen_space are both great examples. Whatever method of engagement is chosen, it needs to be integrated in with any other changes and ways of working. It also needs to be wise to the fact that most of the users will have far more sophisticated methods of communicating outside of college via social media messaging and gaming platforms so it will have to compete with those.

The future of education

How young people learn is now at a critical point in terms of how it moves forward over the next few years. If colleges are to truly provide comprehensive support to pupils and staff, not only for their educational needs but for more structured support for mental health and stress related issues, then they can harness technology in a strategic way to bring about great change. It won’t be immediate but the opportunities have never been greater.