Back to school in 2020

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July is normally one of the busiest times at schools. Children – whether three or 18, would have reached the end of another school year,with all that that entails. There would be books to return, items of uniform to find or return and friendships to revisit. For parents, school reports may be a source of pride – or a trigger for a serious conversation on the importance of application. For teachers, classrooms would need to be emptied, display boards taken down, reports written and planning would have started for a new educational year. For many – teachers, students and parents – the summer holidays are an opportunity to recharge batteries, see somewhere new or – for expatriates – a chance to go ‘home’ to see families and friends. This year as with so many other things – has of course been a year like no other – and planning for a return to school is probably best described as problematic.

Any return to school is going to have to simultaneously satisfy a number of different stakeholders: students (who ultimately may be the easiest group);parents (who need to juggle a work/life balance at the same time as trying to ensure schools are as safe as possible for their children); teachers (who may have significant concerns over their own safety as well as questions about what a ‘blended’ curriculum looks like); school management (who will be keen to ensure working practices protect staff, parents and children while also understanding the implications of change in finances); support staff (including drivers, cleaners, ground staff and others who suddenly find that their roles are more critical than was thought and whose actions are suddenly under much more scrutiny); and the regulators (who have to balance the needs of all stakeholders, including ensuring the young people under their aegis get the skills development they need). Clearly, this will be easier said than done!

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Over the last three months, Keypoint has been running a series of discussions on leading practice for human resources practitioners which have looked at a number of different aspects of the current economic situation. We have discussed the impact of COVID-19 on different economic sectors, including schools and the educational sector; the ramifications of returning to work; and business sustainability in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. The learnings from these discussions are as applicable to schools and their stakeholders – as they are to other organisations. When discussing responses to COVID-19, we identified five elements of leading practice:employee wellness (mental as well as physical); effective communication; alternative work arrangements; digitalisation; and business continuity.

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When discussing the implications of returning to work, the importance of flexibility (and understanding that different people are going to react to different situations in different ways);risk awareness; the reconfiguration of physical space; the importance of discovering, enhancing and embracing virtual solutions; and understanding that leading practice is not written in stone should all chime with key decision makers in the educational sector. Any return to school will – as pointed out above – need to address all of these factors according to the needs of many different – and perhaps conflicting -stakeholders.

The announcement from Bahrain’s Ministry of Education, which includes blended learning and a limit of nine children to a classroom at any one time,underline the importance of the leading practice we have seen. Only one thing is for certain: there will be a lot of changes – no matter what the format!

Arpita Mhatre

Arpita Mhatre heads Keypoint’s human capital function. A long-term resident of Bahrain, she has a deep and abiding interest in a wide variety of human capital themes, including strategic reorganisations, psychometric assessments and executive recruitment. Arpita is available at arpita.mhatre@keypoint.com or www.linkedin.com/in/arpitamhatre/

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