Student Eagerness to Learn in Reopened Islamic Schools Presents Important Growth Opportunities During Pandemic

Student Eagerness to Learn in Reopened Islamic Schools Presents Important Growth Opportunities During Pandemic

With schools open again in Ontario, there have already been numerous concerns from administrators, teachers and students alike, and those concerns have dominated discussions around schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sustaining student learning in ways that are safe has indeed added stressors to both the public and private school systems; however, some strides are being made by groups like the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) and Olive Grove School (OGS), that go beyond required safety measures. In fact, some surprising developments have emerged due to the constraints of the pandemic: particularly, student resilience, leadership and academic excellence.

In response to the shutdown back in March, MAC transferred over two thousand students to online learning. The pre-existing technological infrastructure in the school environment made this transition smooth and effective. The response was so successful that MAC was invited to present to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce on how OGS had implemented the Province’s directive.

Anticipating a re-opening in the fall at its numerous schools across the country, MAC built a framework for a healthy school environment, prioritizing both safety and exceptional instructional delivery that was accepted by provincial health authorities. Much thought has also been given by MAC to the support students would need upon returning from months of isolation. In response, OGS increased the number and accessibility of guidance counsellors available to students.

At the same time, throughout the lockdown, MAC believed that a proactive approach to emotional support was needed beyond the core subjects. Unlike other school systems, OGS increased its investment in its character education program, focusing on life skills such as emotional intelligence, facing adversity, and leadership, among other crucial concepts. Our continued emphasis on maintaining social connections for students also ensured their sense of community was not as impacted by the lockdown. Another unique priority has been community building through programs such as MAC iRise where students from Ottawa to Edmonton learned a Muslim responsibility of giving back through creative idea of helping those in need or supporting those on the frontlines during the pandemic, even while staying at home.

This three-tiered approach (character building, community building and mental wellness), has resulted in less of a need for mental health services. Students are eager to learn, excited to get back into the classroom to focus on their education while taking a lead role in classroom responsibility. With minimal class disruption, smaller class sizes in-person and online, and streamlined lesson delivery, students are excelling and displaying emotional resilience in ways that exceed our expectations. They recognize and accept that our adaptations will just be part of their lives and studies for the time being. They are doing their best and the results are showing already.

Teachers and administrators report almost no disciplinary visits to the main office and an increased level of focus and achievement. Lates and absences have also decreased to almost nothing with students who are at home sick able to access their lessons online, leaving their education uninterrupted. While staff remain vigilant to issues that may crop up, it appears that so far, the constraints of the pandemic have offered space for many students to flourish in ways that more traditional educational methods do not.

Schools shouldn’t be afraid to maximize their pandemic planning and go above and beyond to keep families safe, educated and cared for. More than that, schools should know that offering a variety of flexible delivery methods and organization in each respective space can allow for different traits in our students to be nurtured. It’s the job of schools to take the challenges of the pandemic as they come, and develop unique, adaptive solutions that continue our investment in student learning, leveraging its constraints to help develop their resilience. In the past, writers and educators alike have tried to imagine what a 21st century education might look like. The pandemic has forced a series of changes that have truly set the foundation for the future of student learning, both in content and delivery. Despite the difficulties of our current moment, there are some beautiful adaptations in education that have taken place and which set a precedent for our students going forward.

Abdulatif Bakbak is the principal at the Muslim Association of Canada –Olive Grove School in Mississauga since its inception in 2006.

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