By Catherine Whitaker, CEO and Head of Learning, EtonX
As we head into a second COVID summer, there have been calls here in the UK for the holidays to be used as catch up time to compensate for closures this year and last. The government has announced a recovery package which includes provision for summer schools for secondary pupils together with a national tutoring scheme.
While no one doubts that education has been disrupted, talk of using summer for catch up has made me think of the benefits and downsides of the summer break and what it is best used for.
Long before COVID came along and disrupted learning, educators have been worried about the ‘summer slide’. With students out of education for between 6 weeks and 3 months depending on where they live, there has been a debate over the impact of the long break on learning and possible regression.
I listened recently to an episode of Radio 4’s Positive Thinking first broadcast last summer which debated the merits of a US scheme to even out breaks throughout the year. One contributor counter argued for longer breaks in the UK to encourage the broader learning that the summer can allow for: field trips, outdoor learning, more time for creative activities and sport – but on the condition that these opportunities were available for all and not just well-off families.
School closures and restrictions in place during holiday times over the last year mean that our children have missed out on these extra-curricular opportunities too. Study exchanges and summer camps in other countries look set to be cancelled for a second summer running. Students are missing out on the opportunity to experience other cultures and improve their foreign language skills
As with other forms of live learning, technology can help provide an alternative. Last year EtonX ran an online summer school providing intensive versions of our Future Skills courses. Students from 42 different countries took part. Each course has a maximum of 8 students in a study group who meet for a class in our virtual classroom with one of our tutors. The small group size and the intensive nature of the course with classes each day and the opportunity for peer learning between classes meant that students really got to know each other.
We had some wonderfully international groups – the only limitation on joining is that students have to be able to attend classes at the same time. Still, we were regularly able to join up students from three continents in a cohort. Our most committed student was a boy from Mozambique who signed up for all 8 available courses and in the process studied with students from Australia, Japan, Nigeria Romania, the UAE, the UK and Vietnam amongst others.
While the main purpose of the courses was to develop students’ skills such as Critical Thinking, Creative Problem Solving and Entrepreneurship, in the final feedback students overwhelmingly said the best thing about the course was meeting and working with other students in class.
I loved the interactive sessions and discussing ideas with my peers and tutors, and I gained insight into many different perspectives and got to use my new skills to challenge their points.
Catrin, Critical Thinking Student
This year, we hope to achieve the same results with our summer school launching in June. When we planned this year’s offer we had no idea that foreign trips, camps and other programmes would once again be cancelled in summer 2021 but we know that we can offer some of the same benefits through our approach to global education.
The EtonX 2021 summer school launches on 21st June and includes five new University Preparation courses as well as six Future Skills courses. Find out more here.