Kylie Neagle discusses the opportunities and lessons Covid has taught us

In 2020, we are faced with a problem that is yet to be solved - a vaccine for COVID-19 – a vaccine that would save people’s lives and grant others permission to resume their normal daily activities without the fear of infection. The majority of us could never have predicted the repercussions of such an illness – the ripple effect has been tremendous. Despite all the knowledge we have acquired since the beginning of life on earth – the current pandemic has highlighted there are still gaps – things which are unknown, and unpredictable and erratic in nature, and potentially harmful to economies and humankind. 

Knowledge (of anything) will only get you so far though. What will drive us through this event will be the team of highly skilled individuals working in collaboration to solve a problem. They need critical thinking skills, an ability to experiment and the courage to take risks. Author of Teaching for Tomorrow, Michael McQueen discusses the ideas of what the future will look like for students and the implications of AI technologies on the jobs of today, posing the question ‘what are the jobs of tomorrow?’ Although only published in 2019, so much in the world has changed and yet - McQueen’s number one take away remains as potent – that being, the importance of focussing on capability building not content delivery. 

​This period of flux has afforded us the time to reassess many aspects of our lives. As we evaluate the new role of educators in online learning environments, it is worth considering that the delivery of content, such as that to be examined, is quite linear. Unfortunately, life is not linear. Online learning can just as easily be capability building – educators have the skills and experience to pose the critical or non-Googleable question. If only we could have Googled ‘cure for COVID-19’ in March 2020!

Using works of art as a means for developing capabilities in our young people is an effective strategy that addresses multiple outcomes. Not only are works of art essential visual sources to learn about our history and peoples’ stories, works of art can be metamorphic, transforming into prompts for students to practice their visual literacy and critical and creative thinking skills. In this instance, works of art are agile, akin to the way educators in schools and cultural organisations have responded to the needs of their audience in the current climate.

The most dynamic and valuable education resources, produced by cultural organisations, are ones that are structured to empower everyone to engage with collections, whether that’s by a physical visit or by viewing collections online with the aid of the companion resource. The latter has become imperative in recent weeks as we witness many parents having to be creative educators at home while their children embark on remote learning. Increasingly parents have become less fixated on outcomes and more intent on seeing their children thrive with the creative process. By using art as a starting point, children are forging imaginative responses to works of art, using items found around the home and repurposing unwanted objects to create something new, with no defined outcome children have the freedom to exercise their critical thinking.

Like any skill, thinking critically, taking risks and problem solving requires practise. With the volume of images of works of art available online during this period of lockdown, there is really no reason children cannot continue to refine these skills, the skills which may one day be needed to invent a vaccine for a disease that doesn’t exist yet.  

Kylie is Education Officer at AGSA, a position supported by the Government of South Australia through the Department for Education, April, 2020