At the time of writing, many people are in various stages of physically returning to their workplace. Some months ago it wasn’t at all certain that companies would so fully embrace a return to the office, but now it is clear that they will: a recent McKinsey survey showed that 52% of executives were expecting an almost full return to the office with workers on-site four days per week or more, and nine out of ten thought that employees will be in the office at least three days per week.

It is also interesting to see how the narrative has developed in education. One has to say that schools in Switzerland have been luckier than many – and ISL has been luckier than most – in that we have continued to operate more or less normally. However, at the start of the pandemic there was talk of an outdated “industrial” educational system where children were being taught in age groups. Now, though, with students being catapulted into the modern world of individualised online learning, there is more awareness of the complexities of such a model.

We have certainly found that it is possible to teach children at a distance and for them to be successful – the IB Diploma results of our Year 13 students this year were exceptional. At the same time, we are now even more aware of the importance of a personal sense of belonging and the fact that genuine social connection becomes increasingly difficult when one is at a distance. As shown by research, and experienced by many people in organisations over the past months, a decline in the human connection that arises informally in any social group leads to issues of mental health, grief, and anxiety.

Difficult situations can, however, bring unexpected opportunities: in 2014, strikes on the London Underground led to unpredictable travel which resulted in many people taking alternative routes. A 2017 study found that the collective time gains of switching routes – some people found that the route they had been taking for years wasn’t actually the best one – outweighed the losses incurred by all commuters. The strike, though frustrating, actually ended up increasing people’s overall travel efficiency.

The frustration and difficulty of the past year might tempt us to imagine that how it was is how it should be again, and to slide back into a comfortable rut. This is particularly true because changes that seem like emergency responses will be tied to the pandemic in people’s minds and so will be expected to go away when the situation returns to normal. The situation has, however, shown us that education can change and can spark innovation in unexpected ways, just as it did for the commuters in London.

“We are clear that conventional faceto- face teaching is effective, but that it can be supplemented with innovative technologies that allow students to reach beyond the walls of the classroom.”

For example, as a community we have managed to support and maintain connections with families in long-term quarantine in ways that would have been unthinkable previously. Parent teacher consultations, rather than involving parents sprinting from one classroom to another to talk to their child’s teachers, moved successfully online. As a result, both parents were more often able to attend and so have a better connection with and understanding of their child’s learning. And at the other end of the spectrum, the school’s beloved Wacky Week, a week-long extravaganza of dressing up, games and general chaos, found a replacement in the student-led and just as enjoyable, but less directly competitive, “Homeroom Hustle”.

Looking forward, in the same way that companies are talking about employees being in the office three or four days a week rather than five, we are now thinking about a school that is similar but different. We are clear that conventional face-to-face teaching is effective, but that it can be supplemented with innovative technologies that allow students to reach beyond the walls of the classroom. We are more comfortable working with people or groups around the world to explore issues of common interest. As a result, for the first time, an alumnus – based in London – will join our governing Board. We also see that the time is right to reflect on our taught curriculum, particularly as the world struggles to fight misinformation, discrimination, inequality, and the denial of scientific knowledge.

“The situation has, however, shown us that education can change and can spark innovation in unexpected ways. “

Fundamentally we see that education cannot thrive without genuine human relationships. Given that our vision of education at ISL culminates with young people having the knowledge, skills and disposition to bring about positive change, I will leave the last word to UNESCO’s International Commission on the Futures of Education. They write in their paper Education in a Post-COVID World: Nine Ideas for Public Action that “Not only do we have to reshape schools and the supports we provide them with so that students can resume their learning in classrooms and return to school activities as soon as possible, we also need to think in the medium term so that this extraordinary situation young people have experienced becomes an opportunity for learning how to meet the challenges of our time, an opportunity to restore trust in institutions, and an opportunity to enact intergenerational justice.”

Our education has changed in subtle but important ways as a result of the pandemic. The challenge will be to keep changing.

Gradient Issue #2: The magazine of the International School of Lausanne

In this edition, we explore how our community has coped during this special year to make the best of it. We have a special section on multilingualism and how it can both benefit and challenge our students. Caroline Leenders our Head of Alumni Relations, explains how alumni and students managed to meet despite the pandemic.