Liget Műhely Alapítvány had its first CO-MAP multiplier event in February, 2022. 13 institutions were represented: nine schools, an NGO with an after-school support programme, a fine art university and the organizing foundation.
After arrival and registration, the meeting started with an ice-breaker activity. Participants were given a BINGO sheet with the instruction: Find someone who… Various funny and serious statements followed, from “had put on weight during the online schooling” to “sometimes spent more than 12 hours a day in front of a computer. All the statements were somehow connected to COVID. The participants walked around, talking to each other, learning each other’s names and having a good laugh.
This activity was followed by a presentation on the COMAP-project and then a summary of the country reports and the senior school leaders’ perceptions were highlighted. Comparisons to the Hungarian situation were pointed out and participants were asked to comment. Several questions regarding the overall project and the country reports were raised by the participants.
A lively discussion in world café format was the next activity. Participants sat in small groups, and one person was appointed to be the table host in each group. This person also had the responsibility of taking notes. The facilitator asked three questions and after each question the participants had 20 minutes to discuss. After each round the people moved to a new table, leaving only the table host sitting in the same place. This meant that almost everybody could talk to everybody else.
The questions were the following:
- What is your most prominent experience with regard to Covid-19?
- What was the most difficult for you professionally during the online schooling?
- Did you learn or use something new during the online schooling that you would like to keep on the long run?
Most teachers pointed out the stress caused by separation as one of their most prominent lockdown experiences. They missed children, each other, and children missed them, too. The lack of face-to-face interaction took its psychological tolls on teachers and children alike. Apart from the perceived loneliness the other salient feature of the lockdowns was the need of constant availability and the consequent collapse of the daily routines of educational workers. This was especially true amongst those who worked in schools in the more deprived areas of the country. Teachers literally worked from early morning to late in the evening, as many children had problems accessing a smart device in order to participate in digital education. The temporal aspect of satisfying children’s needs during this time put great pressure on educational workers. Even if they attempted to redistribute assignments in the forms of weekly or monthly homework and exclusively teach the main subjects in online classes, pressure remained significant. The only thing that could ease this to some extent was co-operating with parents: where good communication could be maintained, teachers, parents and children could manage to work together as a community making these hard times easier to endure.
Perhaps the biggest professional obstacle for participants was the transition from offline education to digital educational formats. The abundance of platforms combined with the shortage of available devices to pupils made initial endeavours somewhat chaotic. According to teachers the myth of digital natives did not seem plausible as most children were not at all ready to participate in online education adequately. Many children were reported to be unable to properly conduct a simple desk research or solve technical problems. Although some subjects were proven to be easier to teach online, many activities would have really required the face-to-face contact of teachers and students: for example, many students did not know how to write certain letters. A further interesting experience was ‘the bad mouthing’ of teachers by the wider public and accusing them of ‘not working’ and ‘not doing anything’ as ‘schools are not open’. This, combined with the obvious excess of educational and administrative tasks required of teachers led to even more stress.
Although neither the participants nor the pupils want to return to digital education, some of the online practices prevailed. Most platforms are still used as storage spaces where notes, videos and other educational materials can be shared, either with parents (enabling them to monitor the progress of their children more closely) or with students who missed a day or two from school due to illness or any other reason. The participants also use online platforms to maintain a closer relationship with parents regarding the child’s educational issues, or other organizational matters.
The lunch break was followed by the workshop of two young artists. First, they showed the participants ten abstract paintings and asked them to raise their right hand if looking at the painting created positive feeling in them and their left hand if it created negative feelings. This was repeated after each painting. Then all ten paintings were shown and participants were asked to explain what motivated them in raising their left or right hand. Colours, forms, lights, arrangements were mentioned. The artists explained that it was important to acknowledge these, as they were going to create their own abstract works of art and it is good to understand how our emotions work when visually stimulated.
Participants were given old magazines from the 1970s and contemporary ones, colour paper, markers, scissors and glue. First, they worked individually, finding and cutting out headlines and pictures that they could connect to their own positive and negative experiences during Covid-19. Then they formed three groups and the individual fragments were later worked into three posters, with a drawings and words added. One spokesperson for each group presented each poster to all.
In the end the artists surprised all participants with a hand-made paper-flower and asked them to say a word or sentence that best sums up how they enjoyed the workshop.
Participants expressed their wish to meet soon and to have such lively, face-to-face professional discussions again. They felt inspired and were happy that they could share their worries and past experiences.