Elisabeth has had a language school in Banyoles that has been in operation for 20 years. However, she says that this year has been the most difficult year of all without a doubt.
How were the first days prior to and after the restrictions?
We didn’t realise exactly how big it was at first. One of the teachers said it was very serious, but we didn’t imagine that 10 months later we’d still be immersed in it.
How did you react that Friday, March 13 when you were told you could not hold face-to-face classes?
That Friday was very chaotic, there was no clear news of how it affected extracurricular education and training companies, everything came through third parties... Unfortunately the same thing has happened with these latest restrictions, but this time we were ready for it.
That weekend it was very important to work out how to carry on then…?
Yes, it was time to think about how to adapt to stay afloat and, thanks to the fact that I have young children with much better technological knowledge than mine and who are used to using social media, we decided to follow a strategy through the Google Classroom platform, creating Whatsapp groups and using videoconferencing services, such as Google Meet or Skype.... It was important to create a virtual structure similar to the face-to-face structure that exists in the school...
What problems does the school face and what are the solutions?
The technical problems, despite being there, have not stopped us working and alternatives have been offered to people who had connectivity problems. Compliance with security measures has become part of the every-day, which despite the effort it required, can now be observed properly. From the first day of restrictions teachers adapted to all the changes and this has been fundamental in keeping the school operating. As for the students, more variables came into play: some adults have been affected by overwork due to the pandemic and have had to quit, others did not want to do online classes as they prefer face-to-face; also some parents have had work problems and have had to cut down on expenses... These problems brought a new experience and forced us to integrate new teaching strategies. This past November I took a course taught by Cambridge to improve online classes and I passed this knowledge on to the whole team; it was about knowing how to optimise the infinite and high-quality online resources for teaching available to us. In fact, we are constantly recycling.
Do you think online education is here to stay?
I accidentally discovered it as a teacher due to the circumstances, but I think that the combination of face-to-face and online classes is good, because although there is real contact between the members of the group in the face-to-face class, online you have access and exposure to the latest teaching resources immediately, a different relationship between students and teacher and, interestingly, more participation by all members. Most students are very accustomed to using social media and searching online, and are very comfortable in front of a screen, so it’s never a problem; there’s also a profile of student, rather shy, who becomes closer and more receptive in front of a screen. In fact, in online class groups, the image of the teacher is closer, and if good group cohesion can be established, a complicity is created between the participants that is not the same as in face-to-face classes. After the pandemic, I believe that online education will be greatly strengthened by providing other options and alternatives.
Have you been able to count on any help from the city council, or the Catalan or state governments?
Yes, we have had help from the state and a little help from the city council. Although it’s not enough, as this pandemic has affected the enrolment of two school years and is very likely to harm a third. Now there’s help from the Catalan government for all companies that provide extracurricular activities and training. We will have to see if all this aid has been enough in the medium term, as the self-employed have suffered very significant losses and many businesses have closed down.