Lessons learned from COVID-19

By Greg Whitby, 25 March 2020
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

We recently saw Australia’s first school closures as a result of the spread of COVID-19. As a result, I’ve had the chance to see the incredible way our communities are working together to respond to this crisis. Here’s what I think we can learn from COVID-19.

Health and safety must always be our priority. I want to reassure parents and carers that your children’s teachers are so very aware of this. This means that they are proactively sharing sensible information about hygiene, hand-washing and staying at home when unwell. In some cases, this includes students and staff ‘unlearning’ to shake hands!

Our communities are so connected. The ‘contact and containment’ strategy led by NSW Health to limit the spread of COVID-19 looks really closely at the people who have been diagnosed and who they’ve been in contact with. This means looking at timetables in schools, friendship groups and extra-curricular activities too. Schools have stepped up to support this work based on the best advice from communicable disease experts.

We also saw the potential of online learning realised as education systems scrambled to be ready for students to self-isolate at home either as a precaution or a necessity. It’s a reminder that there is so much more we could be doing to make the most of the opportunities technology presents in learning, including to bring the classroom to the lounge room.

Different schools have different systems, technologies and capabilities in this regard. Of course, different approaches are appropriate based on the age and stage of students too. At St Patrick’s Marist College Dundas where two students contracted COVID-19, the school was already using Google Classroom. This meant that students who needed to take some time off could continue their learning in a way they were used to.

We educators like to talk about teachable moments, the chance to turn everything into a learning opportunity. I guess we’ve all learned how seriously many people in our community feel about toilet paper. More importantly, I’ve learnt how strong we can be when we remain calm and work together to protect vulnerable people in our community.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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