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A series of blogs on how the enforced coronavirus quarantine is affecting both students and staff, and how GCSEPod is helping educate and motivate children and teachers alike during the crisis and beyond.

Jody Lee Parker is head of secondary school and co-interim director at The International School in Genoa, Italy. With the country in lockdown since March 10, she explains in the first of a series of blogs, how the enforced coronavirus quarantine is affecting both students and staff, and why she is introducing the UK-based GCSEPod learning platform to help educate and motivate children and teachers alike during the crisis and beyond.

“It is not reasonable, or feasible, for us to provide a normal level of schooling during this most challenging of times. We are sailing through unchartered waters. But GCSEPod has an established track record in not only engaging students through its bespoke online video content, but giving them an inclusive learning experience.”

Going into lockdown…

It was last Christmas that our director left.

With his replacement not due to take up his post until August this year, our primary school principal and I have taken on the jobs of joint interim directors.
I can remember saying all those months ago, ‘please don’t let anything bad happen between now and August.’

I’m not sure what I meant by ‘bad.’ Probably the school burning down, a slew of bad exam results, or the mass resignation of my teaching staff.

Never in my wildest nightmares could I have foreseen a pandemic sweeping across the globe that would see my adopted country forced into lockdown as it battled a new highly contagious and potentially lethal disease.

In hindsight, the worst of the ‘bad’ scenarios that went through my mind a few short months ago – although it seems like years now – would have been preferable to the reality Italy now finds itself in.

Few could have imagined when news first filtered out from China in January that an invidious flu-like virus was claiming the lives of its citizens, that by March we too would be in its grip.

But in early March all our lives changed drastically. First it was Northern Italy, where I live, that was put in lockdown, closing all schools and universities.

Within a matter of days, this had been extended to the whole country.

It is now nine years since I moved to the port city of Genoa in Liguria to take up the post of history teacher at the city’s International School.

I had been working as a teacher in Romford, Essex, when I decided it was time to spread my wings. I had heard of the International Schools, applied for a job, and was lucky enough to end up here in Genoa.

With its narrow medieval streets and access to good beaches and the stunning Italian Riviera, Genoa is a popular location for second homeowners, especially well-off Milanese. Milan is only a 90-minute drive away, and as soon as word spread that Italy was going into lockdown, many Milanese decided to weather the storm here on the coast.

It helped spread the virus – one of the reasons Genoa has been so badly affected.

Overnight, all our lives changed radically. Education has now become a virtual experience combined with directed learning via Google Classroom; the school room apartments scattered across the city where teachers, children and their parents desperately try to maintain some semblance of normality in what is anything but an ordinary time.

Everyone, from the teachers to the students and their parents, are now really struggling, however.

Because the normalities of daily life have been so disrupted, my staff are responding to emails 24 hours a day. They feel they are constantly on call, that their private and work lives are no longer separate.

We had requests from parents to increase the live contact. The teachers agreed as many of our students weren’t keeping up with their work.

We have been careful to keep things simple and consistent, but a major problem has been maintaining student engagement during live lessons, especially filling the inevitable voids as the children work at different speeds. Teachers are also struggling to find appropriate resources and create lessons that are instructive.

Why I chose to introduce GCSEPod

I decided it was time to take a more pastoral approach, especially with our older students; to remove the onus on our teachers to be continually creative in what is an alien situation, and to find a way they could effectively monitor students’ progress, their level of understanding, and quickly and easily fill any knowledge gaps.

It’s why we are set to introduce GCSEPod into our arsenal of learning tools.

It is not reasonable, or feasible, for us to provide a normal level of schooling during this most challenging of times. We are sailing through unchartered waters. But GCSEPod has an established track record in not only engaging students through its bespoke online video content, but giving them an inclusive learning experience.

There is a greater need now than ever to make education as fun as possible. GCSEPod specialises in producing compelling three to five minute learning videos written by experts in their field. And because the content is available anytime on a variety of internet-based platforms, it promises to be an ideal solution for our older students in this extremely unusual non-school study time.

Faced with having to react quickly to the present situation, there are many things that have impressed me about GCSEPod ahead of us rolling it out: its broad curriculum, simplicity of use, the speed with which it can be set up for staff and student use, the real-time assessments, the tracking and monitoring of both teacher and student activity, and the ease with which work can be assigned remotely.

The proof, as the idiom goes, will be in the pudding. But as a proven independent learning tool that is geared towards remote working, I am looking forward to charting our progress until normality returns.

We are currently home to 357 students of 35 different nationalities.

We are the only school in Liguria that offers a complete international education in the English language for students from three to 18, leading to both the achievement of the ISG Diploma and the IB Diploma, which is equivalent to A-levels in England.

Around 80% of our students are Italian, with the other 20% being the children of international business owners, embassy staff or people who work for the many cruise ship companies based here in Genoa.

We have 40 students in Years 9 and 10, which is the equivalent to Years 10 and 11 in the UK. They don’t take the GCSE final exams, but we follow much of the same syllabus.

My concerns haven’t just been scholastic, however. I feel responsible for the morale and wellbeing of my teachers and students.

Many of my staff aren’t from Italy, are young, don’t speak the language, are living on their own, and are finding the lockdown very isolating. We have been trying to keep a virtual social life going, but it is difficult to relax when your work and private lives have melded into one.

I am worried about the children’s mental health too. Some have parents who work in the medical field, are having to spend many hours on their own, and are at a higher risk of catching the virus as it’s more likely to be brought into their home.

I have also spent countless hours on the phone talking to parents wrestling to cope with schoolwork, holding a job down, and running the home. Their role is crucial to the success of home-schooling, but they are not teachers.

There are days when I struggle, when I wonder how life came to this. And like everyone, I hope we soon emerge from this crisis. It is, to say the least, the strangest of times, but one I hope GCSEPod will over the coming weeks and months help to make that little bit easier for everyone to bear.

I hope GCSEPod will over the coming weeks and months help to make that little bit easier for everyone to bear.

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“I can’t speak highly enough about how helpful the GCSEPod team were throughout the whole process. Most importantly, teachers and students have found the resources relevant, excellent, and easy to use.” 
Ian Lee, Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, China

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