Maslow Before Bloom: Educators Need to Meet Learners’ Basic Needs in Time of Pandemic

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Apr 27, 2020
by Louise Hallman
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Maslow Before Bloom: Educators Need to Meet Learners’ Basic Needs in Time of Pandemic

Teachers are being called on to do more than just teach during the Coronavirus crisis Photo: Element 5/Unsplash

While long-held by some educators, the maxim “Maslow before Bloom” has never been more relevant than now, in the midst of the global novel Coronavirus pandemic.

More than 95% of children have had their learning disrupted due to the pandemic, with over 180 countries closing schools. As Vishal Talreja, co-founder and trustee of Dream A Dream explained during the opening keynote of Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined, a two-day online convening hosted by WISE and Salzburg Global Seminar, it is not only their education that has been disrupted, but for many children being out of school has also meant the loss of their sense of routine and community and, in the case of the most vulnerable children, access to nutrition and a safe environment away from an abusive home. 

Before delivering Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of learning – remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating – educators must thus first ensure that their students’ basic needs are met, as best exemplified in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: starting with physiological and safety needs through to social belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization.

The virtual conference – the first in a new series that the two organizations are co-convening – saw participation of over 40 expert speakers and thousands more teachers, administrators, researchers and education advocates around the world to explore how education leaders on the frontlines are managing this unprecedented disruption. 

The country-wide lockdown in India has resulted in many children not only out of school but also acting as carers and emotional stabilizers for their younger siblings, explained Talreja, speaking via Zoom and livestreaming to both YouTube and Facebook. Many fear the possibility of their parents’ death while enduring lockdown in small, overcrowded homes and neighborhoods that make social distancing nigh on impossible. With many parents out of work and with little savings, few are able to afford neither the school fees nor the electricity needed to power mobile phones for continued online access to education – to mention nothing of the food to feed their families.

Deborah Kimathi, executive director of Dignitas in Kenya, reiterated this point: many children in the informal settlements that ring Nairobi rely on school for food, protection and many other aspects of their wellbeing. 

Supporting such families has thus become a priority for many organizations in the education sector as the world faces this unparalleled crisis. 

In South Africa, education nonprofit Symphonia used the partnerships made through its Partners for Possibilities program to connect local businesses with the necessary resources to supply school communities with much-needed food supplies. Similarly, Azad Oomen, co-founder of Global School Leaders, has been encouraging their partner schools to first address the basic needs of their school communities by reaching out directly to parents before working out what educational resources will be needed to continue to deliver education. They too are then working with local business and partners to fulfill basic needs such as providing food.

In countries where national and regional governments are in the position to support citizens, school leaders are best-placed to know, understand and address their school communities’ needs, reiterated Deborah Netolicky of St Mark’s Anglican Community School in Western Australia. 

Beyond helping to meet the basic physiological needs of their students through the provision of nutrition, the pandemic has highlighted the need to address the need for personal and emotional security and well-being – and schools’ roles in providing such. 

Throughout the five parts of the two-day conference, the importance of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) was repeated highlighted. Improving the social and emotional skills of learners of all ages will not only help them thrive in the 21st century workplace – which increasingly values the “4 Cs” of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity – but would also help address students’ immediate needs of safety and security by improving their resilience and helping reduce their stress. 

Indeed, SEL is important not only for students, but also their families, and teachers and education administrators themselves. 

No one yet knows when this crisis will fully abate such that schools can reopen. At-home and online learning may well be a reality for the rest of this academic year and even into the next. Ensuring that the basic needs of children can be met in the interim will mean that all children are in a better position to learn – and hopefully thrive – during this prolonged pandemic.