How to re-imagine learning in the wake of Covid-19

Last week the EdTech Hub, #NextGenEdu, and Education Development Trust convened experts, policymakers, and implementers to discuss their visions for a reimagined approach to learning in the wake of coronavirus. 

The invited speakers were:

During a lively online discussion, we asked panellists and audience members “What must any government response to reopening schools include?” The answers were enlightening and sparked plenty of debate. 

If you have an hour to spare, you can watch the event online. If you would prefer to read something, check out our new report with Education Development Trust looking into international plans for schools reopening

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

1. Community engagement must come first

Whether it is for relaying public health messages, identifying the most marginalised, collecting data, or delivering lessons, the importance of community engagement can not be overstated. Evidence shows children are unlikely to learn anything at home without the support of an adult or older sibling. In times of lockdowns, those directly in the community are likely to be the only ones with the ability to directly reach children. 

2. The more you use data, the better decisions you make

Reliable data is an essential tool when deciding which modes of learning to pursue. You have to know which teachers are available, which NGOs are working where; you need to know about electricity, internet, and devices. All this information is vital in designing an effective learning plan. It is important to collect data across the nation, including specific marginalised groups’ such as girls and rural communities. All decisions should be data-driven.

3. Measure learning outcomes, not attendance 

The global learning crisis existed before COVID-19. In some many countries, as many as 89% of ten-year-olds cannot read a simple text. Focus on measurement has traditionally been on access to education but as Honourable Minister Chowdhury said: “Attendance is not enough, we must make sure students are learning.” It’s important to use assessments and data to check that children are learning, and adapt teaching where necessary. 

4. Relentlessly focus on the most marginalised

What would the world look like in ten years if we could give the most economically disadvantaged the best education? 

During school closures, the risk of the most marginalised falling further behind is exacerbated. Governments must explicitly integrate the learning of the most marginalised groups into their school reopening plans. 

5. Focus on child-centred learning

As Sonam Wangchuk said:  “As things go back to normal we must make sure schools do not go back to normal.” The internet is good at providing lectures; schools can focus on providing what the internet is less good at – engaging, supporting, challenging, and motivating children. 

6. Try flipping things around

Tony McAleavy, from Education Development Trust, suggested during the session that “instead of 75 students in a classroom for 5 days a week, we try 15 students for one day.” This ‘flipped model’ could allow more personal student-teacher interaction time with a higher level of feedback and guidance. We know students learn little without diagnostic assessment followed by tailored instruction. 

But what about the time spent away from school? Focusing on community-supported level learning (rather than home-level learning) raises hopes for more equitable distance learning. For example, radio broadcasting could be used for a neighbourhood small group of students with a literate community facilitator. 

7. “Equip the teachers with tools and training and recognise their value.”

Current school closures have re-confirmed the value of teachers to parents the world over. It is critical that this recognition is not lost and teachers are supported to execute their vital role as educators of future generations. This means providing them with ongoing professional development opportunities, including equipping teachers with specific skills like the ability to use technology to deliver child-centred pedagogy. At the same time, teachers must be engaged in decisions about the nature of the professional development they require and be provided with the chance to take ownership of their careers and learning. 

8. Build resilience with multiple modes

Wambura Kimunyu, CEO of Eneza Education, said: “I must emphasize the need for an ecosystem; we can’t focus on one mode, we need a whole ecosystem.” Resilient education depends on more than one medium. In settings where connectivity and access are low, low or no-tech options (such as radio, TV, or small group learning) are important parts of a larger system. Determining how to integrate these different modalities is a key part of both responding to the COVID-19 school closures and integrating technology into education systems to enhance learning. See our report ‘A five-part education response to the COVID-19 pandemic’ for more on this topic.

9. Work with and support the private sector

In many countries, there is a thriving private sector; growing numbers of public-private partnerships are responsible for the education of a large number of students. They should be offered support to focus on equity, learning outcomes, and responsible data collection and management.

Have we caught your interest? You can watch the whole webinar here.

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