What are countries doing that already use remote learning extensively? What can we learn from them?

Summary of report

Scope of study

  • This report provides a rapid evidence summary of the history, evolution, coverage, impact (successes and challenges) of remote learning in four countries with sustained prior experience, namely Bangladesh, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. 
    • For Bangladesh, the focus will be on the English in Action programme, specifically looking at two main components: (i) the professional development of primary and secondary school teachers through mobile learning; and (ii) an adult learning component – in this case, BBC Janala broadcasts – to teach communicative English. This programme used remote learning to improve teachers’ pedagogical skills and competency in English alongside learning in the classroom. 
    • For Singapore and South Korea, the focus will be on tech-supported remote learning to supplement classroom learning and how this prepared the countries to move to remote learning in response to Covid-19.
    • For the United States, the focus will be on:
      • Education television provided privately through the Sesame Workshop, which is aimed at pre-school and the early grades of primary school. It has extensive reach and a strong focus on reaching the disadvantaged, and covers education and psychosocial support.
      • Virtual charter schools: there are 500 virtual schools enrolling around 300,000 students in the virtual K-12 school sector in the USA.
  • The literature used is largely ‘grey’, including policy documentation at national level, but reach and impact data is included where possible.
  • Common themes will be pulled out, including, where possible:
    • The extent to which educational content is relevant, quality-assured and linked to national curriculum, as well as how it is linked (assessment, attainment, topics covered, etc.) and how it includes recognition of education attainment (e.g. with the possibility of moving up a year once completed).
    • The extent to which content pertains to long-term sustained use of remote learning, rather than remote learning as a supplement or complement to face-to-face learning.
    • The role of the teacher (e.g. presence, mediation, interactions, monitoring, assessment).
    • The types of training and/or support given to teachers as they move from face-to-face to remote teaching.
    • The extent to which approaches address specific needs of marginalised children (e.g. language of instruction, access to technology) or those with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).
    • The extent to which approaches involve working with parents and communities to support children’s learning and to hear feedback on what is/is not working.
    • How any technological gaps and challenges have been addressed, especially for those less digitally connected. 
    • Any cost/rollout challenges.
  • Lessons learnt from these countries/initiatives that could be useful for the Covid-19 response. 

Key themes

Drawing on the case studies presented in this report, in combination with recent lessons learned from the Covid-19 response highlighted in earlier EdTech Hub reports, we see the following themes emerging: 

Collaborating across government and in public-private partnerships in order to build preparedness for a switch to remote or blended learning. The establishment of Access to Information (a2i) in the ICT Division of the Government of Bangladesh, along with the work completed under the English in Action programme over the last decade (to (i) popularise educational television content and (ii) build the capacity of state broadcasters to produce a cadre of producers and technicians) has resulted in cross-government collaboration,. This was demonstrated by the government’s rollout of education television content for students within a week of Covid-19 school closures. In South Korea, there has been strong collaboration between the government and telecommunications companies for the creation of smart learning systems and services. Meanwhile, whilst focused solely on the private sector, the US-based Sesame Workshop – similarly to Bangladesh – demonstrates the importance of education experts and media production experts working together, alongside child psychologists, to produce high-quality broadcasting of high-quality and relevant content. These examples all highlight the importance of technology experts working alongside education experts.

Investing in building national digital capacity. Sustained external or internal R&D investment may be required to build the infrastructure and capacity required for governments (at federal or state level) to be able to support the mass rollout of virtual learning. In Bangladesh, this involved a ten-year £50 million external investment in the education and media sector, as well as external investment to establish a2i. The Government of Singapore and the Government of South Korea have both prioritised investment in ICT, and specifically education technology, through a series of national plans over the last 25 years, which have enabled both countries to use remote learning quite extensively to supplement face-to-face learning. In addition, due to regular school closures as a result of heavy winter snowfall, a district in the north-eastern US had a well-developed backup online learning system that it could easily switch to in response to Covid-19. In all these examples, the switch to remote learning has been easier and quicker because the necessary digital capacity was already established and could be built upon.

Providing guidance for teachers on how to support remote learning. Singapore and South Korea have both provided guidance for teachers on remote learning. In South Korea, the MoE guidance includes its expectations of teachers, as well as advice on how to set assignments and give feedback on work. The MoE has also established a remote community of practice for teachers, ‘Teacher On’, in which teachers can exchange ideas and examples of good practice. They have also able to draw on key roles within the education system – the SMART education leads – to coordinate teacher professional development efforts during the crisis. In Singapore, a pilot approach was used before nationwide school closures, enabling the government to gather valuable feedback before ramping up the programme. In the US, the National Standards for Quality Online Learning have been created and made publicly available for teachers to access. Moving to remote or blended learning will be a new way of operating for many teachers, and requires a different approach to face-to-face teaching in a physical classroom: all these examples demonstrate the importance of providing guidance and support to teachers as they manage this transition.

Supporting parents to help their children with remote learning. In Bangladesh, a2i is planning to provide guidance to parents to help engage their children in remote learning. UNICEF is supporting Bangladesh in this and is conducting similar work in Pakistan. In the US, the Sesame Workshop provides resources on a dedicated website to support families and communities with different aspects of remote learning. In all of these cases, support for parents creates a joined-up approach to remote learning, in which parents and caregivers can reinforce the work that teachers are doing.

Negotiating lower-price (or free) internet access for educational sites from network providers to make it more affordable for families. In Bangladesh, BBC Janala negotiated with all six mobile phone networks to ensure reduced data costs for educational material. This provides a key lesson that can be applied to other countries as they roll out remote learning in response to Covid-19: reduced data costs help to manage household (and MoE) costs of educational continuity planning. This is an approach that has also been successful in Rwanda’s Covid-19 response and used by several US states or districts. 

Providing technological equipment and/or internet access for disadvantaged families to ensure continuity of learning. As part of the Covid-19 response, the government of South Korea has supported low-income families to reduce the cost of internet connectivity, as well as supporting third sector computer equipment-lending services. In the US, some districts have provided disadvantaged students with Chromebooks, while others have parked Wi-Fi-enabled buses in local communities to provide hotspots for communities without broadband.

Ensuring broadcasting presenters and content are inclusive and representative of the audience. In the US, the Sesame Workshop worked hard from the outset to promote inclusion and to have strong representation from different racial and ethnic groups, as well as from children with disabilities and other types of disadvantage. This is a particular learning point if remote learning has to be sustained for long periods and has a heavy reliance on television or radio broadcasting. The Sesame Workshop’s language and approach to inclusion have also helped to bring different people and groups together, rather than delineating “us” and “them”. This helps inform the thinking and behaviour of children, teachers and communities and provides a good practice model in discussing and responding to Covid-19 in education.

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