Tag Archives: Online learning

A view from Nairobi, Kenya: Deborah Kimithi on school closures and the pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Deborah Kimathi, the Executive Director of Dignitas, an education development organisation in Kenya.  Dignitas uses an innovative training and coaching approach to empower schools and educators in marginalized communities to transform students’ opportunities.   Deborah is also a Trustee of UK Charity Raising Futures Kenya, and Country Lead of the Kenya chapter of Regional Education Learning Initiative (RELI) which brings together more than 70 education actors from across the region.

This is the fifth in a series that includes posts from Chile,  from Japanfrom the Netherlands and from Scotland.  The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

IEN: What’s happening with you and your family?

Deborah Kimathi: Kenya announced its first case of COVID19 on March 13th, and on March 15th the government announced national school closures, and social distancing measures that included working from home for those in non-essential services. I spent the next morning in the Dignitas office, setting up our team of 15 for remote working, with no idea of what that would really look like (for a team who are typically 80% in the community delivering training and coaching to our 140 School Partners) or how long it might last for. Now, 11 weeks the team are all still working from home, and being incredibly fruitful despite the challenges.

Ever since, my family and I have been working from home in Nairobi, schooling from home, shopping from home, socializing from home, and everything-else-from-home! My husband and I are both still working full time (or more than), and managing our three children. Our childcare ceased on the same day, so that our nanny could also follow the government’s guidelines. Our oldest two (7 and 9 years old, one lockdown birthday later) are doing some home learning (not their school prescribed program which was 6 hours per day of poorly managed Google Hangouts), and our 3 year old, who was due to start nursery this term, is generally having way too much screen time. My working day currently starts at 5am, and goes until around 10pm, with a variety of interruptions.

IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?

DK: One word comes to mind – inequality.  I have two very different ongoing conversations when it comes to education.  The first is with my children’s friends’ parents, mostly struggling with schedules, the need for each child to have a device or laptop, how to turn baking into a science lesson, and where to source real butter for said cake.  The other, and the more urgent conversation, is with our School Partners and friends, largely in Nairobi’s urban informal settlements.  Here, the struggle is not for comfort, the struggle is for survival.  COVID19 has brought with it severe social, health and economic hardship, and these hit the poorest communities the hardest.  In these communities, more than 60% of families were unable to access public education pre-COVID19, as a result of poverty and systemic exclusion.  Marginalised by poverty, these are the same families excluded from a myriad of essential health and education services now, and often fighting a daily, violent war with police in their struggle to exist.

The more urgent conversation, is with our School Partners and friends, largely in Nairobi’s urban informal settlements.  Here, the struggle is not for comfort, the struggle is for survival.  COVID19 has brought with it severe social, health and economic hardship, and these hit the poorest communities the hardest.

The significant challenge of inequality is, as a result, exacerbated in the most violent way, only bringing harm to children, families, and society as a whole.  This raises critical, urgent questions of ‘What happens next?’  When schools reopen, will those who’ve participated in online or home learning be ‘ahead’ of others?  How will schools assess progress and promote students to the new school year?  How many girls will be married or pregnant, never to return to school?  How many families will end up on the street, their children never to return to school?  How many children will have died from starvation?  How many children will be so scarred by the trauma, violence and anxiety of this season that learning never really resumes?

The significant challenge of inequality is, as a result, exacerbated in the most violent way, only bringing harm to children, families, and society as a whole. 

A young learner proudly carries his school books outside a typical partner school. Photo: Dignitas

IEN: What do you/your community need help with?

DK: Dignitas is working tirelessly to protect and promote the learning and well-being of children living in poverty.  Whilst everything else is disrupted, our vision to ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive and succeed remains core to our COVID19 response.

In an effort to reach and protect these children, we immediately thought of our amazing community of School Leaders and Teacher Leaders.  Dignitas has trained over 1,000 educators, and have another 450 educators enrolled for 2020.  These School Leaders have already benefited from Dignitas training and coaching and they are also leaders who are rooted in, and passionate about the needs of their communities. Our partnership lays an ideal foundation for them to be further equipped to respond in these times of crisis as community champions of well-being and learning.  Dignitas is remotely training and coaching these educators as Community Champions who can work in household clusters to protect and promote children’s learning and well-being.  

Dignitas is working tirelessly to protect
and promote the learning and well-being
of children living in poverty.  Whilst
everything else is disrupted, our vision
to ensure all children have the opportunity
to thrive and succeed remains core
to our COVID19 response.

To make this possible, we need help in curating more digital content for these educators, the educators need tablets to access and share learning content, families need basic devices or radios to benefit from the government’s education broadcasts, we need to design and print home learning packs for children, and we need to help families with food!  The list is long, and we’ve been excited to collaborate with some amazing partners like Safaricom Foundation, Team4Tech, Cosaraf Foundation and Synthetic so far, but the need is huge!

A young girl, now at home, facing an uncertain future. Photo: Dignitas

IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful? 

DK: I’ve really appreciated being part of some great networks – WISE, Global School Leaders, RELI, Global Schools Forum and others who have curated relevant content and tools, and offered consistent, valuable support.  The opportunity to share and learn with peers has helped me to stay focused, inspired and fruitful in this season.

Friends and donors who are authentic partners in our work!  Can donor relationships be unhealthy, and have skewed power dynamics?  Yes. However, they can also be wonderful places of strategic collaboration, bringing together passionate, committed teams of people and resources to respond to community need in a wise and compassionate way.  We’re fortunate to largely experience the latter, and they’ve been amazing thought and action partners for this season.

IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?  

DK: I’m mostly listening to podcasts and recordings of webinars that I’ve missed in the busy-ness!  WISE and Africa.com have had great content, relevant to our context, and not afraid to ask the hard questions.  In terms of reading, material from Harvard Graduate School of Education and Brookings Institute have offered interesting insight.  However, I think my most valuable learning experience in this season has been listening to others – peers in the Kenyan and Global education sector, and the communities in which we work.

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

DK: People!  People who are so intentional in bringing hope and light to others.  People giving so generously of their time and expertise.  People who don’t have much, always willing to give the most. 

A view from the Netherlands: Melanie Ehren on school closures and the pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Melanie Ehren, Professor and Director of Research of LEARN! at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. This post is the third in a series that includes posts from Chile and from Japan.  The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

IEN: What’s happening with you in Amsterdam? 

Melanie Ehren: The Netherlands has been in ‘intelligent lock down’ for over a month now. Starting the 12th March, cafés, restaurants, hairdressers and many shops closed. Initially, schools were to stay open following advice from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) that there was a minor risk of children spreading the disease. Widespread concern over teachers’ health and national outrage however resulted in a closure of all primary, secondary schools and vocational schools on the 14th. I was at the Dutch Ministry of Education on the 12th to give a talk about ‘trust and accountability’ when the announcement was made. It was a surreal experience to leave the building at the end of the day and say farewell to colleagues, knowing that it would be a while before we would meet in person again. With so much time in lock-down the world has become quite small. In a short amount of time, all national and international events, meetings and conferences were cancelled and the days are now filled with a continuous stream of online meetings interspersed with attempts to write papers, develop proposals for new research (much of it now concerned with the consequences of COVID-19), finish a book on ‘trust and accountability’ with Jacqueline Baxter, and write up case study work from South Africa on the same topic. At LEARN!, as a research institute, we’ve worked hard to build a knowledge bank with our relevant research work.  We have been publishing a series of articles on education and COVID-19 for parents and educators as well as a series of blogs on the relevant education news here and internationally.  That work is informed by the weekly meetings I have on Friday afternoon with a rapid response network of practitioners in the field. The crisis is bringing unprecedented change to teaching here and to how schools are organized, and we have doubled up our efforts to map these changes as well as help schools and policy-makers to make the best evidence-informed decisions.

The view from the author’s desk, picture courtesy of M. Ehren

IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community? 

ME: Our university also closed on Thursday 12th March, one day before I was teaching my group of students on the MA ‘Education and Innovation’. The first week was really hectic with moving all teaching online, finding out about which platform to use for online lectures, allowing for small break out groups. Most of us are now using Zoom with break out rooms for small group work. My own teaching ended after that first week but we are now preparing to move all our courses, even those that are scheduled for the fall online, including assessments with online proctoring. It has been a major challenge and learning curve for many, and we are collaboratively learning about how to teach well in an online learning environment where large seminars just don’t work that well and students don’t show up for them. There is also a real challenge in connecting to students who go off radar, where some also experience anxiety, a lack of motivation or opportunity to study due to living in small, shared and noisy housing or losing a sense of purpose when family and friends have health concerns.

There is a real challenge in connecting to students who go off radar, where some also experience anxiety, a lack of motivation or opportunity to study due to living in small, shared and noisy housing or losing a sense of purpose when family and friends have health concerns.

The National Institute for Public Health have reported that there are over 40,000 positive COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands, but with new hospitalization falling below 50 each day, they suggest that control measures appear to be working. Consequently, primary schools are now set to reopen again on May 11, though with lessons in smaller, alternating groups of students. Secondary schools will reopen on June 1.

IEN: What do you/your community need help with?

ME: We have seen over the past weeks that schools have had to ramp up their offer of online teaching, rethinking their educational partnership with parents. Schools serving pupils from deprived backgrounds have had to think of ways in which to connect to these pupils, given that some did not even have a laptop at home and where many are still unable to understand how to access online teaching. Schools have worked with youth services and municipalities to reach these children and have come up with solutions that work best for the pupils involved. All these solutions have been highly context-specific as the reasons for why pupils are not involved vary and the best solutions capitalize on existing high-trust relations. After schools had a couple of weeks to adapt to the situation, more substantive questions have arisen, such as how to ensure the quality of teaching when schools remain closed for longer periods of time or when they only open in a phased manner and some type of blended online and classroom-based teaching is required.

IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful? 

ME: The problem is that there is just too much out there and it is hard to sift through all the resources, links and support. Many reports also highlight similar issues,  particularly on how the current situation increased inequality. I find the weekly conversations with practitioners most helpful to understand the questions that still need answering and to hear alternative views. One of the practitioners in my network, responsible for inclusive education for example told me that some children are actually doing quite well in the current situation of home-schooling; the safety and structure of the home environment enables them to learn much better then in school.

The problem is that there is just too much out there and it is hard to sift through all the resources, links and support.

IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?  

As my days are filled with so much COVID-19 related work these days I really want to read, watch and listen to something unrelated. I’ve downloaded archived podcasts like ‘Freakonomics’ and ‘Revisionist History’ and tend to listen these during long hikes in the weekend.

A view from Chile: Victoria Parra-Moreno on school closures and the pandemic

This week IEN launches a new series of blog posts – “A view from….” – that provides short email interviews about the experiences under quarantine of educators in different parts of the world. The first post comes from Victoria Parra-Moreno, an educational consultant in early childhood education and an Adjunct Professor at the Universidad del Desarrollo, in the Department of Psychology. Parra-Moreno lives in Temuco, Chile which has a significant number of Covid-19 cases per capita. The national government declared a quarantine on March 25th, meaning that no one can go outside without a permit and a “condon sanitaire” strictly controlling people moving in and out the city. The “A view from…” series is edited by IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

1. What’s happening with you and your family? 

VP: We have been in complete lockdown for a week, although schools got canceled in the middle of March, my two daughters (7th grade and 10th grade), my husband, and I have been at home a bit longer. As a family, we are trying to have schedules that allow us to meet our personal and professional tasks, so usually during mornings the four of us are connected to computers having meetings, doing homework and sending documents. We have two dogs, so in the afternoons we have a 1/2-hour permit to take them for a walk, which is a moment of immense happiness. It is incredible how small things like walking the dogs became a great gift for us.

2. What’s happening with education/learning in your community? 

VP: In terms of the coronavirus outbreak, the Ministry of Education announced the suspension of schools in March 15th for two weeks although some universities and colleges began closing a few days earlier. On March 25th, the government announced the suspension of schools until April 24th, and just this week the Minister declared it unlikely that students will return to schools in April. After the suspension of schools, the government implemented a website to support online teaching aligned with the national curriculum, so now schools can use this resource as they see it fit. However, there are a significant number of students with no access to the internet so the government started sending curriculum packages to some remote districts for them to share with students directly

3. What do you/your community need help with?

VP: To me this question has two lines of thought. From a more philosophical perspective, I think teaching communities need support to rethink the goals of education under crisis. Despite all the resources and assistance TIC’s (ICT) provide, teaching and learning are a challenge, and maybe we need to put our energy in providing students’ learning opportunities that help them to cope and thrive in a situation like today. I see the efforts of my daughters’ teachers in helping them learn physics and proper grammar, and I’m not arguing they shouldn’t learn that, but I think it could be more useful to engage in critical thinking to help them understand what is going on in the world.  At a practical level, I think teaching communities need more help in understanding how to promote learning and how to assess competencies. In my experiences, professors and teachers rely on testing to evaluate students’ progress, and now I see and hear colleagues struggling to design learning and assessment tools that support students’ growth. It is hard because for so long learning has been understood in terms of students’ tests results. 

4. What resources/links/supports have you found most useful? 

VP: Online platforms for organizing materials and resources have been useful to me, like google classroom and Canvas. These platforms are also useful in providing tools for “meeting” and exchanging ideas. I have seen my daughters’ teachers using social platforms like Instagram to keep students connected with the pace of classes, providing information about incoming meetings and deadlines. For example, my sophomore daughter’s physics teacher created an Instagram account where he posts the information for upcoming calls and provides links to online resources that supplement materials he sends to students by email. Also, one of the head teachers made a WhatsApp group for sending students information about different subjects and to touch base and find out how students are doing.  UNESCO’s list of “distance learning solutions” has also been useful to search for options to fit different needs and available resources.

5. What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?  

VP: Twitter has been pretty useful these days to read other practitioners ideas and struggles in rethinking education. No one in particular, but as ideas float around it provides me opportunities to grasp with what other challenges and approaches are emerging. Listening to podcasts, related and not related to education is always useful to me, as they help me to frame issues from different perspectives. I totally recommend Ted Radio Hour, Radio Ambulante, Hidden Brain and Have you Heard.

Amidst COVID-19’s Spread, Hope For Education Innovation Glimmers In Vietnam

This week’s post comes from Michael Horn, a senior partner at Entangled Solutions, and the co-founder of and a distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. This post appeared originally on Forbes.com

With COVID-19 spreading across the globe, I’ve watched the impact on Korea and Vietnam with some measure of connection and concern.

As the countries to which I journeyed on my Eisenhower Fellowship in 2014 and studied their education systems in some depth, the manner in which the disease’s spread has shut down their schools has struck me on two levels: worry about the health of the communities and hope for innovation.

It’s with an eye on the opportunity for innovation—improving an educational system that needs an overhaul—that I’ve paid close attention to the response of Everest Education, an after-school tutoring organization I got to know while in Vietnam and whose board I joined after my return to the United States.

Schools and after-school programs were shut down in the beginning of February in Vietnam. With no opportunity to learn in traditional classrooms, students became nonconsumers of education—literally unable to access formal education—overnight.

As students of disruptive innovation—the process that transforms complicated, expensive and inconvenient services into ones that are far more affordable, convenient, and accessible—know, disruption typically takes root in areas of nonconsumption. There the new service has a marked advantage, as its competition is nothing at all.

That describes the unintended opportunity in which Everest Education found itself, as after-school programs have remain shuttered and students have had no options to continue their studies.

One Everest student, Nguyen Viet Khanh Linh, who is studying for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)—the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education—said she was worried she wouldn’t be able to stay on track for her test in May. Currently pursuing an Advance Diploma in Multimedia at Arena Multimedia Education Center in Hanoi, Linh’s plan is to transfer to an exchange program in Korea, Singapore or Europe to complete a bachelor degree after earning the 30-month program diploma.

“I’m not sure which exchange programs I will join eventually, but almost all of them ask for IELTS as a prerequisite,” Linh said. “I’m trying to get it done in my first year before the arts workload gets heavier. I [was] afraid I [wouldn’t] be able to study for IELTS and work on my portfolio at the same time.” 

Everest had fortunately been developing an online-learning solution for some time. After experimenting with a range of products, Everest had settled on a platform that facilitated a live online class that, much as Minerva does in its active learning platform, takes advantage of the learning science around active learning to create an experience in which students are interacting with each other and the teacher in real time and taking part in learning games.

As Don Le, CEO and co-founder of Everest, shared, “Most online learning involves watching videos or listening to lectures, and students get bored easily. With our live online classes, students… feel a social bond. The experience feels really natural and fun.”

At the onset of the crisis, Everest swung into action and took its research and development into overdrive, as it deployed its online-learning experience across all of its classes to support all of its grade 1–12 students. An astounding 98% of its students successfully transitioned to its online-learning solution.

From there, Everest began focusing on serving the now-vast market of after-school nonconsumers in Vietnam. To date, it has amassed more than 1,000 online registrations and is scaling up to open as many classes as possible to meet the pent-up demand.

And here’s the opportunity—to help take a system built on rote memorization and turn it into a student-centered learning experience that is marked by active learning far more in line with the research around how students best learn.

“In some ways, it’s even better than a physical classroom,” Tony Ngo, Everest Education’s Chairman and co-founder said. “Online learning is a great solution while students are out of the classroom, and in the long run, it will become a critical tool in how students learn.”

I’ve noted before that disaster preparedness—and, it follows tragically, outright disasters—represent opportunities to innovate. Put another way, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Amidst the challenges that COVID-19 brings, I hope we see education innovations that don’t just take subpar brick-and-mortar experiences and move them online where they will be even worse, but instead transcend the traditional lecture model to leverage technology and fundamentally transform the learning experience into one in which all students have a much greater likelihood of success.

In a country in Vietnam in which innovating in education is challenging, my hope is that Everest begins to blaze a new trail for the nation’s students.

6 Things Educators Can Do From Home To Help Their Students

This week IEN is posting reflections from Thomas Hatch published initially on ThomasHatch.org. This post is just one of many providing personal reflections (like Larry Cuban’s discussion of his own experiences with the polio epidemic) or providing links and resources for educational activities including those from the New York Times (Coronavirus Resources: Teaching, Learning and Thinking Critically);NPR (Kids Around The World Are Reading NPR’s Coronavirus Comic and Coronavirus And Parenting: What You Need To Know Now); and Unesco. We invite readers to share their experiences and resources with us as well.

What can we do? That’s a question we are all asking right now. For all of us that question begins with what we can do to keep ourselves and those around us safe and healthy.  But parents and educators like me are also thinking about what we can do to support our children, students and colleagues as K-12 schools close and classes go online. There are no easy answers, but here are 6 things I’m thinking about to try to deal with the challenges and take advantage of the possibilities:

  1. Focus on health and wellness. Learning is an important goal, but health and wellness for everyone has to come first. Students will learn the most from the acts of courage and kindness that help keep us all going.
  1. Suspend Schoolwork. Suspend exams, grades, and any other requirements that may contribute to stress and anxiety – for teachers and parents as well as students. Children and parents need opportunities and guidance for engagement in positive and productive activities, not more reasons to fight over homework or “keeping up.”  
  1. Encourage invention, design, creative expression and meaningful engagement. Instead of trying to figure out how to cover the curriculum, educators can put the syllabi aside and focus on meaningful activities – activities related to important learning goals that might be motivating and interesting for students to do while they are out of school.  Instead of creating new demands, concentrate on creating new possibilities:
    • Encourage students to keep a weekly diary – in words, pictures or any other media
    • create online journals, newspapers and magazines that students can contribute to
    • Invite students to share artwork, music, writing, photographs, or videos in an online exhibition
    • Stage online “talent shows” for students to share videos they have produced
    • Provide links to online resources and tutorials for learning languages, playing an instrument, developing academic abilities or learning other skills and enable students to share their progress
  1. Connect, connect, connect. Educators are uniquely positioned to provide information and support for their students, particularly those who are struggling the most. We can check-in, ask how they and their families are doing, share the latest news and resources, and help to identify critical needs. Educators can also build relationships and fight isolation by finding and creating opportunities for students to connect with one another as well with adults, particularly those in retirement homes, hospitals or anywhere else people might be disconnected and in distress
  1. Find new ways to serve the community. Create online community service activities and virtual service projects. My oldest daughter, a senior in college, has been serving as a mentor and had to say goodbye to the elementary student she visited every week, but what if they didn’t have to say goodbye? What if they could stay in touch by text or video even for a short-time every week? With so many students of all ages out of school, we can create online clearinghouses where students – or anyone really – could connect with those looking for mentoring, tutoring, or just conversation. Reach out and partner with parents, those from community centers, after school programs, Americorps programs like City Year and Citizen Schools, museums,  and libraries to find and create these activities for students to engage in online. Together educators and these extended programs can work to focus particularly on the students and their families who may be unable to get online or stay connected.
  1. Embrace collective responsibility. From living in Norway for a year, I learned it is possible both to respect the rights of every individual and cultivate a sense of collective responsibility.  There is no more important time for reinforcing our common bonds and recognizing that everything we do has an impact on our neighbors. It could be as simple as inviting children to call their grandparents or extended family once a day or a couple of times a week or just calling down the hall, leaning out the window or talking across the fence. The most profound thing we can do in difficult times can be done anywhere in any circumstances, dedicate ourselves to working with and for each other.

— Thomas Hatch