Tag Archives: school closure

What has remote learning looked like in Finland? School closures, equity, stress, and well-being

This week Raisa Ahtiainen reports on the work of a research partnership between the Centre for Educational Assessment at the University of Helsinki and the Research Group for Education, Assessment, and Learning and the Research Group on Children’s and Adolescents’ Health Promotion both at Tampere University. (See Schooling, teaching and well-being of school community during the COVID-19 epidemic in Finland.) Since the start of the pandemic and the transition to remote learning in March 2020, the members of this partnership have been documenting how teaching has been organized during the school closures in order to provide an overview of the situation for the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. Further, the study aims to support the development of the practices of education organizers and schools. This post draws from data collected in May 2020, just after Finnish schools reopened following the initial lockdown and in the fall of 2020, about 6 months later. Data included surveys with five different groups – students, guardians,  teachers, principals and school welfare group members -that yielded almost 100 000 respondents in total. A third wave of data collection is being carried out in April 2021. For news stories on the school closures and reopenings see “Kids head back to school across Finland” (May 2020),“Three-week shutdown for Finland in March” (February 2021), and “Corona group recommends remote learning continue until Easter” (March 2021).

This spring, many students in Finnish comprehensive schools have returned to their classrooms after a 3-week remote learning period that started on March 8, 2021. In contrast to March, 2020 when all schools were forced switch to remote learning with just a few days’ notice, in 2021, remote learning applied only to the students in the upper grades of comprehensive schools (7th to 9th grade). However, in some regions the remote learning period has been extended until the beginning of April due to the high number of local COVID-19 cases.

After the nationwide remote learning period ended in May 2020, the regulations governing remote learning were changed at national level in response to the variation in the spread of the coronavirus around the country. Consequently, since August 2020, the local education organizers (i.e. municipalities) have been given responsibility to make their own decisions on remote learning (e.g. for 1-2 weeks) for a school or certain group of students and teachers if there have been verified Covid-19 cases or exposures. That has made the course of actions concerning needs for temporary local remote learning periods more flexible, and it is in line with the decentralized approach to governance in the Finnish context.

Based on experiences gained during the 8-week remote learning of spring 2020, the government has also made temporary changes in the Basic Education Act (i.e. the legislation guiding work in comprehensive schools) to make sure the most vulnerable student groups can still have access to school. That means schools are required to stay open for students in pre-school (the year before children enter government schools, around age 6), for students in grades 1-3, and for students receiving special support (students with SEN). These students have the right to go to school, with their teaching organized in school buildings. It has been seen as important to secure and support learning and schooling of these students during the exceptional times.

What did remote learning look like in Spring 2020?

In the spring 2020, remote learning divided students’ perceptions of learning. Some students reported that remote learning suited them well and they felt that learning at home had been more effective than at school. However, nearly half of 7th to 9th grade students and a third of students in 4th – 6th reported that they had learned less than usual during remote learning. The researchers concluded that despite the fast transition period, technically, remote learning went surprisingly well. Consequently, they noted that, if schools turn to remote learning again, the focus should be on the content of learning and on supporting students individually.

However, the results also confirmed the researchers’ suspicions that during the exceptional period in spring 2020 equality in education was not achieved as well as under normal circumstances. That is, the researchers found large differences in the distance learning practices of schools. For example, about a quarter of teachers and principals said that the school had jointly decided on loosening assessment requirements or on not lowering student grades, but more than half of the schools did not have such guidelines in place. In one in five schools, assessment practices were not agreed upon at all. In most schools, the aim of remote learning was to arrange teaching according to the school timetable/schedule as much as possible, meaning that the teacher was to be regularly available to students. However, as many as one-fifth of 7th to 9th grade students said that video-based teaching had not been provided at all in their literacy, mathematics and language courses. There were also big differences between schools with respect to how schools had been able to provide their students with the digital equipment they needed for studying. About a third of parents said family members had taken turns using the equipment. In addition, when the usual school timetable/schedule was not followed or their normal teacher was not available to teach, the students’ stress symptoms increased. The differences in operating practices between comprehensive schools with only the upper grades (7-9) were remarkably large. However, schools with lower grades (4-6) typically implemented remote learning practices that were less structured and students received homework packages instead of interactive remote learning instruction.

… as many as one-fifth of 7th to 9th grade students said that video-based teaching had not been provided at all in their literacy, mathematics and language courses.

Based on these findings, the researchers argued that well-implemented remote learning has a clear structure, it is interactive and students are required to be self-directed in a way that suits their level of development. Especially, for younger students, they found that more guidance was needed. Guardians of the younger students (1st to 3rd) grade were frustrated with remote learning tasks that their children received that did not include teacher guidance. 

What did remote learning look like in Fall 2020?

In the autumn 2020, the researchers examined a wide range of safety guidelines that schools were advised to follow. There were large school-specific variations in safety practices reported by teachers that were not explained by regional differences in the coronavirus situation. Guardians’ perceptions of the daily operations of the schools greatly differed from the situation described by the teachers, but confidence in the operation of the schools was strong. School safety practices were related to whether the school had experienced corona exposures during the autumn, although the epidemiological situation in the area explained the exposures more strongly. According to the study results, schools should continue to adhere to safety practices.

Further, the study paid specific attention to the number of and reasons for student absences and their effects on learning. According to the guardians, there were differences in the remote education received by students in the autumn depending on the reason for the absence from school. Remote learning was most positively described by guardians whose children had had many absences due to quarantine imposed by health care staff. In contrast, for students in voluntary quarantine, the situation appeared to be the opposite.

Remote learning was most positively described by guardians whose children had had many absences due to quarantine imposed by health care staff. In contrast, for students in voluntary quarantine, the situation appeared to be the opposite.

In order to achieve equal learning opportunities for students, the researchers proposed that it would be good for schools to consider whether in the future it would be possible to implement distance learning more uniformly for students absent for various reasons.  Overall, students with more school absences felt that they received slightly less support to mitigate the effects of the spring exceptional situation and to keep up with their studies. Personal contact from the teacher, even remotely, was related to the student’s experience of receiving support. The researchers stress that schools should therefore continue to pay attention to reaching students personally who are absent for various reasons in when exceptional circumstances continue. Even a short personal interaction with a student during the school day can act as a means of engagement. The researchers pointed out, however, that in general, a large proportion of both primary and lower secondary school students felt that they had received study help from their teacher when they needed it.

School closures, remote learning, and well-being

Furthermore, school practices are important for the well-being of students and families, especially in distance learning situations. According to the study, the stress associated with a child’s schooling was high among guardians during the exceptional circumstances in spring 2020. Although the situation was not yet normal in the autumn, when the schools were generally open, the stress experienced by the parents was clearly less than in the spring.

It may be that in teacher communities where teachers are used to collaborating and sharing effective practices, the school is perceived as more ready to face school closures in the future

Stress experienced by teachers and principals due to their work was generally at the same level in the spring and in the autumn in 2020. In contrast, recovery from work-related stress was easier in the autumn than in the spring. The majority of teachers and principals felt that the school was well or very well prepared to implement remote learning if the school would be closed in the future. There were no regional differences in the responses based on the epidemiological situation in the region. However, school-specific variation was found, and part of it was associated with teachers’ experiences of collective efficacy. The researchers found that collective efficacy experiences are built on shared experiences of success and management. Thus, it may be that in teacher communities where teachers are used to collaborating and sharing effective practices, the school is perceived as more ready to face school closures in the future. Schools should therefore strive to maintain and strengthen cooperation between teachers and the team spirit of the school, as it can help the school and its staff to cope with this difficult time. 

Note: The research on ‘Schooling, teaching and well-being of school community during the COVID-19 epidemic in Finland’ is funded by the Finnish Ministry of Culture and Education

                                                            — Raisa Ahtiainen

What does it look like to go back to school? It’s different all around the world…

This week, IEN’s Thomas Hatch summarizes some of the reports and stories that describe the many different ways schools are starting the new semester and new school year following the coronavirus closures earlier this year. In many cases, the differences in reopening plans differ as much within countries as across them.

            New years and new semesters have started in schools all around the world over Some openings have included celebrations – like a “dazzling drone show” welcoming students back to school in Nanjing China – but often openings have taken place as coronavirus cases have spiked in countries like Germany, France, and Jordan. Teachers all over are expressing major concerns about schools reopening before conditions are safe, with teachers unions filing labor board complaints in Toronto, and in New York City, threats of a strike delayed the opening of schools at least two weeks.  For those schools continuing with remote learning, concerns about equity and problems equipping all students with devices and internet connections remain even after months of closures.  At the same time, The New York Times reports “China is harnessing the power of its authoritarian system to offer in-person learning for about 195 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade at public schools.”

Among the approaches to reopening schools around the world:

  • In Spain, with the fastest growing infection rate in Europe, requirements for public schools are more stringent:  class sizes are being reduced; students are assigned to “bubbles” with a small number of classmates; desks must be positioned at least 1 ½ meters apart; all schools must improve open-air ventilation, and students must wear masks. Yet some private schools have been able to take advantage of their own resources to create open-air enclosures, increase staff and take other steps to adjust.
  • In Norway, as schools reopened in cities like Oslo, cases rose to a “yellow,” caution level, and if they continue to rise to a “red” level, schools will have to close again. The Norwegian authorities have not mandated the use of face masks in schools, but many schools have dropped the tradition of allowing parents of first graders to shake hands with the principal and follow their children into their classrooms as part of a formal welcome for their very first day of school. (“Corona clouds the first day of schoolNewsinenglish.no)
  • In Estonia, some schools are almost “back to normal” but others are making their own adaptions to slow the spread of the virus.  One school is alternating between one week learning in school and the next two weeks learning online from home, while another has reduced class sizes, shortened classes, decreased the length of the school day and included “movement” days where students spend the whole day outside. (“New academic year: Alternating distance and contact learningERR.ee).
  • Hong Kong schools plan to resume face-to-face classes in stages, on a half-day basis with students from some years, such as those starting primary or secondary schools among the first back
  • In Germany, testing for students and educators has been “fast and free,” with quick contact tracing making it possible to isolate cases and contain spread. As the New York Times reported, after schools were open in Berlin for a few weeks: 49 teachers and students had been infected, but with testing and targeted quarantines, only about 600 students out of some 366,000 have had to stay home on any given day. (“Schools Can Reopen, Germany Finds, but Expect a ‘Roller Coaster’”, New York Times).
  • In the US, opening plans differ drastically depending on location as 65% of rural districts plan to start fully in-person, but only 24% of suburban districts and 9% of urban districts plan to do so; overall, estimates suggest 26% of districts plan to open fully remote, but over 40% of the highest-poverty districts will do so (Getting Back to School: An Update on Plans from Across the Country, Center on Reinventing Public Education). In Los Angeles, although almost all students are still learning from home, the district is trying to put in place a massive testing program to test and screen all 700,000 students and 75,000 employees in order to reopen the schools. (L.A. Schools Begin Testing 775,000 Students and Workers, New York Times).  In New York City, the teachers union continues to express concerns about the plans to open with in-person learning, and at the same time, over 40% of students (approximately 422,000 students) have enrolled in all-remote learning. (55 NYC School Staff Test Positive; Nearly Half of Students Opt for All-Remote, NBCNewYork).

A View Of The Lockdown And School Closures From Chikodi Onyemerela And Branham Anamon In Ghana

In this week’s post, Chikodi Onyemerela and Branham Anamon share their view of the coronavirus outbreak and school closures in  Ghana. Onyemerela is the Director of Programmes and Partnerships and Anamon is Operation Manager, Education and Society both for British Council (Ghana).

This post is the tenth in a series that includes views from ChileJapan the NetherlandsScotlandLiberiaPakistanAustraliaCanada, and China. 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?  

Onyemerela: My family members are in Nigeria and I am based in Accra, Ghana. We are doing well. We are using more virtual means to keep in contact daily. There is higher pressure on my wife at home as she has to do a lot on her own with 4 kids… 24/7…without help and it adds up.

Anamon: I am living alone in Kumasi and keeping up with work. I am speaking with friends around the world and watching a lot of Netflix. It feels like time has been running so fast during the lockdown

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

Onyemerela & Anamon: As the government in Ghana is grappling with COVID-19 virus, all levels of education are closed introducing a new paradigm into the school system. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ghana, the national government announced the closure of schools and other social and religious gathering on the 16th of March, 2020. Subsequently, to ensure that learning is taking place during the period of closure, the government has setup Ghana Learning TV and Radio as well as what it has called iCampus to house digital resources for students and teachers. As of mid-June, there has been a partial reopening for students in their final years of junior, senior and university programs to assist them in preparation for exams. Even though the government has made sure all schools are linked to a health centre, there has been a mixed reaction from parents and guardians about PPE for kids and following some cases of COVID -19 recorded in some schools.

At the British Council, we work within the various sectors of education including higher, vocational, secondary and primary education. Our three priorities continue to be working in partnership with the education authorities in Ghana on 1) engagement at policy level 2) capacity building for teachers and school leaders; and, 3) professional partnerships and networks for practitioners. Following the advent of COVID-19, activities in these three areas have been migrated to online platforms often in the form of webinars. Our professional development offer for teachers and school leaders has been on building their capacity to deliver effective teaching and learning and the integration of the six core skills in their teaching methods as contained in Ghana’s National Pre-Tertiary Education Curriculum Framework. During this period of the pandemic, this capacity building programme has been delivered through series of webinars for cohorts of teachers and through short videos on social and traditional media. A series of topical webinars have also been organised for policy makers in respective areas, including Progression in core skills, encouraging instructional leadership, building inclusive education systems and the role of research in creating a curriculum. Similar to many countries of Africa, there has been the challenge of stable internet and reaching teachers and school leaders in low resourced areas. We have developed a series of radio, television and nuggets to support teachers and school leaders through these different access options.

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

Onyemerela and Anamon: Following the closure of schools and setting up of alternative learning platforms by the government, community access of these resources is disproportionate across the country depending on accessibility to various infrastructures including internet, television and radio programmes. Mobile penetration and capacity to afford the required internet data for these online resources and smart phones are limited. It is causing what might be termed as the learning divide. Electricity is also a challenge for some rural communities which results in limited access to the Ghana Learning TV and Radio put together by the government. Other challenges include families who need their children to work on their family business or who have to work while trying to support students learning at home.

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

Onyemerela: Over the years, the British Council has always had a lot of online resources for the professional development of teachers, school leaders, learners and parents. These resources are now being contextualised and adapted to radio and television broadcast and also mapped to the national curriculum, while other development partners have provided Ghana government with various subject specific content the British Council has uniquely provided resources/content for teachers and School Leaders’ professional development and that has been most useful. There has been a campaign by the government to prevent the psychosocial issue surrounding COVID-19 to protect survivors of the pandemic so they can go to back to school and study effectively. The government is very serious about this.

Anamon: The Connecting Classrooms programme in Ghana is known for its support to basic and secondary education systems and training of teachers and leaders. There are now more online resources for kids and content to support international learning as well. Between April and June 2020, we engaged about 70 students from three regions of Ghana (Greater Accra, Eastern and Ashanti Regions) to learn with their peers (about 500 of them) from other countries of the world. The programme (Christened Global Conversation), which was co-implemented with the Economist Foundation helped these students to learn and share their views virtually on climate change and how it affects communities. The successful execution of this event shows that blended learning is possible in Ghana’s public-school system.

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

Onyemerela: COVID19 is a phenomenon that everyone is grappling with, to understand how to live and work with it. There are opportunities for learning even if you are stuck in a room all alone. Because digital learning is the new normal and I have a background in Digital Marketing, I have been reading digital resources for enhancing learning and I would recommend the same for teachers to enhance their digital literacy and delivery.

COVID19 is a phenomenon that everyone is grappling with, to understand how to live and work with it. There are opportunities for learning even if you are stuck in a room all alone.

Anamon:  I appreciate knowledge and am curious about how the world operates, so naturally I do love reading books, articles and novels as well as watching drama series, documentaries and docuseries on issues such as political history, global economy, criminology, Religion, Self-help etc.. I have already finished reading four books during lockdown: Becoming by Michelle Obama; Talking to strangers by Malcolm Gladwell; Why nations fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson; and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In terms of documentaries/drama series I would recommend Greenleaf, 13th, Immigration Nation, when they see us, Trial by the Media, Breaking Bad, Big Bang Theory etc.  In addition to this I was very excited about the resumption of football especially the English Premier League for which my beloved Manchester United, against all odds, qualified for the UEFA Champions league next season.

IEN: What have you found most inspiring? 

Anamon: COVID19 offers opportunities for introspections and reflections. I am bombarded with learning content. Opportunities to recharge and repackage yourself and explore opportunities. My main focus has been mental health. Hard to keep mental health a priority when you feel bored. I encourage people to call someone. Working remotely – it is hard to believe what we can live with. There are opportunities to reconnect with old friends, check up on other people and offer support.

During the lockdown, the Black Lives Matter movement has moved from the house to the street. Companies are talking about it. There has been a reaction from different stakeholders. Having experienced racism in the EU and the US, I do want to fight it. Staying silent won’t help. As the co-lead of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in British Council Ghana, I am leading staff discussions on BLM and racism. It is inspiring to share and listen to experiences of others.

Onyemerela: The Ghana government has done well to provide free education to senior high schools and are doing well to manage the current capacity of primary and secondary schools. I am really interested in learning how effective learning can take place virtually. Work has been generally challenging under the current circumstance. It is encouraging to see how life is going ahead despite the limitations. We are not easily broken.Even though working from home (WFH) is a common practice, it is actually my first time to be WFH. It has its ups and downs. You want to reach out and talk to colleagues, but you are not able to do that. We have the digital tools now to deliver programmes via Microsoft teams. There are so many opportunities to do things differently using digital tools which actually reduces our cost of delivery.

Disruption and Rapid Response: A View of School Closures in Uganda From Educate!

This week’s post provides a glimpse of what is happening in Uganda during the school closures. The post begins with short email interviews with two Associate Teachers from Educate! and then includes some examples of how Educate! has adapted their work in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The excerpts are drawn from an article published on Medium by Boris Bulayev, one of Educate!’s Co-founders.

This post is the ninth in a series that includes views from Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Scotland, Liberia, Pakistan, Australia, Canada, and China. 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.

In 2009, Educate! launched an experiential model for secondary education focusing on entrepreneurship. The key components of that model include a skills course in the last two years of secondary school, mentoring to help students start enterprises and community initiatives, and a professional development network for course leaders and mentors. Since that time, Educate! has scaled their approach in Uganda, expanded to Rwanda and Kenya and established partnerships with governments to support skills-based education nationally.

With the school closures in Uganda and most of Africa since March, As Boris Bulayev, put it in the article on Medium, “given our business model is rooted in in-person delivery, we were effectively out of business.” Although the Ugandan government is expected to make an announcement about reopening in September, in the meantime, the lockdown has been challenging for teachers as well as students and parents.

Alisio, an Associate Teacher with Educate! in Northern Uganda, and Akello, an Associate Teacher from the Lira District, shared their experiences in an email interview with IEN:

What’s happening with you and your family/friends? 

Alisio: I am fine, doing farming work and family work. Friends are also busy on the farm doing agriculture, but a few in the town have been left with no source of revenue since small- scale businesses have been closed. Life is harder in urban centers than the village.

Akello: Life is a bit difficult due to the lock-down since we cannot move anywhere. But I’m pushing on well.

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

Alisio: It’s been hard, lessons going on in the radio station from primary to secondary school. Five radio stations are conducting different lessons but I am uncertain of the education outcomes.

Akello: There is no serious learning taking place, some lessons are happening on Radio, TV but very few students pay attention to it and most parents are not also ensuring that the students get to listen and learn.

What do you/your community need help with?

Alisio: Relief food, agricultural inputs, repair of water sources. For education: financial sponsorship after lock down, both in primary and secondary especially as many parents have lost their source of livelihood.

Akello: It’s hard to determine the specifics, people want the lock down to end, and there are a lot of domestic violence related cases in families and this will affect the children. The help that can be given would be aimed at supporting orphans and designing projects that can respond to domestic violence cases.

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

Alisio: History textbooks.

Akello: Reading the text books and making notes for students in preparation of the school opening.

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

Alisio: Reading books – preparing notes for students, conducting behavioral research on the community.

Akello: Listening to/ watching the lessons on radio and TV respectively. Managing the students who are either watching or listening to the TV or Radio to be attentive. In my free time, I make briquettes.

What have you found most inspiring?

Alisio: I have shifted my mindset to have a positive attitude towards life. I have established other sources of income and now have a piggery project (7 pigs) and I hope to diversify my revenue stream.

Akello: Value everybody irrespective of status, put what you have learnt in practice.

While the schools have been closed and their direct relationships with students have largely had to stop, Educate! has also been trying to adapt. Drawing on resources like the Bain CEO plan for coronavirus and an article from Deloitte on resilient leadership, Bulayev described Educate!’s response as moving quickly into “defense” – ensuring they had the funds to survive for at least a year – and going on “offense” – essentially digitizing key aspects of their services and in-person delivery models.  To carry out that strategy, Educate! created three different teams, each focused on a different product:

  1. A version of their in-person, direct-to-school curriculum that can be delivered over a combination of radio, phone and SMS/text
  2. A government partnership to continue student learning of core subjects by USSD [“Unstructured Supplementary Service Data] and radio
  3. A light-web e-learning platform focused on youth, but open to others, on how to start and run hygienic motorbike delivery businesses during the coronavirus pandemic and stay safe while doing it, with potential to expand into informal retail and other informal sectors.

As Bulayev explains, although these strategies are designed to maintain their core services and impact over the short term, the crisis has also spawned the hope that over the long-term, the “digital will be blended with in-person to ideally achieve greater impact, scale, and sustainability.”

A View of School Closures and Remote Learning From Emma Hua in Shanghai

This week’s post features an e-mail interview that Aidi Bian conducted for IEN with Emma Hua. Hua and Bian are teachers at the HD school, a school with campuses in Shanghai, Ningbo, Beijing and Qingdao. These four schools have close to 3000 enrolled students in total. A fifth campus, in Nanjing, will open in 2021. The school describes itself as a “private experimental school” and each homeroom has one “national teacher” and one “international teacher.” HD school is one of a growing number of bilingual schools in China that have been gaining popularity. Bilingual and international schools in China have been particularly hard hit by the virus because of visa restrictions that have made it hard to find teachers from outside China.

Across China, schools were closed for some time, but most cities reopened schools in April, with schools in heavily affected areas like Beijing and Wuhan opening later. After a small outbreak in Beijing in late June, Beijing’s schools were closed throughout the spring semester. Nationwide, the annual “Gaokao” exam was postponed until July 7, one month later than a normal year. Current regulations in Shanghai require every school to track the temperatures and health status of their students every day and report to the district government.

This post is the ninth in a series that includes views from Chile, from Japan, from the Netherlands, Scotland, Liberia, Pakistan, Australia, and Canada. 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/friends? 

Emma Hua: I was originally from Wuhan, Hubei, where Covid19 firstly broke out. I went back to Wuhan for Spring Festival during the winter break and stayed at home since Wuhan was locked down in late January. Things were not too bad after we got used to the situation. Our community in general was in good order: volunteers helped with information collection, people ordered food and things online and got delivery in time. I worked at home from early February to middle April, and then successfully returned back to Shanghai, after I was tested negative for the coronavirus in Wuhan.

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

EH: Our school started remote classes since February. For primary school, most of the courses were recorded as 10 or 15-minute videos and uploaded to an online platform where students can download and watch every day at their convenience. This is a deliberate design since it would be hard for young kids to stay focused for a long time in an online live class, and many parents have concerns with their children in front of screens for too long. All the materials and resources were uploaded online, and students took picture of their homework and sent them to teachers. We suggested a timetable for the students, which they could adjust, and many students gradually developed a more regular and feasible timetable for themselves with the help from parents. At the end of each day around 4 or 5 pm, each class would have a Q&A live session where teachers talked about common mistakes in the homework and got updates from students.

We suggested a timetable for the students, which they could adjust, and many students gradually developed a more regular and feasible timetable for themselves with the help from parents.

The online class lasted until April when the situation in Shanghai was basically in control. An interesting discovery was that after students got back to school, some students made better progress than expected as they studied more online at home than at school. We hypothesized this happened because some of them could better individualize the pace of their learning as they watched the videos at home.

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

EH: At first, many teachers were not familiar with teaching online or making slides and videos, so the school organized some trainings to help teachers with making powerpoints and video editing. Courses and materials were prepared within a grade, where every teacher was responsible for several sessions of the whole week, to separate the tasks among the grade group. Some traditional teachers especially needed help with technology support from younger teachers. There were also struggles and pains when the internet of some teachers or students was not stable. In particular, when kids were young, they did not know how to deal with the technical problems. Teachers were tired, too, because the working time could be extended when communication with parents wasn’t smooth.

Courses and materials were prepared within a grade, where every teacher was responsible for several sessions of the whole week, to separate the tasks among the grade group.

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

EH: We used DingTalk as the main online platform for our second grade. After students selected their school and class, they could do a lot of things such as check in, download lessons and materials, submit homework, get feedback from teachers, etc. A good thing about this platform is that it did evolve and developed many good features that fit educational uses. For example, at first, students could see one another’s homework without any restriction, which could lead to copying. Later the new version changed the rule so that only students who had submitted their homework could access others’ work. Also, the platform allowed teachers to rate and exhibite the best work to the whole class.

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

EH:  I am appreciative that our school principals were very helpful and supportive to teachers. We have both foreign and Chinese principals, and they were responsible for the international teacher and Chinese teacher team respectively. I belong to the Chinese team, and the principal would participate in curriculum design and preparation and gave us support and suggestions. The school also has small gifts for teachers on national holidays. Another inspiration in the latter stage of remote learning was that we were trying to add more elements and activities to the online routine, such as weekly guided reading, which gave students a more diverse and similar-to-school experience even when studying online.

My View from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Trista Hollweck on School Closures and the Pandemic

This week IEN features an e-mail interview with Dr. Trista Hollweck, (@tristateach) Project Director of the ARC Education Project & Part-Time Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa.

This post is the eighth in a series that includes views from Chile, Japan, the Netherlands, Scotland, Liberia, Pakistan, and Australia. 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?

Trista Hollweck: Where I live in Ottawa, Canada, the final week of June marked the ‘official’ last days of the 2019-2020 school year. And what a strange year it has been. Since the start of 2020, my three elementary-aged children have been out of school due to a number of unusual events: a province-wide labour dispute, which resulted in a number of rotating strike action days, inclement weather (this year it seemed we had an unusually high number of snow days) and a global coronavirus pandemic that catapulted 91% of students across the world into a full-time ‘learning at home’ context. As a result of COVID-19, my husband and I have also found ourselves working at home and sharing space, screens and bandwidth with our children. To say that I have found the experience challenging is likely an understatement, but I also recognize my extreme privilege. There have been no deaths due to the coronavirus in my immediate circle. I also continue to have paid work, have access to technology and outdoor green space and share virtual schooling responsibilities with my partner. I know it could be a lot worse and it certainly has been for many and these disparities will continue into the future.

Dr Trista Hollweck. Photo: annemariebouchard.com

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

TH: As I reflect on the end of this academic year, I am definitely relieved to have the weight of ‘learning at home’ off my shoulders for the summer. However, the recently released provincial reopening plan gives me pause. The plan requires school boards to prepare for three different scenarios: a normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols, a modified school day routine based on smaller class sizes, cohorting and alternative day or week delivery, and at-home learning with ongoing enhanced remote delivery. My children are part of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) who released their plan for a fall school schedule which breaks students into cohorts of 15, with one cohort attending school on Monday and Tuesday, all cohorts home Wednesday while schools are deep cleaned and a second cohort attending Thursday and Friday. Apparently, cohorts at home will be learning alongside those in school. There are many remaining questions about this plan for students, families and educators. How will students and staff be protected? Why the deep cleaning on Wednesday? How will students at home be learning simultaneously with those at school or will teachers be responsible for both in class and online workloads? As expected, this plan has not been well-received by parents and health care providers who have raised serious concerns about the safety and mental health of children if they remain isolated and take issue with some of the quality of distance learning. In response, there is an active movement advocating for a full return to school in the fall. Educators and school staff remain concerned about the health and safety protocols in any school reopening plan. Personally, I struggle with the possibility of continuing to balance work and home beyond the summer, especially since all our children’s summer camps were cancelled. In fact, I think 15-year-old Ontarian, Liv McNeil, brilliantly captures what I and so many are feeling at this moment in her short film “Numb” submitted for a pandemic assignment at the Etobicoke School of the Arts.

Usually at this time of the year I am feeling more chipper and optimistic, but instead I am left with a sense of loss. As a part-time professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, I am disappointed for the teacher candidates who were unable to complete their first practicum placements in schools and worried about what their second year might look like. As a mentor-coach and teacher leader, I am deeply worried for my colleagues and other teachers and school leaders who are very concerned about what the fall will look like, whether they will have the necessary time to plan and whether their health and safety will be considered. They are also exhausted from having to pivot rapidly from traditional bricks and mortar schooling to emergency remote learning, learn new instructional skills at breakneck speeds whilst simultaneously navigating often unclear and conflicting opinions and expectations from the Ministry, school district, union, parents, and education experts and public intellectuals. Many of them also remain very concerned about some of their students who they know have difficult home lives and feel quite helpless in being able to support and care for them. Finally, I feel sorry that so many students did not get to experience their proms and graduation events as they were intended. That said, a quick tour around my neighbourhood and across my social media feed shows just how creatively schools, families and communities have rallied to celebrate events, mark graduations and reimagine the traditional convocation ceremony. Lawns and windows are dotted with signs broadcasting that a “Graduate from the Class of 2020 lives here” and it is inspiring to see the sheer volume of innovative virtual proms, farewell tributes, and powerful commencement speeches. One of my friends who is a principal at a small school even told me that their individualized pandemic graduation approach was so well-received by students and families that it will likely become a school tradition. This idea of using the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink schooling- to build on what is working well and discard that which has long been broken, also leaves me feeling a sense of hope and inspiration for the future of public education. I do not yearn for a return to ‘normal’ schooling which has never served all children well or equitably. Rather, we have an important opportunity to learn from this unique pandemic experience and build our system back better.

This idea of using the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink schooling – to build on what is working well and discard that which has long been broken, also leaves me feeling a sense of hope and inspiration for the future of public education

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

TH: In Ontario, it is safe to say that from a parental perspective the remote emergency teaching and learning has been a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst some educators have been incredible in their ability to offer innovative and impressive distance learning provisions, others seem to have struggled. Moving forward into a hybrid or blended learning situation, there will need to be opportunities for educators to learn from and support one another through mentoring and coaching, collaborate in professional networks, have clearer expectations for what is expected and access useful professional learning and development. During the pandemic, there have been incredible professional learning offerings. I have found curated resources on websites, webinars and online workshops focusing on trauma-informed approaches to teaching, culturally responsive approaches, restorative justice in education, repurposing our pedagogies, and building community in an online environment very useful. I think teachers and school leaders will need help navigating the sheer magnitude of available resources. Clear expectations and directives as to what effective distance learning and hybrid learning should look like would also help.

Systems will also need to find and fund supportive structures for the social and emotional wellbeing of students, teachers, school staff, school leaders and the wider school community. As an educational community, we will also need to take a moment to consider the purpose of schooling and reject practices that are not aligned with our aims. We must also listen to our students. Whereas some have thrived with self-directed learning, others as Liv McNeil captured in her video have found it a soul-destroying experience. In my own family, it has been hardest on my grade-five son, despite his teachers’ best efforts. With organization and self-direction already an issue, virtual schooling required constant supervision and prodding. He dreaded the twice weekly google meets (even though they were very well-structured), never remembered to submit assignments (even though they were complete and the platform was easy to use) and overall, missed learning by listening in class and the supportive feedback he received daily from his teachers. As he said to us, “I always liked doing my work at school so I never had homework and now all I have is homework.” Incredibly, his teachers noticed his struggles and set up individual weekly chats to keep him on track and check in. Going forward, we will need to continue to be creative in our instructional approaches, embed new pandemic pedagogies, prioritize wellbeing and relationships, collaborate and learn with and from other systems, work with stakeholders, and be innovative in finding ways to get all students learning in a safe and consistent manner.

“I always liked doing my work at school so I never had homework and now all I have is homework”

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

TH: In my work as the Project Director for the ARC education Project, I am fascinated by how our different member systems are managing the pandemic and education. I am also following what we can learn from other responses across the country and globe (see Educational International, the OECD, HundrEd, Unicef, People for Education, UNESCO). I believe Ontario can learn a lot from and with its global partners and that we need more ways to share our experiences and include key stakeholder voices at the decision-making table. Twitter has always been an excellent resource for me as an educator and it has been truly wonderful during the pandemic. I have an opportunity to learn from educators around the world and access content and practices I may not normally. I have been following People for Education, Carol Campbell and Caroline Alfonso among others to give me insight on what is happening in Ontario. I have also been actively engaged with my Facebook friends and gauging their responses to the numerous articles and opinion pieces that I am posting. This helps me get a sense of different perspectives and keeps me thinking critically. There are no easy solutions and no plan that will make everyone happy. Finally, as a mentor-coach and practitioner, I have appreciated Growth Coaching International’s #curiousconvos webinars (and even participated in my first one) as well as the resources made available by the Instructional Coaching Group and Cult of Pedagogy.

A typical day at home. Photo: Trista Hollweck

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

TH: During this time, I have been co-teaching a graduate course in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa with my colleague Dr. Linda Radford called Pandemic Pedagogies: Responsive Teaching and Learning in Times of Crisis. Together with our students, we have been thinking with and against Deborah Britzman’s (1998) Lost subjects, contested objects toward a psychoanalytic inquiry of learning and Cherie Dimaline’s (2017) young adult fiction novel “The Marrow Thieves.” This course has been very helpful to push my thinking and help me make sense of my own pandemic experience. As other writers have noted, dystopian books (I am revisiting Margaret Atwood’s body of work), movies and TV series are bizarrely comforting to me during this time.

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

TH: I have found many moments of inspiration during the pandemic. It is amazing to see how quickly schools and districts have found innovative ways to deliver food, social services support, technology and mobile hotspot devices to students as well as how they’ve delivered curriculum using online, radio, television and printed methods. So many teachers have been incredibly innovative in their pandemic pedagogies and their use of online platforms and social media apps such as Tik Tok and Instagram to connect with their students. Colleagues at my previous school district, the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB), are also a constant source of inspiration. Since most elementary schools outside of the greater Montreal area in the province of Quebec reopened in May, I believe we can learn a lot from their experience and creativity (see the interviews with WQSB teacher Letha Henry and principal Sam Halpin). Ultimately, I tend to dwell in a place of hope and am inspired to believe that together we can use this terrible situation to catalyze transformational change and improve our public education system.

After the Bushfires: A View of the Pandemic and School Closures from Amanda Heffernan in Melbourne, Australia

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Amanda Heffernan, a lecturer in Educational Leadership at Monash University, Melbourne. Having previously worked as a school principal and principal coach and mentor for Queensland’s Department of Education, Amanda’s key research areas include leadership, social justice, and policy enactment. 

This post is the seventh in a series that includes views from Chile, from Japan, from the Netherlands, from Scotland, from Liberia and from Pakistan. 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?

Amanda Heffernan: I’ve been working from home since early March when Australia’s restrictions were put into place. Our state government’s advice was that if we can work from home, we must work from home, to stop the spread of COVID-19. After the first week or so I realised how much I needed to stop horror-scrolling through the internet and the news, and found routines that let me focus while still taking note of the state of the world. I’m fortunate in many ways, in that my husband is also an academic and began working from home at around the same time, so we were able to establish an easy-enough routine of work that could shift with the rhythms of how academic work ebbs and flows throughout the semester.

Being an academic often means being mobile, so while I moved to Melbourne a number of years ago (Victoria, Australia) to take up an academic position at Monash University, the rest of my family are in my home state of Queensland, Australia where it seems to feel much safer than it does in my chosen-home state of Victoria. Active case numbers in Queensland and other states are incredibly small, while ours rose so quickly and posed such risk that we have now been placed back into strict lockdown for 6 weeks (only permitted to leave our homes for work, compassionate reasons, outdoor exercise, or grocery shopping). One thing this experience has done for me is make me really realise how far away I am from ‘home’ even though I am still in Australia. The ways our different state governments & communities responded to COVID-19 meant that we all had very different experiences of the last few months. But – with that said – I am so grateful that we are in such a fortunate position in Australia, in comparison to a lot of other countries.

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

AH: Universities (for the most part) are working online where they can. My Master’s students are mostly studying while working so they are able to use our critical educational leadership courses as a way of understanding and reflecting on their experiences in dealing with rapidly changing policy and community conditions at the moment. Schools here worked online for a few weeks, while remaining physically open to children of essential workers. As of June 9, schools were back in face-to-face mode, with really careful structures around social distancing where they can, though this is understandably incredibly difficult in many circumstances. School drop-offs and pick-ups are carefully managed, there are extra cleaning procedures in place, and staff are required to socially distance in their staff rooms. Many people are expecting a shift back to online learning in the future – and a back and forth of online & face-to-face until a vaccine is found.

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

AH: One thing Australia’s schools need help with is making sure that their work is being recognised by the public, politicians, and the media as being incredibly complex right now. The public discourse about schooling and education has shown some increase in appreciation from parents and carers who have realised how difficult the job is after trying to support their children through remote learning, and seeing how much work teachers are putting in to try to make sure students remain connected and supported. At the same time, though, we saw schools being treated as a political football between conflicting goals from our Federal and State governments, with the Federal government wanting schools to remain open, while Victoria’s state government closed them to flatten the curve. Teachers have been positioned in the middle of these tensions, and have had to respond quickly to changing requirements and directives.

One thing Australia’s schools need help with is
making sure that their work is being recognised
by the public, politicians, and the media
as being incredibly complex right now.

Earlier this year a research team I am part of at Monash University, launched a research report that showed Australia’s teachers across all states and territories felt undervalued and that it was having a significant effect on their intentions to stay in the profession. Teachers need to be publicly recognised as experts and professionals who are doing an exceptional job in incredibly difficult circumstances right now. We’ve already seen the economic effects of the pandemic affecting employment conditions (e.g. pay cuts or pay freezes, cancelled teaching contracts, staff layoffs) for education workers, after months of putting themselves at risk and being considered ‘frontline workers’.

We also need help from our politicians and policymakers remembering that education workers very rightfully have concerns about their own health and safety and the safety of their own families, as well as their school communities. There’s a real tension for teachers who want to do the best for their students while still being at risk themselves in their workplaces.

We also need help from our
politicians and policymakers remembering
that education workers very rightfully have
concerns about their own health and safety
and the safety of their own families,
as well as their school communities.

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

AH: Something I have found useful is reading Monash Lens – it’s a collection of analysis and commentary on current issues by experts from our university, and it means I have access to a range of perspectives beyond just my field of expertise and interest.

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

AH: I’m reading Twitter a lot, after carefully curating my news feed. I’d recommend Pat Thomson (from the University of Nottingham) and Anuja Cabraal‘s Virtual Not Viral website and twitter chat for anyone who works with postgraduate research students, and for anyone completing a PhD in the current circumstances. It’s not just for graduate students – it has important points to think about for anyone working in research right now.

I’ve been revisiting Foucault over the last few months and would recommend a book I recently read: Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity by Margaret A. McLaren. It’s almost 20 years old now but does a fantastic job of positioning Foucault’s work within feminist perspectives.

I’d also recommend anything that gives a little bit of escapism and nostalgia right now – I’m one of the millions of people who have been playing Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch, and I’ve been working my way through Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time as part of my work playlist.

We came to COVID-19 off the end of a summer of ferocious bushfires that covered much of the country and many of our schools and communities were affected. Teachers and leaders have been working non-stop since the end of 2019, many of them have been personally affected by tragedy and loss after the bushfires, and they haven’t really had a break to rest yet.

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

AH: Seeing how the teachers and school leaders I work with have risen to the challenges that COVID-19 keeps throwing their way. We came to COVID-19 off the end of a summer of ferocious bushfires that covered much of the country and many of our schools and communities were affected. Teachers and leaders have been working non-stop since the end of 2019, many of them have been personally affected by tragedy and loss after the bushfires, and they haven’t really had a break to rest yet. They shifted to online learning, then shifted back once schools returned face-to-face, and now they face an uncertain future with our numbers starting to rise again. Their dedication and their efforts mean our students have been connected and supported through all of this.

A view from The Citizens Foundation in Pakistan: Neha Raheel on school closures and the pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Neha Raheel, (@NehaRaheel), Manager, Learning Experience & Assessment Design, Partnership Schools, at The Citizens Foundation (TCF) in Pakistan. Neha was also recently selected as a WISE Emerging Leader for her work at TCF. As described in an IEN post in 2019, TCF was launched by six friends in Karachi Pakistan who saw education as a key to addressing a wide range of social problems. Since establishing five new schools in 1996, TCF has developed a network of over 1600 schools in Pakistan.

This post is the sixth in a series that includes views from Chile, from Japan, from the Netherlands, from Scotland, and from Liberia. 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, your family/friends, and co-workers?

Neha Raheel: The lockdown in Sindh (one of Pakistan’s provinces, located in the southeastern part of the country), where I currently live and work, was announced on March 23rd, 2020 (initially for a period of 15 days, which extended till early June). The government began to lift the lockdown gradually in the first week of June, despite the number of cases being on the rise. Currently, education institutions, marriage halls, beauty parlors, cinemas, etc. remain closed while businesses have been allowed to operate between the hours of 06:00 am – 7:00 pm (five days a week) in certain parts of the country. The government also began putting several localities under “smart lockdowns” as the number of cases was surging. However, some of these localities have now started to re-open, and the government has announced that it will be making a decision regarding the re-opening of government schools and educational institutions on July 2nd.

Credit: The Citizens Foundation

TCF, as an organization, had announced that at the discretion of the Heads of individual departments, we were allowed to begin working from home from March 16th onwards, so my colleagues and I have been doing so since then. My team and I work on curriculum and assessment design for TCF’s Public-Private Partnership schools (340+ schools adopted by the organization from the governments of Sindh and Punjab, with a mandate to improve access to, and quality of education).

Work from home has presented a whole host of challenges for us. We started this project by working with a team of content developers: part-time employees whose main task was to help us create lesson plans for the Teacher Guides that we are currently designing for our Partnership schools (a majority of our Partnership contracts mandate us to use the government’s syllabus, instead of the one designed by TCF for its flagship schools). These content developers do not always have access to technology (they create handwritten content for us, which is then typed at the Head Office). The quality of the lesson plans has always been heavily reliant on feedback; which pre-COVID, was given and discussed in weekly in-person meetings. Since these meetings can no longer take place in person due to the lockdown, we have been struggling with shifting the feedback sessions to take place over phone calls (a lot of people who work part-time with us do not have access to a laptop/computer or a stable internet connection at home). We also had a lot of drop-outs from the project because the women that we work with simply could not cope with the demands of managing their caregiver duties with a part-time project. As a result, we had to innovate and come up with an alternate recruitment and onboarding strategy. We are now relying heavily on the grace and magnanimity of a team of volunteers who graciously have agreed to assist us with our work on various projects (1100+ people have applied to volunteer with our department in the past month, alone). We are still grappling with the task of working remotely, not only within the team, but also with our volunteers.

IEN: What’s happening in the communities where you work?

NR: Especially where our Partnership schools are housed, TCF works within communities with some of the lowest average incomes in the country and, as such, the digital divide has prevented us from using traditional education technology-based solutions for distance learning. TCF has, instead, been working on creating multi-grade content for a national TV channel: creating a televised show that focuses on student wellbeing (including physical movement through the yoga/exercise section of the program), joy, and basic literacy and numeracy skills (storytelling section and guided activities/assignments). Students also send in their artwork and assignments to TCF in response to the content broadcast in the program. TCF is also piloting a magazine to assess the effectiveness of paper-based Self Study Materials. The aim is to try to be as inclusive as possible and to try to reach as many students as we possibly can, especially those who are most impacted by the digital divide and learning losses.

At the same time, we are also thinking ahead to what will happen when schools eventually reopen. As such, my team’s biggest project this year is creating Teacher Guides for our Partnership Schools, with the purposes of improving the quality of teaching and learning activities in what are often rote learning based and teacher-centered classrooms; to reduce teacher workload of lesson planning (the majority of our teachers spend the entire day in the classroom, teaching all subjects and, as such, do not find time to research and create learner-centered lesson plans); and to serve as a developmental tool, building teacher capacity. These Teacher Guides are being made for the post-pandemic/post-lockdown world that our teachers and students will return to. The trauma-informed approach to education tells us about the importance of bringing joy, safety, trust, and hope in the lives of learners who have been through a trauma. As our students deal with potential losses of life, learning, and/or livelihood, our focus has primarily been on designing interventions keeping the principles of teacher and student wellbeing at the front and center: we are thinking deeply about how to restore stability, joy, hope, and trust in their lives, while being cognizant of the large learning losses that most of our students will likely face. The curriculum in these Guides, along with the restructuring of the school day, will allow us to include engaging learner centered activities, brain breaks and movement-based activities (to energize students, provide them with processing time, and bring a sense of joy in their lives); opportunities for guided and free play, and meditation and mindfulness activities. We are also mindful of the loss of connection, anxiety, and stresses that students might face in their absence from school (which is more often than not a safe and joyous space for our kids) and we hope that classroom routines such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, play, storytelling, collaborative pair/group work, gratitude journaling, and understanding, acknowledging, and knowing how to express one’s feelings will restore that sense of connectedness and will bring back joy and hope in the lives of our students when they return to school.

As our students deal with potential losses of life, learning, and/or livelihood, our focus has primarily been on designing interventions keeping the principles of teacher and student wellbeing at the front and center: we are thinking deeply about how to restore stability, joy, hope, and trust in their lives, while being cognizant of the large learning losses that most of our students will likely face.

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

NR: The digital divide is becoming increasingly tied with learning losses and is likely to result in a widening of the already prevalent achievement gaps in our country. At the policy level, we need to think about ways of lessening the impact of the digital divide on student learning (perhaps beginning with a drive of providing students/communities with access to electricity/basic tech/internet). At the same time, we are drawing our inspiration from several innovative (and low/no cost resource based) initiatives, such as the remote learning work being done by Pratham, India and Teach for Pakistan’s WhatsApp school. TCF is a not-for-profit and, as such, relies heavily on the philanthropic donations of people from across the world. To be able to continue fighting the good fight, we need people to keep donating for the cause, and also (if possible) volunteer their expertise for the various programs that we have. TCF is also actively thinking about the potential increase in drop-out rates once schools open (as evidenced by the drop-outs following the Ebola crisis), especially with relation to the gendered nature of the drop-outs. A question that we are currently thinking deeply about is: How can we re-engage students whose parents might find an extra set of earning hands to be more useful than continuing their education? As we continue working on our television program and pilot our magazine, we would appreciate any and all advice/resources/connections that would help us create, curate, and disseminate content.

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

NR: There are several websites that are providing their content/lesson plans/lesson activities free of charge, including but not limited to the following:

  1. Learning Activities and Play Ideas for Pre-K-II:
    a. Pre-Kinders
    b. Play Ideas
    c. Steamsational
    d. DREME TE (Math activities for early years)
  2. Lesson Plans/Unit Plans (for all grades):
    a. National Geographic Education
    b. Teachnology
    c. PBS Learning Media (also includes videos)
    d. The Teacher’s Corner
    e. Scholastic
    f. Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Virtual School Lesson Plan Database
  3. Stories
    a. Storyweaver
    b. Bookdash
    c. Global Digital Library
  4. Mindfulness/Meditation Exercises
    a. Kids Relaxation
    b. Mindful Teachers
    c. Teach Starter

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

NR: Twitter has been a great source of connecting with educators from across the globe and has allowed me to watch/read/listen to the ways in which educators are responding to the crisis. Some of the accounts that I have found to be most useful include, but are not limited to: Teaching Tolerance, Social Emotional Learning, WISE, Design for Change, Pratham Education Foundation, Rising Academies, Math and Movement, CASEL, Recipes for Wellbeing, Karanga, SELinEdu, and many more. Webinars and conferences, so many of which have become freely available, have also been a great source of information (e.g. WISE Words, the T4 Education Conference, RISE Webinars, Catalyst 2030; Karanga’s Global SEL Conference, Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined, Elevating Education in Emergencies: Securing Uninterrupted Learning for Crisis-affected Children, etc.).

Credit: The Citizens Foundation

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

NR: Videos/comments/thoughts from TCF school leaders and teachers have allowed me to stay connected with the communities where we work and have also inspired me with their messages of resilience, hope, gratitude, and positivity. Reading about stories of inspiring teachers from different parts of the world has been an additional source of inspiration. Doing a daily virtual gratitude journal with my team members has brought several moments of positivity and gratitude to my life: reading each other’s responses and thoughts about simple and positive moments brings smiles to all of our faces. Playing games (including a Harry Potter themed escape room) and doing mindfulness check-ins with my team as we all navigate work from home and feelings of isolation and anxiety/uncertainty has been both grounding, as well as inspiring, as we all try to collectively navigate the new reality. More so than anything else, my dog (we rescued her a few months prior to the pandemic): the amount of joy and hope that she brings in my life is unparalleled.

A view from Liberia: Abba Karnga Jr. on School Closures and the Pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview conducted by Maretta Silverman with Abba Karnga Jr., Program Manager at the Luminos Fund in Liberia, where the school lockdown continues. During the Ebola crisis, Karnga also served as Director of the Stop the Spread of Ebola Campaign. In partnership with the Country Health Team, he created an Ebola Emergency Response program responsible for social mobilization, case identification, and distribution of emergency supplies to affected homes. In 2019, he also reflected on his own educational journey in a Luminos staff profile: The Fight for Education Equality in Liberia: Living Up to My Father’s Example. Diaries from the Frontlines from the Center for Global Development provides additional perspectives on the outbreak and school closures from Luminos Fund staff as well as staff from The Citizens Foundation.

This interview is the sixth in a series that includes posts from Scotlandfrom Chile,  from Japan, and from the Netherlands.  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

Maretta Silverman: What’s happening with you and your family/friends? 

Abba Karnga Jr.: My family are like every family in Liberia: on lockdown, staying home, and not doing normal things. All of Liberia is in a state of emergency and there are lots of rules. We’re observing curfew, wearing masks when we go out in public, and handwashing constantly!

Right now, my kids are with my mom who lives in another county, doing the same thing. The major challenge my mom faces is trying to find activities for the kids to keep them occupied. It is the same for my friends and neighbors. Everyone’s kids are idle. My family has it better than most in Liberia, especially regarding food: we were able to prepare well for this crisis, have food, and can stay at home. But many families are having a lot of difficulty finding food. People aren’t eating regular meals. I feel like I have a responsibility, as someone who has a little, to share with those who are less fortunate. It’s a very weird and strange situation in Liberia. I think it’s much harder on children than adults.

LOWAH, LIBERIA: November 27, 2019 – Luminos Liberia Project Manager Abba Karnga Jr. Carielle Doe for The Luminos Fund.

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

AK: Liberia’s Ministry of Education has ideas and strategies to help schools reach children and to help programs like us at the Luminos Fund to reach our students. One major thing they are concentrating on is radio programs. This is a great effort but I do see challenges because, in some places like the rural communities where Luminos works, either radio stations don’t reach, or families don’t have radios, or people haven’t heard about the program schedule so don’t know to listen. I’m afraid many students aren’t paying attention. I think everyone realizes the limitations, but radio is perhaps the best tool in the national toolkit to reach children.

Education is very, very slow in most of our communities. Some school systems have created lessons to send home but, anecdotally in my friend group, most kids aren’t really doing them. In Liberia, we know most learning happens at school. Parents are busy and may not be educated, so it’s hard to expect them to guide learning at home.

At the Luminos Fund, we offer a 10-month program to help out-of-school children catch up on their learning: to learn to read, write, and do math. In March, all our classes closed because of COVID. We decided to focus on learning that students could continue at home, as well as to distribute materials directly to our students’ homes: readers, math workbooks, and worksheets. We believe this is good practice for students, helps them continue engaging in education, and it’s useful for them to know their teachers are thinking about them. There are challenges, of course. I’d estimate that about forty percent of our facilitators (teachers) live in the community they serve and can easily assign lessons and check on students regularly by walking past their homes, which is great. In communities where there aren’t facilitators, one of our supervisors goes to check in with students once a week.

About forty percent of our facilitators live in the community they serve and can easily assign lessons and check on students regularly by walking past their homes

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

AK: Two things. First, food. There’s extremely high unemployment right now in Liberia. Most people depend on a daily hustle or contracts to survive, and much of that work has stopped due to the Coronavirus and lockdown. The Liberian government proposed a stimulus package some weeks ago, but it hasn’t moved forward. Families are really suffering.

Second, I wish children had more home recreation options during this period. Most homes in Liberia don’t have electricity, so TV isn’t realistic. Board games would be nice. It’s lockdown, but many kids still try to play outside and people have to chase them away. It’s risky. Parents are trying to make ends meet.

LOWAH, LIBERIA: November 27, 2019 – Abba Karnga, center, playing a learning game with students before the Covid-19 school closures. Carielle Doe for The Luminos Fund.

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

AK: I’m excited about the support we’re witnessing from people in communities across Liberia, who have created local Coronavirus awareness teams. I’m on the team in my community. I think this community-level action comes, in part, from our experiences with Ebola a few years ago. Right now, we’ve set up handwashing sites. We ensure people coming into the community wash their hands and wear a mask. We go around with flyers (practicing social distancing) or loudspeakers on cars to raise awareness about COVID and share good information. It’s motivating and useful. I think it’s great when people mobilize themselves.

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

AK: I listen to the Liberian Ministry of Health press releases that are shared every Friday on certain radio stations. They are credible and have the latest information.

MS: What have you found most inspiring?

AK: Our program! Luminos is an education organization but pivoted quickly to provide relief to students’ families during this crisis, including learning materials, soap, detergent, barrels for water, and food. Recently, we distributed food to over 1,600 of our students’ homes. For more than a week after, we received calls from parents. Some parents were literally crying in appreciation of what Luminos did. They said they never expected it and it was so timely. Some families were out of food and hadn’t known where they would find their next meal. We even heard from other community members and local leaders who heard what we did and called – not even parents. So, seeing the humanitarian aspect of this work is what’s most inspiring for me. I’m grateful we can do this for these families, and to be involved.

A view from Nairobi, Kenya: Deborah Kimathi 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.