Tag Archives: school closure

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. 

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 Japan: Hirokazu Yokota on school closures and the pandemic

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Hirokazu Yokota, a government officer at Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). At MEXT, he has tackled such missions as increasing the number of public school teachers, encouraging Community School initiatives, promoting special needs education, and spearheading a ministerial reform. Recently, he published an article on school leadership in Japan in Journal of Educational Administration. The post shares his own views and does not necessarily represent the views of MEXT. This post is the second in a series launched by IEN last week with a post from Chile. 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.

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

Hirokazu Yokota: I was taking a paternity leave from October 1 of 2019 to April 7  in order to take care of my second child (who has just turned one year last week!). As you might know, being a stay-at-home dad is as hard a job as working for the government. Although I enjoyed such things as playing with my son, cooking lunch for my wife and helping my four-year-old daughter with reading and writing letters, I sometimes needed a pastime. That’s why once a week, I was looking forward to having lunch with my old friends – just to chat and do a little catch-up. That has completely changed over the past three months. During weekdays, I refrained from going outside – to avoid getting infected and to make sure that my son and I did not spread it if we had it. What was especially concerning was my son had been sick early in March for nearly two weeks – but his fever did not go as high as the threshold of 37.5 Celsius. Now he is doing fine and has finished the phase-in at a nursery school which started on April 1, but I’m kind of feeling guilty about not being able to continue my paternity leave despite this COVID-19 outbreak.

“What is extremely challenging is that education is the act of human interaction, and now we must stay away from that”

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

HY: Although almost all of the public elementary, junior high, and high schools in Japan have been closing after March 2, this does not apply to nursery schools. Therefore, my daughter was going to her nursery as usual, although I kept her at home for a week or so at the beginning of March. Because the nursery refrained from taking children outside, my daughter seemed to feel stressed, so I oftentimes could not help going to the playground, while practicing social distancing (which, I admit, is very difficult for kids).

My children at the playground (Photos from Hirokazu Yokota)

HY: Nationally, as of March 24th, MEXT announced new guidelines for the reopening of schools after spring break (e.g. necessary measures for local governments to implement in order to prevent further spread of the COVID-19) and for temporary closures in the new school term (e.g. how to determine whether the school should be closed on a temporary basis, in case of an infection of children, students or teachers. At that time, this policy decision was reasonable given the relatively slow rise of confirmed cases in Japan, although MEXT revised the latter guideline on April 1 to suggest how to determine the temporary closure based on the overall situation in the community, even if there are no infected people in the school. However, due to the recent rapid increase of confirmed cases, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency, which took effect from April 8 to May 7. At first this measure had been targeted at seven prefectures (mostly metropolitan areas), but later was expanded to all the forty-seven prefectures on April 16. Accordingly, on April 10, MEXT issued a notification on the instruction to students who cannot go to schools owing to the temporary closure. In this notice, MEXT asked Boards of Education to ensure that schools couple instruction and assessment by teachers with appropriate learning opportunities at home (based on the instructional plan devised by schools), while taking into account the current status of infection in each area. Additionally, it mentions that after schools open, they should assess learning that occurred at home during the temporary closure and implement measures to supplement the lost learning opportunities. Although schools are supposed to make maximum efforts to ensure learning and to reteach material that should have been learned at home during the closure, schools do not have to cover the same content again if and only if assessments confirm that students fully understand the material (NOTE: this measure is an exception rather than a rule).

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

HY: Before the COVID-19 outbreak, our ministry published an ambitious policy package to ensure every student in elementary and junior high schools will have access to an ICT device at school by the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023. The official document in Japanese is here, and English version is here (p23-24) (you might find this article by the Japan Times helpful). Moreover, given the importance of ICT as a tool to ensure student learning during such temporary closure, on April7, the aforementioned policy package was revised so that MEXT can subsidize ICT devices in order for each student to have an access at the end of THIS YEAR (FY2020, not 2023) (p12 here, although it’s in Japanese). Now is the time to fully expand the potential of ICT devices, but when it comes to implementation, there are so many issues to be resolved – from teachers’ capacity to use ICT devices, internet access at home, and from security concerns to measures for tracking student progress. What is extremely challenging is that education is the act of human interaction, and now we must stay away from that. However, at the same time, I’m hopeful that after this pandemic is over, we can find a proper balance between face-to-face teaching and remote learning, and accordingly the desirable roles of teachers/schools in this era.    

In this period of turbulence and uncertainty, we, regardless of our own positions, have to collaborate with each other to protect ourselves, our family, our community, and our society

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

HY: Thanks to the great efforts of my colleagues, our ministry opened a new web portal (in Japanese), to support children’s learning during this temporary closure – just ONE DAY after we asked schools to temporarily close. This website includes such contents as textbooks of each subject, “how to make masks on your own,” “museums at home,” and “my sports menu.” Of course, private companies are working on providing inspiring contents for children – such as NHK for school and Katariba online.  Personally, as a father, I found textbooks with intriguing pictures and sounds useful as a tool to help my daughter learn Japanese, math and English.

My daughter learning phonics

5. What have you found most inspiring?

HY: In this period of turbulence and uncertainty, we, regardless of our own positions, have to collaborate with each other to protect ourselves, our family, our community, and our society. But I’m deeply encouraged by, and grateful for, the fact that people around the world are combating, to the best of their ability, this unprecedented predicament. It was not until what we take for granted was taken away that it brought home to me that I, and we, are protected by our society. Since I restarted my journey of public service, we as government officers also work from home every two days in order to considerably reduce contacts with other people. Of course, you can easily imagine that while we have far more tasks than usual due to the coronavirus outbreak, we cannot maintain the same productivity as when we stay at the office every day. This reality becomes even harsher when our nursery schools ask parents who work from home to refrain from sending their children – that is exactly the case with me. It’s like going through a long tunnel, just trying to manage two extremely important, but sometimes conflicting, missions – working for the government and being a father of two at the same time. But I know what keeps me going forward in such a difficult time – my sincere desire to dedicate myself to helping those who are affected by COVID-19!

My workplace (only 9 out of 24 people in this room were at the office)

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.

China

Boosting migrants’ education

By Cheng Yingqi, China Daily (January 14, 2013)

Xue Jun/For China Daily

Xue Jun/For China Daily

In an effort to improve the quality of education for migrant workers in China, the education authority in Beijing’s Chaoyang district will shut down non-government run schools and guarantee that migrant workers’ children will attend public schools. Private schools for the children of migrant workers have sprung up in Beijing, Shanghai and other large cities where the public schools do not accept children who do not have residence permits; however, many of these schools have been deemed unsafe for schooling and have not been officially authorized to operate.

According to this article, “Over the past six years the Chaoyang education commission cut the number of schools for migrant workers’ children from 135 schools teaching more than 50,000 students, to 25 schools teaching 11,000 students.” These closures worry parents who fear their children will have trouble adapting to the public school environment.

For more information:

Migrant Education in China (OECD Report)

Chinese cities to relax school entry for rural migrants

More regions to reform migrant education system