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How do schools in other countries handle this situation?

This question came to mind when I was trying hard to concentrate on learning new software tools for teaching remotely, while news flashes about COVID-19 were coming in all the time.  Reading a few articles on the World Education Blog gave me helpful insights.

According to UNESCO’s data, 184 countries closed their schools, affecting 87.6% of the global student population.  In the article by authors from the UNESCO Section of Education Policy, it becomes clear that all countries have the same priorities and are experiencing similar challenges.

Priorities

The two top priorities addressed in emergency education policies across the globe are: ensuring continuing education of learning and adjusting school and assessment calendars. Some countries also put measures in place to ensure continued access to school meals, and a smaller number are trying to address the social and psychological challenges in the educational community.

Methods

All countries are either introducing or scaling up existing distance education drives, based on different mixes of technology. Most countries are using the internet for distance education. In almost all countries, schools are encouraged to use computer applications (apps) to deliver lessons and communicate with parents. Live lessons and recorded lessons in the style of mass open online courses are two popular formats used. TV and other media are also used to deliver learning content. In many countries, electronic Learner Management Systems are provided nationwide or district-wide to schools to manage education and assessments.

Challenges

As you have probably realised by now, a major concern worldwide is equity in access to ICT-based learning, especially in non-first-world countries. Learners from underprivileged backgrounds have less or no access to computers, the internet, and electricity.

Distance learning and home learning invariably place a burden on parents or caregivers.  Staying positive about continuing education and towards the school is important. Addressing the social needs of the family, such as keeping contact with loved ones, and organizing physical exercise, should help to manage stress.

Special Needs Challenges

How does distance learning affect the special group of our blog’s focus – children and adolescents with learning difficulties?

Because they tend to struggle to work autonomously, these learners may find distance learning challenging. Individual online learning, video-conferencing, daily communication with teachers, as well as involving parents or caregivers may be necessary.

South African Response

One can’t help asking how South Africa compares to the rest of the world. Well… announcements regarding continued learning and the calendar change for Term 2 have been made. Whether that achieved the objective of an implementation plan which includes a curriculum catch up plan, remains to be seen.

Some commendable efforts to support teachers with resources or training have been made by a few provincial education departments. The Western Cape published a 27-page plan, which can almost be considered a digital teaching crash course for teachers. Teachers who do not yet feel completely ready to transform into an ICT expert in the classroom will find it valuable. It is available at https://wcedeportal.co.za/eresource/88511

The Limpopo and KZN Departments of Education have web portals with excellent digital resources from ECD to FET level.

KZN initiated radio lessons for Grade 12 and called in the help of the media houses. On their web site http://kznfunda.kzndoe.gov.za/ a great variety of free e-books are now offered by Cambridge University Press (Gr 1-12), Shuters (Gr 8-9 Ace-it Study Guides), ViaAfrika (Gr 10-12) and Mindset (videos and interactive lessons Gr 10-12). Two unique resources found on their web site are: downloadable Big Books and graded readers in Zulu and Ndebele (Gr 1-3) and Physical Science and Mathematics simulations for Gr 10-12.

Limpopo’s Vodacom sponsored Digital Classroom is neatly packed with resources of all kinds, many at no data cost. The most outstanding is probably the organised stories and e-books, suitable for babies to Grade 7 learners, and including African stories in various additional languages. These reading resources can be recommended for teachers and families. If you are interested in reading resources and FET resources see http://www.digitalclassroom.co.za/digitalclassroom/voda-digital-classroom

The Department of Education (DBE) in South Africa is working with partners on a national level, on online content and broadcasted lessons on dedicated TV channels and radio to continue teaching and reading programs during the lockdown period, but only as an interim plan. The interim plan shows an effort by the South African government to address the big challenge of the lack of ICT access. It focuses on revision of the first term’s work for the intermediate phase (grade 4 to 6) and selected subjects for Grade 12.

The DBE viewpoint is that teaching on ICT platforms cannot work properly in full force due to the vast number of learners in the country who are affected by inequalities.  Thus the “recovery plan”, focused on catching up missed content from the second term’s curricula, is being compiled for when schools reopen. The recovery plan relies on the assumption that COVID-19 will be contained reasonably soon.

Cedarwood says YES

We believe that structured online teaching in digital classrooms will be better for our pupils than voluntary mass revision. At Cedarwood College we also offer programs such as Vocational and ASDAN qualifications which are not at all going to be covered by the DBE and its partners. The lifting of the lockdown is still an unknown factor. Cedarwood College is ready to switch to remote education for a week or longer if needed. How well the switch will work for us, will to a large extent depend on the creativity of the teachers and the support of parents.

Sources:

  • How are countries addressing the COVID-19 challenges in education – a snapshot of policy measures, World Education Blog
  • Three ways to plan for equity during the coronavirus school closures, World Education Blog
  • Data, World Education Blog
  • DBE Website and sub-sites
  • Classroom and Easter services will come to your TV during lockdown
  • DBE Media conference 26 March 2020