“The pandemic taught us that we have to learn to adapt and respond to life as it happens. To stay relevant, the education system cannot remain the same.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and countries went into lockdown, teachers rushed to improvise distance learning solutions that were as inclusive and accessible as possible.
The teachers at Clarke Junior School in Uganda were no different. They initially tried to continue lessons via WhatsApp and printed packs that parents could collect from school.
But when they realised that lockdowns would continue for several months, the passionate teachers were determined to find a fun, interactive, safe way of effectively reaching their learners. So they decided to broadcast practical lessons on local television.
“Our head teacher, Katherine Tucker, first proposed the idea,” says Irene Nyangoma Mugadu, Curriculum Head of Learning at Clarke Junior School. She is also the Educational Specialist for N*Gen (pronounced “Engine”) TV Africa following her involvement in the TV show.
“The pandemic forced us to innovate and adapt to the changing circumstances. None of us were actors, and we hadn’t been trained in broadcasting or presenting on camera, but we were committed to evolving, staying relevant and making sure the learners didn’t miss out.”
Working together to transform learning spaces
During the pandemic, public transport was shut down, so teachers walked the long journey to school every day to record the lessons.
“We brainstormed together, and with input from the head teacher we developed the lesson content. It was recorded by a very small film crew and aired on the local TV station.”
The content developed by Clark Junior School caught the eye of Peripheral Vision International, an NGO that combines media, technology, and popular culture to help bring about social change. They approached the teachers, and offered to collaborate on a Pan African Science show aimed at helping more children develop an interest in STEM subjects.
“In the beginning, the content included reading, maths and social studies. But when Peripheral Vision International came on board, the focus shifted primarily to science as it was considered most critical, relatable and engaging,” recalls Irene.
From small beginnings on local Ugandan television, starting in September 2020, N*Gen has become so popular that it has now spread to 45 channels across Africa. It is also screened on the African channel in the USA and the Caribbean. Season three is currently in production.
During the pandemic, the teachers from Clark Junior School presented each episode, and had significant input in the script. “We demonstrated experiments that children could try at home,” says Irene who still consults for the show as an educational specialist.
“We also enlisted our own children to model the experiments. Kids teaching kids became an integral part of N*Gen, and our target audience loved it.”
Encouraging engagement and experimentation to transform learning
The school used the N*Gen episodes to complement their distance learning strategy.
“We wanted to make learning fun, and foster curiosity and discovery. The episodes were aimed at junior primary learners of all ages. So, to ensure all the children in one home could learn together, the episodes focused on one specific theme for the whole family. We then developed grade-appropriate learning packs which included conversation questions for each child to inquire further, and we also assigned experiments and research questions and writing tasks where linkages were possible,” says Irene.
“For example, when we did an episode on mountains and volcanoes, we demonstrated the interaction between vinegar and sodium bicarbonate for a ‘volcanic eruption’. All the kids in one family could work together and create their own science experiment at home, and then complete additional learning tasks tailored to their individual levels.”
This meant that an adapted version of ‘group learning’ could take place during the pandemic.
Research shows that students who work in small groups are able to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same material is presented in other formats.
Back to the classroom with a new perspective
Now that schools have reopened, the teachers from Clark Junior School have handed over hosting of N*Gen to a new team, and are back in their classrooms.
“The N*Gen shows focussed on creating an exciting and interactive learning experience and now I’m applying this approach in my classroom. I present the local curriculum in a way that is practical and engages the learners.
“In our school, we are doing our best to move away from a rote learning model. We believe that all subjects including maths can be taught in a fun, interactive way. We also use a lot of games which build a love for STEM subjects which would otherwise be considered very difficult.”
There’s a need for transformation in teacher and learner support
“At our school, we ask ourselves, ‘What world are we preparing our children for? What kind of skills will be relevant for the careers of the future?’ We need to equip our students with softer skills like creativity, kindness, appreciation for nature, leadership, and how to engage with other people,” says Irene.
To achieve the sustainable development goals, particularly Goal 4, learners should be equipped with literacy and numeracy skills, as well as the knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behaviours they need to help build just, peaceful and sustainable societies.
According to UNESCO, this implies ensuring that education systems foster mutual understanding, respect and care among all people and for the planet we share. Empowering learners to engage responsibly and creatively with the (rapidly) changing world.
“Inclusive technology has huge potential for a wider unifying reach especially in Sub Saharan Africa, but we need to equip teachers with the necessary skills to utilise multimedia approaches in the classroom so that education can evolve with the times.”
Learn more about the #TeachersTransform campaign as part of the Transforming Education Summit.
Photo credit: Irene Nyangoma Mugadu