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  • 18.08.2021

Voices from India and Kenya - Teachers fighting education disadvantage

Education disruptions due to the COVID-19 crisis have shone the light on existing disparities separating learners between and within countries. We spoke to two teachers who supported their students and helped their communities overcome immense hardship throughout the pandemic, despite lacking necessary resources. Their stories show how teachers are at the heart of combating disadvantage and ensuring learning continuity. They also highlight the dire need for more investment in teachers and schools.

Sarita Nair teaches at Chetan Dattaji Gaikwad English Medium School and Junior College in Pune, India. Prior to the pandemic, students and teachers at her school were completely reliant on the traditional teaching and learning methods. There was limited use of digital technology by teachers due to lack of resources and no access to advanced teaching tools. Very few parents participated in student's day to day learning and were completely dependent on the school's education system.

Florence Ooyo, who teaches at Brightburn School in Nairobi, Kenya explained that before the pandemic emerged, some students already could not afford adequate materials and resources for learning, or even their school fees, leading them to stay home and disrupting their education. Some students also dealt with family conflict issues, causing them socio-emotional distress and impacting their ability to focus in class. “It makes work difficult for the teacher to complete the syllabus since at times you find a quarter of the class away from school,” Florence told us.

Coronavirus created an array of new problems for teachers and students. Joblessness affected the parents of many students at Brightburn School, causing many of them to relocate to rural areas in order to sustain their family and absenteeism surged even higher. Many families were surviving with one or two meals per day, causing children to lack the necessary nutrition to thrive in school. Uncertainty led to anxiety and trauma “What about tomorrow?” Florence wondered, “What is going to take place in the coming days? Most of the families were really affected psychologically and emotionally by this uncertainty.”

“The teachers too were affected by this uncertainty,” Florence told us. Unsure if they would get their next paycheck, many took on second jobs and tried to find additional ways to make ends meet. As many teachers did in fact lose their pay as schools closed down, Florence worked with organizations in the area to distribute food to her students and fellow teachers. She also visited students at home and provided them with the necessary tools to continue learning.

Florence emphasized the need to build a relationship with each student to understand their particular needs, help them build their self-esteem and support them socio-emotionally.

Sarita shared stories of similar challenges at her school in India:

"Fear of the disease and uncertainty gripped everyone mentally and physically. The pandemic brought new challenges for the teachers; the transition from in-person classroom teaching to virtual and to online classes and adapting to Zoom class completely presented a unique challenge. The teachers and students were majorly hit financially. Many parents lost their daily wages due to the unforeseen turn of events due to the Covid -19.”

Sarita and her fellow teachers took part in a training program to adapt to online classes. They reached out to various external organizations to raise funds and resources to support the community with necessary devices for remote learning as well as nutritional support for families struggling to make ends meet.

She also noted that, “teachers invested time and energy in communicating frequently and building relationships with the parents and children even during school vacations. This was seen as important because the school felt they were an integral part of the community they were serving and wanted to ensure they supported them in every possible way.”

“Lack of personal contact with students by the teachers, emotional turmoil due to death of relatives, no school hours, adapting to no physical activity and no social interaction... This scenario caused behavioral changes amongst the students,” she told us. To deal with this they set up daily activities that involved students’ parents, including arts and crafts, gardening, science experiments, and storytelling sessions focused on mental wellbeing. The school also found ways to celebrate local festivals from home, touring students’ homes virtually to see the way they decorate their homes and participate in the festivals.

“The idea was to keep the community together, connected and provide a sense of belonging and comfort knowing everyone was dealing with this unique situation and that we are not alone in this war against Covid-19,” Sarita explained.

When lockdown restrictions eased, teachers visited students at home to get a sense of how they and their families were coping. In addition to mobile phones and tablets, they distributed food rations to families in need. Financially secure parents lent a hand to support students and donated books through the "Parents as Partners" initiative. "We ensured that all the students continued to get education irrespective of their ability to pay their school fee," Sarita concluded.

Sarita and Florence’s stories show how teachers are at the heart of learning continuity and highlight the dire need for more investment in teachers and schools. Education systems were already in need of investment prior to the pandemic, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters much worse, jeopardizing progress and widening already large disparities between high- and low-income countries. No teacher should have to worry about whether they will receive their next paycheck. No student should have to drop out because they cannot afford tuition fees or school materials.

In sub-Saharan Africa the pupil/trained teacher ratio is close to one trained teacher per 58 pupils at primary level and approximately 43 pupils per trained teacher at secondary. Furthermore, new projections show that by 2030, countries in the region will need to recruit 15 million teachers. Florence is hoping that moving forwards, policy-makers and education stakeholders wake up to these realities: “The government needs to support us and acknowledge the effort our community schools are making.”

The International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 is thus calling on national governments, the international community and education funders – both public and private – to invest in a human-centred approach to recovery by building resilient, teacher-supportive education systems that recognize the critical role teachers play in communities. This should include increasing domestic and international funding, developing holistic teacher policies that have been properly budgeted, strengthening teacher capacity and autonomy, and investing in data and information systems that improve effectiveness.

Thanks to Alokit, Dignitas and Global School Leaders for their support in contacting Sarita and Florence.


CaptionBeawar, Rajasthan, India, April 6, 2021: A teacher and students wearing protective face mask in a classroom at a school amid spike in coronavirus cases across the country. 
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com/Sumit Saraswat

Blog
  • 20.05.2020

Teaching – the new blended way

As a head teacher, I have always felt that teaching means not only getting the curricular content right and imparting that knowledge. It also means encouraging children to think for themselves by making them mindful of their lives and giving them the skills they need to go about various things. I have always felt that the usual school processes should not be so rigid. Until children spend some extra time sitting idle, how will they realize the power of discipline and commitment?

The Covid-19 lockdown measures have really helped me find the answer to a question that has been nudging me for a long time: “Is it really necessary that learning and teaching should be confined to the four walls of the classroom? The new answer in this situation comes out to be “Absolutely not”. Technology has really made this big globe local to us. Physical presence hardly matters. What really matters is the right tools and the pertinent approach to use them.

 In 2008 I read that there is a lot of work going on to make things e-accessible and that the future will bring user-friendly and self-teaching devices. I didn’t realize this until this lockdown that that world has arrived. Within a few days I had learnt to use and operate Zoom, Jitsy, Microsoft Team, Google Hangouts and many other platforms. The e-world has become the new reality!

Within a week I was teaching my students through an app. I received formal training from agencies but I learned most things by testing and trying. At first it wasn’t an easy to survive on e-mode (electronic/virtual/online mode) but after a few days I could see that technology does work most of the time, despite occasional disturbances, virtual distractions and audio-video problems. Initially I thought teaching through this new delivery mode was one-way communication but soon I realized that the sessions can be made lively by adding polls, surveys and videos sandwiched in between the sessions. The technology stunned me because in rural schools we just cannot afford to build in so much variety.

In the first few days, it was more a kind of game and the attendance of the students was also high but soon I realized that attendance was dropping and the joy of a new game was over. The reasons could be many: maybe a network problem, maybe the voice wasn’t audible for the students, maybe they were so busy helping the fathers harvest and mothers to cook, maybe my screen wasn’t visible or – the worst one! –  perhaps my class wasn’t interesting. When I checked the chat box, however, suddenly the conversations became two-way – the children had been on mute. They started to share their problems in the chat box.

As for myself, I was feeling distracted due to various noises but soon I realized that I needed to stop multitasking and be mindful and convey the same to my students. I finally taught them a HOTS (high order thinking skill) of mindfulness.

Whenever you feel that response is weak and attendance is poor, students are just a phone call away. Good communication and effectively convincing students why they need to study comes handy. And my country, India, has a family-oriented culture so it is always easy to make calls to parents and get the folks back to classes.

However, bad networks, high charges for data and high costs for devices are a real challenge. These could be removed by providing a free, subsidized network. Village and city libraries could be converted into virtual rooms with laptops, tablets and internet connections. If learning is free, anybody has the power to become anything.

Dr Neeru Arora

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This piece is part of the Teacher Task Force’s #TeachersVoices campaign, created to bring forward the experiences of teachers working every day to ensure their students continue to benefit from a quality education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To participate, go to our dedicated webpage.

Blog
  • 06.05.2020

How are we working with students and colleagues to continue providing education despite the crisis?

They say change is the only constant in your life but who would have expected the change to be so drastic that it questions your chances of survival?  CNM School caters to more than 3000 students. We conducted regular classes until 13th March when the Government told us to close. Initially we were to reopen on 31st March, but closure has now been extended till 3rd May, with talk that it will be further extended to 18th May.

On Monday 16th March, teachers went to school to discuss and assess the way forward. We organized many meetings and then took all our resources home to prepare for the coming weeks. In the meantime, some teachers created teaching videos. We uploaded them so everyone had access and parents were ecstatic.

On 18th March, the closed school to everyone, so the only available helpline and support were the online classes conducted from home. Within 3 days, we had made around 50 teaching videos, uploaded worksheets and presentations on our school portal but it did not seem enough. The communication seemed one way. We were teaching but was there learning happening? Were students even accessing the material? Was there any way we could monitor student’s engagement and enthusiasm?

The following week we began Zoom classes for our older students, teachers began creating 1-hour teaching slot where students logged in meaning learning now seemed two way. We could see our students, answer their questions and upload files. However, there was still a hitch. What should we do for students unable to log in? How do we ensure the 1-hour classes were available for them to rerun and revisit? How do we post an assessment after completion of a unit to test learning?

Thus, while we continued with our teaching videos and Zoom classes, we needed to look for something more to gather students on a common platform. So, I connected with LabXchange, a free online platform which integrates learning and research experiences initially through Twitter. On Wednesday 25th March, I spoke with Ilyana and Jessica from LabXchange to discuss training for the platform and the support desired. I also confirmed with my teachers their willingness to learn and use this new platform. On Friday 27th March, a training session for around 85 teachers was conducted which lasted an hour and a half. The training went very well and the next day, our accounts were created under “SVKM CNM school” and students were added. The platform let teachers use their virtual online material and, most importantly laboratory simulations, along with their own personal teaching materials. It allowed testing and for materials to be reused, and for the student to revisit at anytime. LabXchange completely met our teaching and learning needs.

Every day the news and social media were reporting that the numbers of people affected by COVID-19 are increasing and that everyone needs to take vital precautions. Panic had become a way of life. We wanted to help students with their mental health and so, on our school Facebook page, we created live events every day from Monday to Friday from 4 pm to 4:30 pm where we could reach out to our students through Yoga, cooking, music, games, quiz and stories. We created a timetable for teachers when they would go online for their students, along with a co-host, to lead a lively and positive event through which students could share their feelings through comments and emoticons.

We never knew that online teaching could be as powerful as face to face teaching and that with the advent of a virus, the whole world would have to refocus, realign and redesign the definition of life, work and play. The crisis has brought us completely to our knees but it has also opened windows to demonstrate immense gratitude to mother nature and all human beings.

 

Kavita Sanghvi

Kavita Sanghvi was one of the finalists of the Varkey Foundation's Global Teacher Prize.

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This piece is part of the Teacher Task Force’s #TeachersVoices campaign, created to bring forward the experiences of teachers working every day to ensure their students continue to benefit from a quality education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To participate, go to our dedicated webpage.