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15 mins

Learning Continuity In The Midst of Disruptions

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By Softcom on May 08, 2020

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Learning, as we know it today, has undergone —and continues to undergo— tremendous change, particularly over the last decade. The global education landscape is currently on the verge of a radical transformation; veering towards personalised learning to match the needs and patterns of new age learners and ultimately, become less susceptible to disruption. The future of learning would transition into a practice whereby the learning process is technology driven, thereby cultivating a hands-off approach towards learning, less susceptible to disruptions.

How can we ensure that the struggles and disruptions affecting the education industry lead to innovation, adaptation and explosive growth? The answer lies in the theory of disruptive innovation.

Disruption is a powerful force that has transformed numerous industries, ranging from retail to technology, and even certain aspects of the education industry. When disruption happens, it forces existing companies, businesses and institutions to change their ways and utilize relatively simple innovations that will enable growth amidst the situation.

This paper would highlight how disruption should enable educational institutions in Africa to improve their learning processes and ensure learning continuity. It would also give different concrete and practical examples of how this can be effectively done.

Current effects of Disruption on the education sector

To have a deeper understanding of how disruption is affecting education, we would explore instances of disruptions which have had a widespread impact. Then, we would study how educational institutions outside Africa and within are handling the disruptions, looking specifically for institutions who have taken advantage of the opportunity to disrupt the sector.

Pandemics and Epidemics are forms of disruption that have occured in various parts of the world, causing major halts to socio-economic and educational institutions.

In 2009, the outbreak of the swine flu gripped the people of Mexico. Shops, Markets, Stadiums and Schools were closed down all over the country and students were sent home immediately[1]. As a result of swine flu, many Mexican schools experienced a quick, disruptive change in 2009. In response, some policymakers started to ask: How can technology be relevant in situations like this? Policy makers had acknowledged that the use of technology solely at schools was not enough to bring about systemic change. Students needed to be guaranteed access from their respective homes, irrespective of their geographical locations. How can technology be made wide spread and transformational, when this status quo is severely disrupted by an exogenous factor like a pandemic disease outbreak?

While it was certainly too soon to jump into conclusions, this did not limit the steps and actions in Mexico. Educational Institutions in Mexico attempted to shape the future of learning by introducing E-learning technology into the school systems. While perhaps not transformational, this enabled students and teachers to remain flexible in the case of external factors disrupting the system.

Like Mexico, China had only a few years ago faced a large-scale disease outbreak which also disrupted society, and forced the closure of schools —SARS. China has a long history of using educational television for a variety of purposes. When the magnitude of the SARS epidemic became widely acknowledged, China Educational TV, through its ‘Classroom on the Air’ program, moved quickly to help fill some of the void [2]. Initiatives like Classroom on the Air did provide a large-scale, short-term substitute for students (and their parents) looking to continue their education whilst confined to their home during the epidemic.

Robert Fox highlights in his paper on the SARS epidemic: Teachers’ experiences using ICTs [3] that technology was more disruptive and transformational in Hong Kong’s educational sector where computer use at home, and access to the Internet, was much more widespread than in the rest of China.

In this age of globalisation, people, organisations, institutions and nations are more interconnected than ever before. It is more likely for a crisis involving a singular country to quickly escalate and have implications elsewhere. For this reason, it becomes incredibly vital to fully explore and implement the transformative power of ICTs in teaching and learning.

If a critical and widespread event arises and necessitates the closure of schools, how do we ensure optimal productivity? North American neighbours, the United States and Canada serve as examples of nations where large scale use of educational technologies happens alongside traditional teaching and could easily be implemented remotely in the case of widespread crisis.

But what about African countries universally seen to be ‘lagging behind’ when it comes to integrating technology with education? To what extent, and how, might technology be applicable to enable learning continuity?

Let’s take a look at the growing effects of the COVID- 19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is primarily a health crisis, but it has had far-reaching social, political economic implications. Globally, it has disrupted millions of people’s livelihood; in Africa it is having a disproportionate impact on poor households, educational institutions and small informal businesses—and the pace of this disruption is only likely to accelerate in the weeks ahead.

The vast majority of African nations have a relatively young population —with a median age of 19—there are an estimated 80 million young people in vulnerable employment and a further 110 million who do not contribute to the economy [4]. School closures is having a severe impact on young Africans, with long-term consequences. There is an alarming number of students out of school, who have no other means of communicating with their instructors. For some, there is no form of contact at all while for others they are relegated to inefficient means such as instant messaging and calls, amongst others.

In some African countries, major steps have been taken to ensure learning continuity through the introduction of meaningful innovations to combat the pandemic disruption.

Let’s take a look at a few.

The Egyptian government announced steps to implement distance learning and assessment during school suspension that began on March 15. They have implemented a knowledge bank called the Egyptian Knowledge Bank (EKB) to students, providing content by grade level and subject (kindergarten through secondary education). Content is also multilingual, available in both Arabic and English to all students, parents and teachers and can be accessed via mobile phone or computer. ​

This digital platform also offers a communication channel between students and teachers, to enable about 22 million students distributed over nearly 55,000 schools to communicate with teachers “as if they were present in the school”, explaining lessons, answering student questions, and taking exams online. Videos explaining how to do this are being developed. Students will receive a code from their teachers to enter a virtual class to continue electronically.

These are great steps as various methods of innovation are combined - online courses, teacher check ins and pre recorded videos are used to ensure minimal interferences in the Egyptian education system.

​The Kenyan Ministry of Education shared some guidelines for enhancing teaching and learning for its students out of school as a result of school closures. Starting from March 23, 2020, four main platforms would be utilised in delivering educational programs and resources to learners.

First, in partnership with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), educational radio programs are being broadcast on all weekdays on multiple radio channels.

Second, education television broadcasts have begun on the Edu Channel TV and broadcasting schedules for television and radio are available on its website.

Third, Edu Channel TV is being made available as a live stream, as well as on-demand content via EduTV Kenya YouTube channel.

Fourth, learners can also access digital learning resources from the Kenya Education Cloud, hosted and curated by KICD. In partnership with the Kenya Publishers Association, electronic copies of textbooks have been made available for free on the Kenya Education Cloud for all students.

Kenya has taken a multipronged approach involving four key steps to ensure learning continuity, but they did not stop here. In order to provide wider internet coverage to all students and families, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority in partnership with Alphabet Inc. and Telkom Kenya, has been having Google’s Loon Balloons floating over Kenyan airspace carrying 4G base stations. Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons that provide internet connectivity to rural and remote communities. One balloon can provide internet to an area of 80km.

In Nigeria, the government has developed a ‘Learn at Home Programme’. The programme webpage is constantly updated to reflect the timetable and the aim is to provide context-appropriate resources that allow students, teachers, and schools to capitalise on home-based learning. These resources may include homework assignments, reading material, radio, television, online content, and online learning but the major problem being faced by Nigerian households is the lack of power to access these materials.

All these instances stated above have shown how countries, outside and within Nigeria are handling these pandemics. We will now look at ways educational leaders can innovate to handle these disruptions and practical recommendations to aid this.

Innovation in the midst of a pandemic disruption to ensure learning continuity

Let us ponder on a deliberately provocative statement, “There is now nothing more important to education than access to the Internet and a means to be connected”. This was posed as part of this year’s featured debate at eLearning Africa [5].

While we believe this statement to be completely true, it doesn’t stand alone. It requires many complements and as we have learnt from a number of nations in crisis - the most essential thing is educational institutions remain vigilant and flexible. Being vigilant would ensure that learning isn’t stopped for too long and they need to remain flexible to easily adapt to the unexpected.

There is a non exhaustive list of questions for educational leaders to ponder on when planning for learning continuity:

Below, is a list of recommendations and tools that would enable learning continuity in the midst of a disruption. These recommendations would range from those with no or limited technological sophistication to those with great levels of technological sophistication. As discussed in the earlier segment, Nigeria is a unique nation and it is important to consider a combination and variety of methods to allow for the possibility of restricted access to technology and limited communication by students.

  1. Printed Materials:

Textbooks, photocopies of reference materials, curriculum, and assignments can be prepared in advance for distribution to affected students. Teachers should create hard copy instructional guides in advance of any perceived school closures. It is recommended that all teachers have a generic guide for each semester curriculum created as part of the semester/term plans in the case of any unforeseen or unexpected disruptions. These guides may include worksheets; calendars or schedules of work to be completed; directions for homework, projects, or written assignments; excerpts from textbooks or other reading materials; and sample assessments.

In the case where there is advanced notice before a school closure or prolonged student absence, specific guides should be created based on the planned current curriculum, and that integrate with the lessons that students are currently learning in class.

  1. Teacher Check-ins

A variety of technologies can be used to facilitate one-on-one, or teacher-and-class interaction between students and teachers during prolonged absences or dismissals. These can happen through telephones or group calling of students. Whatsapp calls can also be very effective for this purpose.

Schools need to ensure every student has an electronic mail (preferably connected to the school for easy access). Teachers can then use their existing email service provider to send, receive, and track messages.

Social Media is also an interesting means that is yet to be explored by schools. A Nigerian university lecturer was recently seen on Instagram live educating his Engineering class and it proved to be very effective as many students, parents, faculty, and staff use social media on a daily basis for personal use, but it can also serve as a vehicle to send announcements about lessons, grade uploads, teacher absences, etc

  1. Pre recorded classes

Using audio or video technology, recorded class meetings can be given to students via podcasts, live or on-demand television and online.

Teachers can use audio recorders to record classes and electronically distribute to students (e.g. as email attachments, through file sharing technology, or even as a podcast). Alternatively, digital audio recordings could be burned to CDs or DVDs if not all students have Internet accessibility outside of school.

In times of large-scale school closures or emergencies, schools may have the option of partnering with local television and radio stations to communicate with students and families. These transmissions can provide distance learning lessons in themselves, or information on how distance learning will continue (i.e. referrals to other systems or resources). The Lagos state government has recently adopted this method and it has proved successful to a large extent.

  1. Learning Management Systems

These are very robust systems that would allow teachers to share and store numerous instructional materials, including assignments, guides, calendars, and assessments. School administrators and teachers would also be able to track student progress and grade work; send messages and notifications to students; facilitate discussions with students using blogs and/or discussion boards; conduct online class meetings.

Learning management systems are tools specifically to deepen the connection between a student and teacher, whether it is being used to complement traditional systems or used as a substitute. With Learning management systems, schools would be able to do the following;

At Softcom, we have a Learning management solution called Koya that can be combined with any of the methods listed above to improve learning outcomes and experiences in educational institutions.

Learn more at www.koya.co.

Conclusion

Educational institutions globally have been repeatedly affected by various disruptions and have innovated in different ways.

Online and distance learning have forced massive adaptation in how information is delivered and how learning continuity is ensured globally but in Nigeria and Africa at large, innovation needs to be unique taking into consideration the special needs of the society. There are a huge number of students without access or the resources to afford the technology, students with learning challenges are being left behind, institutions away from urban centers and robust infrastructure are being left behind.

Education leaders and stakeholders must seek to have a combination of solutions that range from those with low technological sophistication to those that require high tech to cater to the unique needs of our society. This is the only way to ensure this push to change the delivery of teaching to online platforms delivers on the promise of learning efficiency and continuity. Once an institution makes these changes, such changes must be studied for efficacy and to understand best what works and does not and for whom. This will enable institutions to invest in the right materials, resources and technology that will enable education to continue effectively after interruptions and even without the physical presence of learners and instructors.

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