lessons from remote learning experiences in over 45 countries

Photo: Shutterstock

Although they are generally seen as too resilient to transformation, the COVID-19 pandemic in education systems is likely to have seen more change and innovation than in the previous decade. The responses to emergency distance learning taken during the pandemic highlighted many ups and downs, as well as many questions: what worked well and what didn’t? what innovations reinforce, expose or mitigate existing inequalities? what institutional capabilities have proved useful for rapid adaptation to the crisis? how to scale and possibly maintain an effective distance learning policy?

On International Education Day, the World Bank and the OECD publish a collection of 45 stories on the continuity of education: “How Learning Continued During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Global Lessons from Student and Teacher Support Initiatives”, Jointly documented by the two organizations in partnership with the Global Education Innovation Initiative at Harvard University and HundrED. The case studies cover many examples of how, in the face of an unprecedented health crisis, governments and NGOs were quick to respond to school closures through distance learning strategies.

The stories presented in the report illustrate how countries have responded to critical issues related to the support of teachers, parents and students; lack of digital infrastructure; and strengthening organizational capacity to deploy distance and blended learning. It turns out a few lessons.

Rethinking human connections – how did countries support teachers, parents and students?

The pandemic demonstrated the importance of different ways to support teachers and provide them (and school principals) with training and resources. Developing educational repositories for sharing best practices, providing opportunities for peer engagement and encouraging collaboration are some of the strategies that various stakeholders around the world are implementing. In Ukraine, for example, Virtual Edcamp (participatory professional development activities organized by volunteer teachers and educators) helped to rehabilitate teachers (involving teachers from 43 countries) and to share and disseminate good teaching practice.

The pandemic also highlighted the important role that parents and caregivers can play, especially in early childhood education, provided they receive effective guidance and assistance to promote learning at home. In India (Madhya Pradesh), for example, 51,000 WhatsApp groups with more than 1.9 million parents and 200,000 teachers were created in two months, making digital content and curricula available to parents.

Facing inequality – how have countries mitigated the lack of digital infrastructure and communication?

The pandemic highlighted existing digital inequalities: on average, two-thirds of school-age students (ages 3-17) did not have access to the Internet at home. Even in high-income countries, connectivity and IT equipment have proven to be a challenge. Some countries have previously had distance learning programs, such as radio education in Sierra Leone and Liberia (developed during the Ebola crisis), educational television programs in Mexico, or online platforms in Korea and Uruguay. Most countries have had to overcome problems related to insufficient digital infrastructure. In Colombia, for example, the government subsidized Internet access and supported students, teachers, and parents using a multimodal approach. The Ministry of National Education has provided a wide range of educational resources free of charge through its Aprender Digital platform. To ensure access to this content for children, the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MinTIC) in consultation with the Ministry of Education has passed a law requiring mobile operators to provide zero conditions for the educational community so that the Internet and mobile providers do not charge for data certain services and websites. The Uruguayan company Ceibal en casa (Ceibal at Home) has offered students and faculty a national learning management system with interactive communication features and more than 170,000 educational resources, including adaptive solutions and gamification resources. The program also expanded access to devices in families where they were needed, expanding the rigid digital infrastructure by 400% to better support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ecosystem Engagement – How have countries increased their organizational capacity through collaboration and partnership?

The pandemic has made it clear that, given the complexity of distance learning and multilateralism, ministries of education cannot work in isolation and must cooperate with other organizations (public, private, academic). The common challenge was how to effectively articulate a digital educational ecosystem that is typically very dynamic, and bring together all players (providers of products and services) to provide solutions. The Peruvian Ministry of Education has worked with its Mexican counterpart to gain access to TV lessons they have previously developed for the rural population. The state of Edo was launched in Nigeria [email protected], a mobile extension of the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (Edo-BEST) program, developed as a public-private partnership between the Edo State Council for General Basic Education, the World Bank, and Bridge International Academies. This program is rapidly scaled and used throughout Nigeria. In addition, various nonprofits have played a key role in supporting governments in developing and rapidly implementing distance learning strategies, monitoring access, and verifying their effectiveness.

Reflecting on the lessons learned and looking forward

There are huge challenges ahead: measuring learning loss, implementing recovery plans, deploying effective blended learning, returning or at least mitigating the negative effects of dropout, improving the delivery of digital education. To address these challenges, it is important to understand and reflect on the lessons of continuing learning efforts over the past two years. A retrospective analysis of what worked and what didn’t, and what can be replicated from one setting to another, can and should serve as a guide for strategies to address the following challenges in the next chapter of this global crisis.

Leave a Comment