Teaching to support learning in times of crisis

06May 2020
The Guardian
Teaching to support learning in times of crisis

In Tanzania and across the globe, schools and institutions of higher learning have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an educator and a parent, I constantly ponder on the impact of this pandemic to quality teaching and learning.

By Nipael Mrutu

In a quest for continuity, my friends and I decided to hire private tutors to teach our children at home. Children had to wash their hands, sanitize the laptops, sanitize their hands, and wear a mask. The tutors had to do the same too. This initiative proved futile as “stay at home” and “social distancing” slogans amplified. This meant letting go of the tutors and fully engaging in our children’s learning as parents.

Parental engagement means spending more time with your child, which in essence is a good thing no doubt.  However, offices have not been closed, parents are expected to work perhaps even harder than before. As an educator, I thought supporting my 10-year old daughter with her schoolwork would not be a hassle. I quickly realized I was wrong; I too was challenged in many ways. For instance, I am not an expert in mathematics and my child approached me regularly for guidance on mathematical problems. Sometimes she would need support when I am busy attending a long Zoom meeting, or teaching a class online. She had to wait, sometimes for many hours before I was available to assist. While she was waiting, her to-do list kept piling with assessment tasks.

It was obvious that having to wait until I was free to assist her was not a good plan. I had to develop a plan B which will enable both of us meet our deadlines. I had to support her to support herself through owning her learning. She received her assessment tasks and activities through Google Classroom. Before COVID-19, she knew nothing about the web application. I took her through the basics on how to use Google Classroom and she was then able to sign in into her Gmail account, navigate google classroom, read her email, read teachers comments and notes, chat with her classmates, download her classwork, search for papers, articles and educational videos, write her assignments, upload them and turn them in.

Quality education is usually at risk during times of crisis. The global education agenda, Education 2030, urges countries to implement policies and strategies to ensure that the right to a quality education is delivered no matter the circumstances.

In countries such as Tanzania where we are still working towards minimizing educational challenges such as shortage of teachers, limited teaching and learning materials including ICT, supporting our children to own their learning is an option we cannot easily ignore.

We should consider that rights go hand in hand with responsibilities; although all children have the right to education, we often forget that children or learners ought to be responsible for their learning. An adult’s presence is meant to only support learning to take place, but adults are not custodians of knowledge and neither are they required to control learning.

It is of equal importance to rethink school policies regarding children’s use of mobile phones. Mobile phones can be handy in times like these where some schools are sending schoolwork via whatssap. In an attempt to reach more learners, broadcasting should yet be another option. The ministry of education can look into the possibilities of cooperating with broadcasting companies to develop and air educational TV and radio programs that follow the national (NECTA) curriculum.

The author is a Faculty member at Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development, East Africa.

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