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There’s Never a Quarantine on Learning

There’s Never a Quarantine on Learning

With schools going into temporary shut-down and parents perhaps into shock our immediate response was to ask what can we do to help parents, students, teachers and their leaders to cope in this unprecedented moment for the world.

How could we make sure that the learning doesn’t stop too? Could we turn adversity into opportunity? After all in life, it’s often adversity that’s our greatest teacher.

So yesterday morning I got my whole team together to brainstorm: “What is necessary and what is possible as teaching moves out, for a while, from the classroom and into the home?” Get those right we thought and suddenly doing the impossible, learning without going to school is not only possible but will create new learning for everyone involved. Parents become better homeschoolers, teachers truly harnessing the new powers of digital and students learning the power of self-organising and staying in touch without touching as we are all learning to do.  TELLAL Virtual Learning Guide

On a further positive note, considerable evidence shows that periods of extreme adversity foster innovation. The UAE Government school’s proposed home-teaching programme called Learn from Afar could be an example of this. I’m very confident that we will see inspiring ways of virtual learning in our private schools, in setting up their own distance-learning programmes or expanding their existing e-learning tools. Out of such self-organizing behaviours, a new order for teaching and learning will emerge. And, in my view, there will be no going back.

At the TELLAL Institute, we have been thinking about how we might help both teachers and parents in these unprecedented times. We asked ourselves; “What will be keeping parents awake at night?; “How do I create a home school environment for my child or what does virtual learning look like?”. Or, as teachers, “How can we adapt the curriculum online – ensuring quality and consistency and how do we communicate the adapted curriculum to the parents?”.

Students too will likely be stressing about how to cope with their parents; keeping in touch with their friends and preparing for exams. With these concerns in mind, TELLAL has designed a select range of resources to support teachers and parents in intelligent and practical ways. Naturally, the resources are in both Arabic and English.

Key messages stemming from our collective thinking  focus on:

1 Living in the Solution

2 Understanding the current environment

3 Sharing the problem. Sharing the support.

In considering all our efforts to contain the virus and Learn from Afar, it’s worthwhile drawing on some of the lessons learned from China, where, in order to help contain the epidemic, the ministry announced on Jan 27, 2020 that schools should delay the opening of the spring semester until further notice. It also called for “nonstop teaching and learning” and encouraged various online education methods. Insights gained from schools in China trying to restore education through online learning include:

  • Teachers have formed groups to learn best practices from each other, consult with technical staff, and master different kinds of online teaching platforms.
  • Some teachers are growing stressed dealing with the challenges of online teaching, including the lack of face-to-face interaction and sometimes unreliable technology. In the future, there is a need to better prepare teachers with ICT competency in advance, to ensure online teaching and learning can continue in another emergency.
  • To help bolster teachers’ ICT competency, there is a need to provide a one-stop online teaching and learning support platform to provide teachers with the technical information for ICT tools and platforms, general guideline for online teaching, practical education resources, and other support, including feedback for teachers’ questions and psychological support.
  • Online platforms should include multiple options for meeting practical teaching needs, such as synchronized video and voice for group learning and classroom interactions.
  • There is a need to rethink how education can be effective for students’ overall cognitive and non-cognitive development with e-learning.
  • There are challenges in teachers interacting with students through online education, as only a few teachers take students’ feelings and interests into account.

*Drawing on the lessons learnt from China…

In preparing online courses, teachers are rising before 7 am to see if every student in their classes has registered their attendance online. In one middle school teachers are starting their school day at home on their laptops and smartphones. By 7:20 am, they are calling those who have not registered, to prepare them for their day’s studies in cyberspace. Forty minutes later, teachers begin to live streaming their lessons. For many it is the first time they had tried a live streaming app, and, not surprisingly have felt quite nervous. For some, it is taking them 4 to 5 hours to prepare for a 40-minute class as they struggle with the new skills needed for online courses, such as such as speaking naturally in front of a camera and creating a PowerPoint presentation on, for example, analytical geometry.

In learning full-time from home, Wuhan students have been just as busy as the teachers. In the locked down epicentre of the outbreak in Hubei province, Wuhan No 11 High School and Wuhan Pacific High School are among those that have been exploring online education options. The school’s online courses, launched on Jan 30 via Alibaba’s DingTalk app, have been attended by more than 700 12th-grade students. One 12th-grader at Wuhan Pacific High School said: “Seeing the surge in the number of people infected, I became anxious after being quarantined at home during the winter vacation. Having online classes relieves my tension and makes me focus on my studies. “The school’s WeChat account shows that on Jan 30, teachers of 12th-grade students began conducting live-streaming courses via the QQ online messaging platform. Four days later, all 10th-and 11th grade students at the school had started taking online courses. When the new semester began online in Wuhan on Feb 10, more than 1 million primary and secondary school students and their parents viewed 426 virtual classes, according to the Wuhan education bureau.

The government’s efforts more generally, are worth noting. Nationwide, traditional bricks-and-mortar schools are working with internet companies to offer classes online. The Shanghai Municipal Education Commission announced that schools would launch a regional online education program via television and the internet. The program began airing on Monday. In an effort to combat the outbreak, state and regional teaching resources to guarantee online education for students nationwide were harnessed. On Feb 17, a cloud platform began broadcasting to ensure the country’s 180 million students could continue their studies. In the first week, the platform offered 169 lessons covering 12 subjects.

The government has enlisted three major telecoms operators-China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom-as well as tech companies such as Huawei, Baidu and Alibaba to back up the platform with 7,000 servers, according to China Central Television. In addition to online classes, primary and secondary school students can study via television, according to the ministry. For students living in remote or rural areas with poor internet accessibility, a channel operated by China Education Television started airing classes on Feb 17 to enable home studies.

Contributed by Dr. Linda Rush, Dean of the TELLAL Institute


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