The Blending of Space and Time During COVID-19

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and the necessity of the use of EdTech for remote learning will blend, bend, and alter the new norm for education systems as they reimagine space and time. EdTech has always promised anytime, anywhere learning and we are currently seeing the challenges and opportunities of this mode of learning.  While education systems deal with emergency responses to the crisis, they are also laying the seeds for future recovery, resilience and reform of the system.  Schools will eventually re-open and students will return to the classroom.  The investments and decisions, however, being made today to deliver remote learning will create a new normal in which the question of where students learn and when they learn will blend classroom learning with home learning bringing education to the student – anytime, anywhere. 

This blog looks at 5 critical questions countries are asking in light of COVID school closures and answers that may reveal the future of an education reform agenda.

  1. Learning Resources. What content and resources are available for remote learning and how can I integrate these into my curriculum?  In response to this question, Ministries have found a vast amount of available digital resources that are freely available. They have also realized however that these resources need curation, categorization and integration with the curriculum as well as a strategy of multi-model delivery via the most appropriate channel – Radio, TV, Mobile and On-line as highlighted in this blog sharing experiences from Spain, Mexico and Uruguay.  Moreover, many countries like Brazil are finding new crowdsourced content on YouTube.  In India the EkStep Foundation has linked QR codes to textbooks to extend access to digital resources.  The app is available also to use offline.
  1. Student Engagement.  How do I maintain student engagement in learning from a distance?  Ministries are identifying programs that incorporate storytelling, interactivity, and games to engage and motivate students.  Edutainment provider Ubongo shared some lessons here at the World Bank on April 22.  Over 17 million families in Africa learn with Ubongo’s edu-cartoons and radio programs in 12 countries in 4 languages combining TV with mobile technologies.  Poland supports many innovative content initiatives including Grarantanna, which included the setting up of a dedicated educational Minecraft server.
  1. Teacher and Parent Engagement. How can I best support teachers and parents to engage with students from a distance?  Education is a social endeavor and the quantity and quality of engagement and interaction with the student either through teacher, parent, or other educator is essential to the learning process. Ministries are expanding the human resources available to support student learning.  Argentina has introduced through Seguimos Educando the concept of combining the teacher with a conductor (journalist, artist, scientist) for radio and TV broadcasts.  Israel has introduced the i-scientist program – a “dating” app in which teachers can book a webinar with a scientist.  In the Kyrgyz Republic the Ministry of Education and Science announced a campaign, "Reading Family", through Facebook.  Parents read and discuss books together with their children, post information on Facebook with the hashtag “#uido_kitep_okuibuz” and pass on a baton to their friends via social networks. The most active families will be given gifts and nominated with the title "Akurman Uy-buloo” (“Erudite Family").
  1. Assessment.  How do I know if learning is happening and how do I address learning gaps?  One of the largest challenges is assessment of student learning from a distance.  Many countries have cancelled or modified national exams and have defaulted to other means of assessment.  This blog on High Stakes Exams During COVID 19 discusses the tradeoffs between health, equity and accountability.  In Egypt, for grades 3-7 (transition years), exams will not be conducted for students at the end of the current school year.​ Instead, a research project for each subject will be completed on the electronic platform.  The crisis is forcing many countries to reconsider the value of high stakes exams and the opportunities for technology to capture data for continuous formative assessments.  Mexico has introduced the concept of “portfolios of experience” in which parents take photos or videos of what the children are learning at home to present to teachers when schools open. 
  1. Data Infrastructure.  What investments should I make to ensure broader access to digital resources and interoperability of data?  Ministries are reaching out to mobile and telecommunication providers to explore options to expand access to students and parents, discovering the need for increased server capacity, and identifying challenges with integration of new platforms and the data that is collected through the platforms.  This blog highlights how Ministries are working with technology providers on solutions such as on zero-rating as in Colombia, use of universal service funds and public hotspots.   Other countries like Bhutan are also exploring reducing costs for connectivity.  A number of countries are embracing open learning management systems and consortia are forming around open education such as Open EdTech Consortium who have adopted these principles for open education.  In order to provide wider internet coverage to all students and families, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) in partnership with Alphabet Inc. and Telkom Kenya, has partnered with Google’s Loon Balloons floating over Kenyan airspace to carry 4G base stations. Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons that provide internet connectivity to rural and remote communities.

The overarching question is how this emergency response to COVID-19 will impact the future of learning and how education will be re-imagined?  The crisis has highlighted the importance of the physical space that the school provides as a community hub.  The school is appreciated as a critical public space for delivery of food, paper learning resources, and child-care – providing a safe place while parents work.   More importantly however it is a space for social engagement with teachers, peers, and school leaders who care about each other and create a culture of excellence and inquiry.  The crisis however has highlighted that the school is not the only place education happens.  As countries build resilience for the next crisis and consider reforms to the system, many will blend bringing students to school for the essential face to face engagement with bringing education to students – anytime, anywhere.


Robert Hawkins

Sr. Education Specialist

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