"The LearnIn initiative came at the right time”

The new digital initiative empowers teachers with high-quality, culturally relevant and collaborative learning opportunities and supports them in creating meaningful learning experiences for their students.

Angela Hawke
LearnIn workshop
UNICEF
13 July 2020

Almost 50 million children in 20 countries across the Europe and Central Asia Region (ECAR) have been affected by school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who face challenges to learning at home, who don’t have computers or internet access, and who haven’t had any contact with their friends during lockdown, this has been a time of anxiety, stress and isolation. And now, a combination of confinement and lack of education poses an unprecedented threat to their current well-being and their future prospects.

Education systems have been racing to reach as many children as possible with high-quality online learning. But many have struggled with limited internet coverage in some areas, a lack of high-quality digital learning resources and tools.

Teachers felt unprepared to engage students online, particularly the most marginalized, including children with disabilities. They lacked support in designing digital lessons and assessing the progress of their students remotely. Many faced difficulties as they worked to adapt to online teaching, while facing the same anxiety and stress as everyone else during lockdown.

As noted by Kiriaki Melliou, Educational Coordinator, Greece, “The pandemic has led most of the teachers to physical and emotional exhaustion.”

That is where the LearnIn initiative comes in: a digital learning initiative to support both students and teachers as lifelong learners. Launched by UNICEF’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (ECARO) in April 2020, LearnIn was originally designed to respond to a regional learning crisis already affecting millions of children and young people, particularly the most vulnerable.

Even before COVID-19, 11 million children and adolescents were out of school and only half of all 15-year olds were reaching international benchmarks for basic proficiency in math, reading and science. Marginalized children (children with disabilities or living in poverty, Roma, ethnic minorities) are often completely cut off from education because of a lack of the accessible, critical services and support they need to participate. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified challenges that were already severe.

The LearnIn initiative came at the right time. The situation with COVID-19 in our country has shown how vulnerable the education system is and the difficulties in realizing distance learning (for teachers, students, parents, for all educational institutions).It was necessary to do something urgent.” 

Mitko Cheshlarov, Head of Sector for Curricula, North Macedonia

LearnIn has moved fast to help build the foundations to ensure education continuity and maximize students’ learning. Within its first two months, LearnIn launched a multi-disciplinary Regional Task Force and delivered resources, tools and training to educators in Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Kosovo (UNSCR 1244), Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Romania through National Task Forces that support LearnIn implementation and sustainability at local level.

“LearnIn has supported me in the planning, implementation and reflection on my work as a teacher which relates to the specific situation during the COVID-19 crisis but also in welcoming students back to schools.”

Rajmonda Mullaymeri, Assistant teacher, Albania

LearnIn is helping countries build teacher capacity at the national level so that they are equipped to support the most marginalized children in their communities. The initiative promotes a learner-centred approach, guided by the latest research on effective ways to ensure learning for all, building educational pathways tailored to the specific needs of each child, aiming for their full inclusion.

LearnIn’s approach to the most marginalized learners includes a special focus in teacher training on how to support children with disabilities and an ‘ecosystem’ approach to address the issues  -- many of them going beyond the education sector alone – that face minority groups, such as Roma communities.

Within the first two months of LearnIn, the initiative:

  • Delivered an Emergency Manual for Teachers to teachers in LearnIn countries.
  • Localized the Teacher Manual and workshop materials in local languages of LearnIn countries.
  • Delivered pedagogy workshops and related trainings to more than 150 national teacher trainers.
  • Disseminated pedagogy workshops in Greece, Serbia, and Albania, reaching 800+ people.
  • Organized discussions with teachers, ed tech specialist and policy makers with the focus on the key challenges, such as the assessment of learning and inclusion of the marginalized children.
  • Launched national discussions with educators and policy makers, including development of digital learning strategy in North Macedonia and assessment in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Provided digital tools and created LearnIn Wiki - an online repository for all materials and resources. The WiKi generated 1,638 visits from 32 countries, with a total of 10,817 page views in the first month.
  • Initiated the work on the LearnIn digital environment.
  • Completed Needs Assessments research in LearnIn countries to inform the future materials, resources, and tools.
LearnIn Serbia
UNICEF
Serbia’s National community of LearnIn moderators and co-moderators

“LearnIn has helped us to better understand challenges teachers and students faced during pandemic, as well as to map a community of educators willing to share and transform educational practice. It has been an opportunity to better understand how the education system adapted to the pandemic, as well as how that has affected the most vulnerable students and teachers.”

Ljiljana Simić, Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, Serbia

Next steps:

The support provided during the lockdown and this first phase of LearnIn – to address the immediate needs for online and distance learning and to build the infrastructure – is just the beginning. As countries emerge from the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, LearnIn stands ready to support educators and policymakers in reimagining better education for all children.

It is already clear that this initiative offers a way to enable all students to continue learning during the COVID-19 crisis – and far beyond – by improving the capacity, tools and infrastructure needed to transform learning and support education systems.

 

LearnIn is implemented by UNICEF ECARO in partnership with the Zurich University of Teacher Education PHZH, Harvard’s LabXchange, CRI (The Center of Research and Interdisciplinarity),  and other partners who contribute their expertise, digital tools, and technologies.

For more information, please contact Leila Toplic (leila@learnin.community) and Nora Shabani (nshabani@unicef.org)