How teachers are stepping up to the call of the children to ensure learning continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They faced the camera in bright studios to record lessons. For many, it was their first experience. They adapted to google classroom. They created group chats on all social media platforms accessible to children and parents. They made home visits and served as front line volunteers.
Teachers across the country have stepped up to the call of the children whose learning is disrupted with the closure of schools by the coronavirus pandemic scare.
Like most schools across the country, Gelephu Middle Secondary School went the extra mile to ensure its children were learning and engaged at home. The school has a 1:1 student tap ratio when its grade X students returned to school in July. Every floor of its new school building has toilets and running water. But this was not enough when a majority of its children were home. It was the struggle of its students, from grades pre-primary to IX who didn’t return to school since March that got the school to come up with HELP – Home Engagement Learning Programme.
“We realized that all our children didn’t have access to e-learning lessons given their limited or no access to smart phones,” school principal, Wangmo said. “Also, children couldn’t learn from Self-Instructional Materials (SIM) on their own.”
Other factors that led the school to initiate HELP were the large number of urban poor families who couldn’t access e-learning lessons, the trouble parents had to go through to print out the questions sent through the online chat groups and the loss of learning among children.
“We felt our children would not be able to achieve the learning outcomes designed in the various subjects that is required for them to graduate to the next grade,” Wangmo said.
For more than two weeks, teachers spent time curating content from SIM, EiE and other resources for each grade and each subject to put together the HELP booklet. Along with other partners, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education in the printing of SIM for about 32,135 children across the country. SIM contain the same lessons broadcast on television for different grades, with some additional instructions and follow-up activities to engage children meaningfully.
On August 10, the school launched the booklet. The next day, the country went into a 21 day nationwide lockdown, halting the school’s plan to distribute the booklets to the children. A resident of Gelephu had tested positive for COVID-19 outside a quarantine facility prompting the government to lockdown the country to trace and contain the infection.
A week into the lockdown, the school sought permission from the task force to allow the staff to carry out the printing, binding and distribution of HELP booklets. Seven staff members were given 10 days to put together 3,000 booklets for 507 students. The school completed the task in a week. “Parents are harassed and HELP came about to address this issue,” the principal says. “We hope that children get motivated to learn.”
Esha Ghalley, 11, a grade V student finds the booklet helpful and informative. “It has enough space for us to write the answers,” she says. Earlier, the students had to write down the questions and the answers in a separate sheet or book, take photos and send it through the class’s WeChat group. “We had trouble understanding the lessons but not anymore.”
Esha’s father, Ratna Bdr Ghalley is a nurse and as a front liner, he says, he is unable to give his daughter enough time at home. “When I get home, I sit down with her and tried my best to guide her but it was often challenging,” he says. “She expects us to explain the lessons like her teacher.”
The HELP booklet, he says, is a big help to both children and parents. “It covers all the lessons and is easy for us to understand. But I am unable to guide her every day. I wish the school reopens soon.”
Esha is as keen to return to school. “I miss my friends the most,” she says. “We get bored at home.”
Tshewang Choden, 32, another parent and guardian also found the HELP booklet useful. Her younger brother is a grade IX student and her son, a pre-pre-primary student at the same school. “Earlier, we had to copy the questions sent through WeChat, write down the answers and then share it with the teachers. The booklet has questions and illustrations for children to understand the lessons,” she says.
Like many other parents, Tshewang is eager to see the school reopening. “We never taught, so we are not familiar with teaching children like our teachers,” she says. “For our children’s learning, it is better for them to be in school.”
A parent of Karma Samphel who is also a principal of Gelephu’s lone private school says the name of the booklet itself is to help keep children engaged without depending on cell phones or television.
“It has helped direct the children’s attention from gadgets and has pictorial representations, which are very helpful to the children,” he says. “It is not as confusing as google classroom and it is helping children understand the lessons.”
Principal Wangmo says the school received help from the community to put together the HELP booklets. The paper was contributed by the parents. Gelephu Higher Secondary School provided the cartridge, Kuendrup HSS, the muster roll; the Losel Gyatsho Academy lent their school bus for the teachers to distribute the books to the children and the municipality office helped with the printing cost of the booklets’ cover pages.
“The booklet is a follow up to every lesson the teacher teaches online, helps keep track of children’s learning and saves internet charges,” she says. “As a school, our focus is on the wellbeing of our children and we hope the HELP initiative will contribute to this.”
Commending the various initiatives teachers are taking to ensure that no child is left behind, UNICEF Bhutan Representative, Dr Will Parks said UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Education to bridge the learning gap the pandemic has created due to school closure and in place measures to ensure safe reopening of schools.
“UNICEF thanks Bhutan’s teachers across the country for reimagining education for all children and supporting their learning from home.”