The School That Never Left

One of the perks of COVID19 is the realization that learning does not have to be confined to a brick and mortar space. When schools had to close in Tanzania on 17th March following the pandemic, over 13 Million students were left uncertain of their learning outcomes given their prime learning spaces were not available. Quickly, the Government, private and development sector mobilized learning opportunities through technology whether on TV, Radio or on the web. It was a time of possibilities. There is also a new reality that we have to know, in one way or another, there is a teacher in all of us. Shule Direct sought to support parents with this newfound task through a parents’ corner, which picked up so fast explaining the need. The fluid nature of learning goes hand in hand with the flexible nature of who should be dispensing that knowledge. If learning can happen anywhere, then teaching can happen from anyone. 

As much as the promise of technology in education is encouraging we cannot help but observe the inequality of the global education systems and the widening gap brought about the very same thing I propagate; technology. However, that does not mean we cannot work with what we have as we prepare for better days. One of the famous adages during this pandemic pushing for innovation and birth of new ventures or slimmer waistlines, was ‘never waste a crisis’. As we came to a standstill, it was an opportune time to leverage the stillness and be better, do better and deliver better. As a person who found herself defending digital platforms for learning because well, I was constantly accused that we were leaving people behind, I really wondered how people are not considering the alternative. Are we rather NOBODY learns than not providing learning opportunities through technology because the digital platforms whether on web, applications or media are not accessible. Can the discourse also be on how we can bring children left behind to these platforms? 

So what is a learning platform, really? As a non-techie working in a techie world, it is simply a combination of knowledge or information based content presented in a format that can be accessible and providing a learning experience to the user. Technology is a base supporting that delivery because it can organize, manage, engage and ensure access to millions of users at a go. Not exactly the same outputs as a human experience, in fact in my humble opinion, technology that tries to mimic a human experience is dead on arrival. To make it better these platforms can have an assortment of support beyond academic curriculums, they can include social and emotional wellbeing support, they can be delivered in multiple dynamic formats for diverse learning needs and abilities and better yet, the user has complete autonomy on how, what and when they should learn. I just remembered this cartoon, that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. The beauty of technology, it allows students to demonstrate learning in different ways, their assessments can take various formats and truly be inclusive and equitable. Yes, we should judge a fish by its ability to swim.

Now, I do not want you to think I am here to discredit a learning experience from human interactions. I want us to have it all, all of us to have it all. There are so many moving parts for learning through technology to happen, but let us break it down; we have to consider CONTENT, TECHNOLOGY (platforms), CONNECTIVITY, DEVICES, CAPACITY (digital literacy) and BEHAVIOURS. With all these factors together, we hope children who engage with the ‘system’ will realize their potential. Realized potential in this case is our return on investment, but there are no returns without an investment.

As schools reopened on 29th June, it is evident that at least 270,000 students across Tanzania on Shule Direct digital platforms did not let a crisis go to waste. Students have been taking online tests to revise while at home, talking to a virtual teacher and tracking their progress through individual reports which they can share with their parents. My favorite of all is enhanced parents engagement where we witnessed 4000 parents and more registering on the platform within two months of the new feature. Alongside new 5,322 registered teachers; totaling 44,991 registered teachers improving parent – teacher relations pertinent to the child’s success. COVID19 brought us together, we were all concerned and wondered and still wondering of the fate of our children’s education. This is an opportunity to invest, whether it is in creating relevant educational content, developing accessible technologies, building the right internet connectivity infrastructures, providing affordable devices, improving digital skills and changing our mindsets and attitudes by highlighting the positives of technology, we all have a part to play. 

As we are investing in human potential, numbers do not lie. If we invest in only 30 – 40% of our children, we cannot expect strong returns on investment from the remaining 60% - 70%. 

Shule is a Kiswahili for school, when we say Shule Direct, we mean learning that is personally delivered to a student. Learning as should be, a continuum neither confined to school nor home, anytime and anywhere. We cannot leave any child behind, let us leverage all opportunities to learn, digital or not. 

In Service,