There is a global consensus around that returning to schools can and must be better, taking the opportunities that the current crisis of the COVID19 opens up to us. With the suspension of on-site classes, the ways in which teachers have innovated to keep education going were among the most creative and resilient. In this article, we share some of the #LessonsLearned which they share with us to continue #BuildingFuture.
“To come back better”
There is a global consensus that the return to schools can and must be better, taking the opportunities that the current crisis of the COVID19 opens up to us, to solve the fundamental problems that have been most evident in this period, and which expose decades of social and educational debt to be addressed. The time is now.
Almost 90 days after the beginning of the quarantine in our country, one of the sectors with the greatest challenges in terms of innovation and creativity to respond to the situation has been education. With the suspension of classes at the beginning of March, at first for a few weeks, and then until the end of the school year, the ways in which teachers managed to reach their students and families and keep education going were among the most diverse, innovative and creative.
From the Socio-Educational Observatory we surveyed public school teachers from vulnerable communities in the Central department, departments of Cordillera and Guairá where the foundation accompanies socio-educational processes, to learn more about the situation, listen to their voices and raise their reflections, analyses and proposals. We have a great deal to learn from this experience. In this article we address some of the#LessonsLearned which they share with us.
Teachers at national level
To understand the context of this challenge, we must first look at who our teachers are today. To date, the country has 57,313 teachers in Basic School Education, of whom 46,760 are in the official sector. The primacy of teaching by women is key, with women accounting for 65.3% of the total. The Central Department accounts for one fifth of the country’s total teachers, with women also being the most important.
Most of the teachers have been teaching for more than 15 years. Only 10,906 teachers have been teaching for less than 5 years, while 11,029 teachers have between 6 and 10 years of service. The remaining 55,225 teachers -in the public and private sector- have more than 11 years of service: 22% have between 11 and 15 years, 18% between 16 and 20 years, 12% between 21 and 24 years of service and the rest have 25 years and more of service (Elías et al, 2020).
The challenges of education in times of pandemic
“Our strength? The dedication to the profession, the ability to renew and that openness to welcome changes,” mentions a teacher when asked about the work of teaching in times of pandemic. “I learn with my child and we have fun with the whole family,” says another. “I have a good attitude and a desire to keep updated to give my classes virtually, although we were never trained to do so” comments another teacher.
Despite all the adversities, the lack of equipment, infrastructure and clear guidelines of work and orientation, the teachers in the communities have found ways to continue advancing in education and to reach their students. The task is not easy, and 80.9 % say it takes much more time than on-site teaching. 35.3% do not have access to a computer, and 13.2% do not have access to Internet. The remaining percentage is divided between those who own a computer, those who whose family or colleagues own one, as well as having Internet at home, at school or at a friend’s.
Communities of learning and solidarity
Groups of teachers who work from a colleague’s computer, using another’s internet connectionhave been formed, generating synergy and fostering a learning community to address challenges and gaps in infrastructure. Learning to use virtual distance education tools, and the incorporation of ICTs – Information and Communication Technology – and TLTs – Teaching and Learning Technologies – is undoubtedly one of the main learning outcomes highlighted by teachers.
The one who has the greatest command of the virtual tools to be used teaches the other, and knowledge and skills are shared and fostered. In community, teachers feel challenged and grow, responding to children and their needs.
Fostering constructuvism and inclusiveness
The follow-up to the children is constant: 89.7% of the teachers do it daily, sending homework, and some visit those children who are not participating for various reasons. The main means of contact is the WhastApp application, through which 99.3% of the teachers work with their students, complementing them with printed materials taken home when economic conditions allow it. With the limitations of connectivity and monitoring, the teachers emphasize the implementation of constructivism in learning: “I like this system of work because it is done by trial and error. It gives the child the opportunity to give his or her opinion, and based on that, he or she is guided, if necessary,” says one teacher.
They also claim that the incorporation of distance classes opens up the possibility of reaching those children who, for various reasons, have dropped out of school or are not able to attend classes. They believe that it is possible to incorporate a mixed modality that expands access to education based on virtuality in the post-pandemic period. To this end, they recommend improving connectivity and equipment for students, proposing the provision of computers to students, and guaranteeing mobile data (credit) for educational work.
Connectivity and equipment: an existing debt
The vast majority of students have access to the Internet, but in 97.1% of cases it is through a cell phone, which in 89.6% of cases belongs to the father or mother, so that when the latter leaves home to work, the student does not have their learning tool. “The weakness we find is that parents go out to work, and it is after returning from work when students can do their homework, and this results in an accumulation of it. Most students do not have their own cell phones,” mentions a teacher.
“Many parents cannot work with their children because of a lack of knowledge of pedagogical techniques,” adds another teacher, adding that access to the official education platform through cell phones is difficult and that there is often a lack of systematic credit for mobile data in families (credit for Internet).
Teacher-student-family shared work: the key
Teachers, students and families are not giving up in the face of adversity, and are working together to move forward. “Nobody wants to miss the year,” they say. This crisis has led to families to be much more involved in their children’s education today. “The accompaniment of the family is a strength and opportunity. Before, they did not attend their children’s meetings and now they are in charge of seeing their children’s work and seeking the accompaniment of the teacher in case they do not understand the assigned task”, some teachers point out, while they propose that this unity and solidarity among teachers, students and families continue to be strengthened as a pillar of education in the post-pandemic period.
Teachers state that most of the students have family support for their tasks, 61.8% of the mother, and 33.8% of both parents. In some cases, this has strengthened ties with greater family time through the accompaniment of children by their parents. However, while most parents must in turn work – be it outside home or on household chores – the study hours are not fixed, the child’s routine is broken, and this implies a significant burden on families. In some cases – which require a prompt response – this context has deepened situations of child abuse and domestic violence.
The value of teachers’ work
Teachers also feel the work overload. “There are no set working hours. We work non-stop, sending and checking tasks at a time, 7 days a week. It’s stressful and we leave our families behind,” says one teacher.
Despite this, teachers continue to innovate in practice, doing their best and ensuring in various ways that children continue to learn. Systematic contact through social networks, construction of learning communities, innovation with the use of new technologies, accompaniment of children and their families, challenges of equipment and connectivity, opportunities for educational qualification and inclusion are some of the lessons they leave us with.
The path, which will still be full of obstacles challenging us to overcome them creatively, continues in spite of everything, making progress. “I hope that this pandemic will help to give teaching work the value it deserves,” concludes one teacher in her reflection.
-Working together in solidarity with teachers, students and families strengthens learning and education.
-With appropriate conditions, the incorporation of ICT and TLT qualifies learning and personalized monitoring.
-An on-site and distance learning mixed format may expand the access to education, raise its starndard and promote self-management in children.
-Family support is vital for the learning process.
-The provision of infrastructure for teachers and students (computers) and the connectivity in schools and communities is key to ensure education.