Intending to ensure students’ engagement in learning amid the prevailing pandemic that has engulfed the entire globe, BRAC Education has resorted to an innovative approach called ‘home schooling’ for the marginalized children who constitute the educational fleet of BRAC Primary Education. When social distancing must be maintained in these COVID-19 days, how students living in the marginalized community to be reached out remains a big question.
These children don’t have access to TV, radio and android cell phone. Still, they must be reached. Ordinary mobile today means a common commodity even with the poor section which BRAC has decided to be utilized for running the schooling hours the children have lost. All necessary things have been devised focusing on the point and its upshot shows that even living beyond the reach of modern amenities, children have been participating in the classes run through ordinary mobile phones. Initially, BRAC Education targeted to reach 73,803 students studying in the fifth grade and waiting to move to grade six to face a more substantial curriculum and a different environment from that they meet at BRAC schools.
Rural students with vulnerability usually face difficulties in Bangla, English and Mathematics. Keeping this view in mind, the curriculum team has carefully developed materials to enhance the reading and writing ability of the learners with an emphasis on tricky words, its meanings, comprehension with simple explanations and questions to assess their learning.
The world scenario unfolds that more than 90% of students now cut off from direct classroom education. Many countries have already started temporary’ home schooling.’ Vietnamese students have turned to televised lessons. Nigerian schools started using Google classroom to distribute reading materials and synchronous face-to-face video instruction to help preempt school closures. Traditional in-person classroom learning is being complemented with new learning modalities-from live broadcasts to virtual reality experience based on ‘learning anywhere, anytime‘ philosophy.
It’s not unknown to us that learning has been disrupted for some 41.9 million students in our country since March 16 when all kinds of educational institutions have been declared closure to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infection. Unicef says that the people in the South Asian region have limited access to both radio and television, while 33 percent have internet access. All this clandestinely gives the message that virtual schooling in this region approaches as a big challenge. And keeping the children out of schools for quite an uncertain time will definitely exert severe mental and psychological pressure on them. But how to get them connected?
As per Youth Survey 2018, commissioned by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University and BRAC Advocacy for Social Change, Access to the Internet by Education level is class 1-4, 13% and class 5-9, 30%. 56% of families have no access to television at home and therefore, the broadcast classes barely serve the marginalized communities, especially served by BRAC Education. The idea of phone school emerged from this understanding that at least the students who don’t have access to a basic phone will continue education in this pandemic.
The government on March 29 started TV education through state-owned Sangsad TV for secondary students, on April 7 for primary students and on April 19 for technical and madrassa students, so that students can make up for some of the losses due to closure of schools. BRAC Education tested the idea of conducting classes through basic phones since April 21. On a trial basis, teachers of non-formal schools in four areas in Bangladesh conducted classes in group calls of 3-4 children with their parents. These virtual classes, conducted twice a week, have been scaled up to more than 74,000 students of Class 5 from May. Currently, 24,600 pre-primary schools across Bangladesh witness these mobile classes that have earned this popular name as ‘home schooling.’
The first three days of classes focused explicitly on psychosocial counseling and well-being. The third and fourth-day focus remains on provisioning lessons from their schools closed. After the first week, lessons continued as per their curriculum. Every sixth day of classes consists of a particular class, with customized timings decided by the teacher, for students with disabilities, especially those who are hearing impaired, those who are weaker students or have missed classes.
Among 120,16 students, 120 students (2.4%) with disabilities are enrolling in this new system. The lesson plan is designed in three interactive segments. The class begins with the mental health of the students, where the teachers provide psychosocial support to the students with relaxing activities like thinking about good and positive things. After that, the class moves on to some COVID-related awareness like personal hygiene and social distancing. Later, the students get back to their regular lessons like Bangla, English and Mathematics.
Teachers have a one-to-one conversation with the students on a daily basis and give them and their parents the instructions on how to solve the worksheets delivered by BRAC Education while other notifications are served through SMS. Creative writing sections are added to the worksheets. In the case of Mathematics, the team has developed an explanatory guideline where instructions are mentioned clearly. For each chapter, examples are given, and Math problems are solved by observing every step so that students can easily understand the methods.
Teachers make a virtual group call to the students through their parents’ phones for giving instructions. One teacher communicates with 4-5 students on a daily basis. Each day lesson begins with a revision of work, homework discussion and then moves onto the instructions for the next lesson. In the end, homework is assigned to be discussed the next day. Field level officials who work closely with the schools, teachers and guardians have received training from the head office with the promise to conduct refreshers classes at a regular interval to give necessary instructions to the teachers who directly run the classes over cell phones.
Teachers solve the problems of the workbooks by discussing with the local closer field officials who are known as program organizers so that they can provide support to the children for doing the exercise in the workbooks smoothly. This stands as usual practice of teachers preparing before conducting a class. A similar thing happens while disseminating classes over the mobile phone. At the end of each week, they follow up on the progress and monitor the activities assigned to teachers and staff through call/random visits and prepare reports.
Parents act as a mediator to connect their children and the teacher through their mobile phones at a specified time. Teachers have to write down the group members’ name and their conference call time on the worksheet. They have a group call for around 15 minutes for a subject which means around 180 minutes per child per month. Students follow the teachers’ instructions and do their homework that is revised in the next class session. In order to contextualize it, Covid-19 related prevention messages (e.g., hand wash and safe distance) have been added to the syllabus.
On average, 95.9% of the students of the targeted group calls attended the `home schooling’ is shown by the report BRAC Education is collecting. Among the girls’ attendance is 95.7%. Girl’s attendance is comparatively higher than the boys (55: 45). Around 4% of students remained disconnected from `home schools’ on the reporting day. The main reason found for absence in home school is the inability to connect with parents at the time of school, especially in an urban slum. The parent’s mobile was found switched off/ disconnected due to network problems or not having phone charges due to power outage to some cases.
A few students went to visit other places where there was no mobile network. Parents receive SMS-based notifications from time to time. BRAC’s experience in providing education for the last 45 years has shown that children often become ambassadors to their families and the wider community by advocating their learnings outside classrooms. The ‘home schooling’ of BRAC Education bears testimony to its long experience in this line, proving once again that it’s a champion of innovation.