Covid lockdown costs children 2 trillion hours of learning. Classroom culture needs reset

The reasons children are kept away from school differ by region, culture or family. We need local expertise to solve local problems, as well as strong communities to offer a safety net for families.

When CAMFED (the Campaign for Female Education), an NGO dedicated to girls’ education, started in Zimbabwe in the 1990s, it offered scholarships so families could afford to send their daughters to secondary school along with their sons. But that wasn’t the only challenge families faced: they needed to ensure girls felt safe and stayed in school. Through the Learner Guide program, students who were once supported by CAMFED return to their local schools to offer one-to-one education and mental support to girls at risk. As of 2022, more than 208,000 CAMFED scholars make up Africa’s largest and fastest-growing peer support and leadership network. CAMFED is committed to developing partnerships with government bodies, community leaders and civil society to support young women across sub-Saharan Africa in taking charge of their own futures.

The BRAC Bangladesh team also recognizes the power of connected communities. During pandemic lockdowns, they launched the Pashe Achhi (“beside you”) program. Using the only widely available technology – basic mobile phones – they rank families every week. The 20-minute calls offered social and emotional support and a curriculum of play-based activities that kept young children learning, even at home.

Teaching starts at the level of the child, regardless of age or grade

In India, Pratham, a non-profit organization created to improve education quality, set out to find out how well children were learning in school and create solutions to problems facing educators. Surveying 600,000 children annually across almost all rural areas, its pioneering Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) found that many children were in school but lacking foundational skills. In response, the team developed the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) approach.

Using TaRL, teachers assess and group children by learning level, not grade. They use resources and activities to target foundational goals, such as reading with fluency and understanding and mastering math skills. Studies have shown that these foundational capabilities, once acquired, will endure over time and allow children to learn more quickly at school.

To supercharge learning, we need to rethink classroom culture

Mindset is also a core motivator. Thanks to growth mindset pioneer Carol S. Dweck, we know more about what motivates learning behaviors than ever before. When we create a culture where students see everything as a learning opportunity – especially mistakes – we unlock curiosity, and creativity and consistently improve learning outcomes.

Leveling the playing field and closing the digital divide

During the pandemic, while millions of students turned to online learning; millions more lacked any access. We need to urgently close these gaps by investing in hardware, connectivity, learning technologies, teacher training and parent support.

PhET Interactive Simulations is a free online learning resource that reaches pupils who might otherwise miss out on the quality STEM learning it offers. For one, there’s an offline app. The simulations are available in over 100 local languages ​​and have inclusive features to help students learn through interaction with virtual experiments. The PhET team is reaching out to teachers in Africa and Latin America to support their professional development. Classrooms are now enriched by new possibilities, and co-agency develops between a teacher and their students to make learning fun.

Keep students at the heart of learning

We owe it to every student to make sure they are actually learning and learning well. As countries start to shift to a post-pandemic world, there is nothing more important than fair, accessible, quality education for all. It has the power to change not just individual lives, but entire economies. To achieve this, it will take a concerted global effort to keep education where it should be: at the top of everyone’s priority list.

The article originally appeared in the World Economic Forum.

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