In this part of Digest 17 we shed light to the e international experience in organizing remote learning and summarise the findings from the research done among Nazarbayev Intellectual schools students
Part 1. Worldwide Cases of Remote Learning Experience
The COVID-19 pandemic and the conditions it created has led many states worldwide to take drastic measures in a particularly short timeframe. According to some estimates, it takes up to 6-9 months to build a fully functioning online course from the ground up (Hodges et al., 2020). This suggests that no state in the world is in a position to organise effective remote learning considering the present circumstances.
Of especial importance is the problem of inequity in education resources. World Bank has brought attention to how significant inequity is in their guidance note on remote learning and COVID-19. Many states have encountered the problem of schools, teachers and students being insufficiently equipped with computers, tablets and Internet connection, which are the main components of online learning. Inequity across and within states, where there is a gap between urban and rural schools, also requires mentioning.
The main recommendation of World Bank is to establish a model of remote learning that would include different combinations of available technology. World Bank also suggests relying on broadcast tools, such as television and radio in order to provide learning to children with no access to hardware or stable Internet connection, especially in rural areas (World Bank, 2020).
Remote learning in Intellectual schools launched on 6th April. Intellectual schools organised 20-munite lessons along with asynchronous learning. Teachers and students use Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom as platforms for learning. With the exception of courses like “Study of Self”, “Art”, “Physical Education”, “Basic Military and Technological Training”, and “Human. Community. Law” all classes are taught online.
The state that experienced the largest outbreak of the virus in the earliest stages of its spread has provided remote learning to more than 200 million students since February. The Ministry of Education of the PRC launched the National Online Cloud Classroom (NOCC). It is a platform that offers access to some of the most widely-used textbooks for primary and secondary school children. As of this moment the platform also includes sections on mental health, family education, ethics, as well as information on epidemic prevention and safety instructions. Finally, the NOCC broadcasts CETV-4 programming and stores videos from that channel so that children could watch them on demand.
The government has organised lessons on state television for children with no or poor Internet access. State channels broadcast lessons on math, Chinese, English, art and physical education. Schools and educators realise the shortcomings of remote learning, which is why there is a plan to cover the topics learned remotely a second time once in-class instruction resumes (Zhong, 2020).
American schools transitioned to remote learning according to state and district instructions or even decisions at the school level due to the decentralised nature of education in the US. New York, being the state with the largest cohort of students, has collaborated with Apple, T-Mobile and IBM in order to distribute 300,000 iPads with Internet connection to children in need. New York State Education Department plans to distribute tens of thousands of tablets every week (Feiner, 2020).
State authorities has advised against the use of Zoom due to safety concerns, instead relying on web conferencing solutions from Google and Microsoft (Camera, 2020). Otherwise, schools and teachers are free in organising their instruction as they see fit. Some schools focus on asynchronous tools by offering pre-recorded lessons along with consultations during a certain time of the week.
The US experiences the problem of inequity just like most states in the world. Somewhere between 15%-30% of students in Los Angeles have not contacted their schools since remote learning commenced (Kamenetz, 2020). At risk students in urban areas and those who live in remote areas with little to no Internet access are facing challenges.
US tech companies are offering assistance. Google launched Teach from Home webpage that contains information about organising online education amidst the pandemic using Google’s platforms. YouTube offers a curated list of education channels on its webpage Learn@Home, with specific sections for families with children over 13, children aged 5-13 or children of pre-school age (Peters 2020). Teachers can also reach out to consultants from Apple professional support to obtain information regarding online instruction (Rivera 2020).
There are numerous remote learning platforms available in Russia, each meeting specific educational needs, with most of them operating well before the quarantine started. The federal government launched the “Russian Electronic School” (Российская электронная школа) in 2016, a platform for primary and secondary grades. The “Учи.ру” online platform has a broader toolkit (homework assignments, feedback, exam preparation) for grades 1-8. Yandex’s “ЯКласс” offers a broader range of materials for asynchronous learning and integrates with other resources, such as «Дневник.ру», ЭлЖур, Microsoft Office 365, etc. “ЯКласс” offers free and premium membership (Podbolotov, 2020).
Despite a rich selection of platforms, the conditions of quarantine do not allow one specific platform to offer a full functionality that teachers and students need for remote learning. There are difficulties that arise in the attempts to establish learning and teaching using a single platform. Teachers still resort to messengers, web conferencing apps (Skype has become the primary resource after certain issues with Zoom) and other means of communicating with students. According to a Maximum Education survey, 91% of teachers believe that online learning cannot replace instruction in class due to insufficient access to hardware required for remote learning, lack of experience and abundance in choice of available platforms (Kostenko, 2020).
Part 2. Implementation Experience in Intellectual Schools
Survey results suggest that the implementation of remote learning in Intellectual Schools has been quite successful, at least in the initial stages. Teachers and students alike were well prepared to transition to remote learning. Teachers rated highly their own expertise in organising the instruction, including high ratings of teacher competency (90% of respondents), confidence in reaching the goals of learning (84%) and effective organisation of assessment (85%) as part of the new teaching format. Moreover, teachers positively rated both school support (4.3 for technical support and 4.4 for methodical support) and the ease of using the Microsoft Teams platform (4.4). It is also important to note that 54% of teachers reach out for help to school’s IT specialists when they experience problems.
There is a high level of collaboration among teachers, with 98% of them mentioning that they collaborate with their colleagues over remote teaching methodology. In most instances where teachers have problems 86% of them reach out for help to their colleagues.
At the same time there is a varying degree of satisfaction across the different groups of respondents. While teachers and parents have high levels of satisfaction (3.9 and 4.3 respectively), student satisfaction is noticeably lower (3.5). Average scores for students are lower across all Intellectual Schools and varies slightly (3.4-3.5). Minimal variation across schools also exists among teacher scores (4.2-4.4), scores among parents though are relatively more varied (3.8-4.2).
A significant share of students complained about their workload, which has increased since transition to remote learning. Students consider this to be one of the most important shortcomings, as many of them left comments in the open question. According to student comments, the lesson format (20-minute session followed by individual work with tight deadlines) implies intense work and leaves little time for students to have breaks. It also means that children spend a lot of time sitting in front of a screen, which is likely to negatively impact their health. At the same time, teachers report that they spend most of their working day, over 4 hours, preparing for lessons and consultations. Conducting a lesson and/or consultation takes 3.5 hours on average, with 2.5 hours spent on other tasks. Decreasing teacher workload would allow them to spend less than the current 10 hours a day on their work.
Another significant aspect is the mental wellbeing of students. Isolation and the subsequent increase in learning autonomy lead to decrease in student engagement. The condition of children with mental health problems could deteriorate without proper support from school and/or community. Despite 86% of parents stating that the emotional wellbeing of their children is positive, only 68% of children agree with them. Moreover, 40% of students do not feel engaged in learning, the same share of students reports that learning at home is uncomfortable for them. Finally, 69% of students and 80% of parents admit that there is not enough face-to-face communication. This supports the statement that it is very challenging to establish effective socialisation and communication among children in current conditions on par with what they had in school.
Such results suggest the need for emotional and psychological support of students. Intellectual schools offer consultations with school psychologists during remote learning. However, just 5% of students reported needing psychological assistance. In addition, there is potential in creating and supporting a collaborative environment using Microsoft Teams. Collaborative work and environment are even more attractive considering that most children reach out for help to their peers (48% of respondents), and most teacher reach out to their colleagues (86%). Moreover, currently only 60% of students and 64% of parents believe that they or their children, which leaves up to a third of students that feel left out.
Some of the most serious challenges that Intellectual schools face are not problems with teacher expertise or student motivation. Rather, there are technical difficulties that prevent schools from effective delivery of remote teaching, including access to hardware and stable Internet connection. Intellectual schools ensured that all teachers and students have the necessary equipment, including laptops and 4G modems. Despite this, respondent scores for Internet connection are relatively low, with students giving a rating of 3.6 and 3.9 for teachers. Only 7 of 21 schools have a score above average. At the same time, parents rate Internet connection higher, with an average score of 4 out of 5.
In order to address this problem, schools need to continue providing equipment to teachers and students. It is equally important to use diverse teaching methods that do not require Internet connection. Use of asynchronous tools is a key recommendation of World Bank (2020), as stated above.
Despite the aforementioned issues, remote learning is a format that has potential for Intellectual schools, as they can use them during emergencies or as a complementary tool in traditional classroom instruction. Supporting this are responses of 79% of teachers who agree that it is possible to utilize the remote learning technology in its current form or with a few tweaks.
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