UNESCO helps build ‘neo-infrastructure’ of crisis-resilient education systems in Pacific countries

Teachers, school principals, curriculum developers and platform managers from Small Island Developing States in the Pacific gained skills to implement distance learning solutions during a series of virtual trainings organized in May 2020 with several partners from UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition, including Moodle, Khan Academy and Lark.

Historically, the Pacific region is not immune to educational disruptions caused by natural disasters and epidemics. But the Covid-19 pandemic, which also overlapped with the devastating Cyclone Harald in April, led to the closure of all educational institutions, affecting an estimated 2 million primary and secondary students and 66,000 teachers in 9 island states.

Like everywhere, there are consequences on the learning process, but also on the psychological and socio-emotional wellbeing of learners, parents and teachers. Without the technology, content and human “infrastructure” of distance learning, countries will struggle to ensure learning continuity in this unprecedented period. They require support to plan and implement solutions, encompassing national platforms to deliver content, distance learning resources aligned with national curricular; improving teachers’ capacities to set up “Classes at Home” and faciliate remote learning.

The online trainings facilitated by UNESCO brought together participants nominated by education ministries from five countries – Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati – to acquire practical skills and know-how needed to set up online classes, adapt curriculum and manage online platforms.

Teachers’ use of applications to set up online classes at home

A first training on the theme “How to setup your remote classroom at home” provided basic tutorials on digital tools and skills to set-up online classrooms from scratch at home using the Lark online tool. In this perspective, the company team offered a comprehensive training on how to use Lark’s main functions including group chat, video conferencing, cloud docs collaboration and the calendar.

During the session, the Lark team guided the participants step-by-step on how to set up and use the application for teaching and communicating with students, parents and peers. The activities ranged from learning how to give live streaming lessons to ensuring user security. An online course was also shared with participants by Lark for future use.

Curating and aligning open educational resources with national curriculum

The following workshop focused on aligning open resources of Khan Academy with the national curriculum of the target countries. The goal of this workshop was to support the countries in curating and developing remotely delivered curricular courses and resources that cover all subject areas and grade levels. A trainer from Bibliothèque sans frontières supported participants to discover the tool and its functionalities, access its open source content and adapt it to the specific needs and curriculum of each country. He provided participants with an array of helpful links, tips and a step-by-step guide before opening the floor for a direct exchange and Q&A.

Valerie Taumpson, a teacher at the Arawa Secondary School in Papua New Guinea, said about the workshop: “I was personally very interested as I see the need to make resources available for remote schools. By being able to save our own material for future use, creating and putting together resources will be beneficial for the students and will help them tremendously to learn individually with minimum contacts.”

Leveraging open-source Moodle to build national distance learning platforms

Moodle platforms are open source learning management systems, which can be adapted to the specific needs of countries. Drawing on the experience in Samoa and Kiribati, where the platforms have already been installed, the third workshop was organized around the use of the Moodle platform to set up remote classrooms and learning spaces at home.

The Moodle team showed why and how to use Moodle platforms in day-to-day education practice. Participants not only learned how to set up courses, group chat, quizzes, and calendar, but also found out how to access self-paced, online training for educators and administrators.

Mary Cooch from Moodle shared her strategy for the session: “We were conscious that we cannot teach all of Moodle in just two hours, so it is very important that the participants can access our free resources and our free courses to go and learn more.”

At the end of the workshop, one of the participants said: “As a principal of an education institution, you have given me a lot of help, since we are currently running our schools using Moodle. I’m very happy with the sites that you are providing for community support and offering self-help guides so that I can use it as part of our staff development and let my staff know about websites like Moodle admin basics and the Moodle community.”

Following these trainings, UNESCO will continue to work with partners on strengthening the capacities of teachers and education managers for distance learning, a key to enhancing the resilience of education systems in Small Island Developing States.