From text to tablet: how to learn in a lockdown


A Colombian child uses the O-Lab app in La Guajira, Colombia. — El Origen Foundation/Thomson Reuters Foundation

TBILISI: As a third lockdown traps millions of British schoolchildren at home, free tablets and televised lessons are being touted as alternative ways to learn in a lockdown.

Globally, two in three school-age children lack Internet at home, according to the United Nations, and ensuring equal access to education has become an acute challenge in the pandemic.

With governments, charities and firms scrambling to get more people online or provide alternative learning sources, here are seven initiatives underway worldwide to boost remote learning:

Solar radios – Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso began broadcasting lessons on radio, television and online after closing schools in March. Schools reopened for the new year in October, but radio classes continue for children in conflict-hit areas.

The remote learning programme was backed by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which distributed solar-powered radios, pens and notebooks across the country as well as in Mali and Niger.

TV teachers – Georgia

Georgia’s national television has aired daily lessons since March.

The programming runs for most of the day, with classes hosted by local teachers covering all grades and subjects, from maths and geography to sports and chess.

Desert tablets – Colombia

In Colombia, youth charity El Origen Foundation has distributed tablets to hundreds of children from the Wayuu tribe in the arid, goat-herding La Guajira province bordering Venezuela.

A tablet app called O-Lab allows children to choose subjects from science to music, as well as information on Covid-19 prevention, and study in Spanish and their native wayuunaiki language, with no need for an Internet connection.

Web votes – United States

In November, voters in two major US cities backed proposals for municipal broadband projects that seek to guarantee Internet access for residents. In Chicago, nearly 90% of voters backed a referendum proposal for the city to ensure internet access in all “community areas”, while Denver residents voted to clear the way for the city to potentially build its own broadband network.

Internet in a box – Kyrgyzstan

In Kyrgyzstan, the local chapter of the Internet Society, a US NGO, has brought a learning tool named IlimBox to schools in rural villages that lack access to the Internet.

The device allows pupils to download learning material such as textbooks and educational videos in the Kyrgyz language on their smartphones, with no need to get online, said Talant Sultanov, chair of the Internet Society Kyrgyzstan.

SMS learning guides – Kenya

In Kenya, the charity Metis distributed home learning guides in person, as well as via text message and WhatsApp, to about 30,000 students.

Sending the letters ‘EDU’ to a certain number triggered a series of questions to determine what content to send the learner, with lessons spanning maths, gardening and theatre.

Educational broadcasting – Britain

The BBC said this week it would provide the biggest education offer in its near-100-year history to help children learn in lockdown even if they can't get online, running hours of programming for primary- and secondary-school pupils.

British mobile network and broadband operators are also removing data caps to help disadvantaged children in England watch lessons online. – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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