Learning Under Lockdown: Rwanda

From the 13th of March, the Rwandan government has suspended all institutions where people gather in large groups: as with many other nations around the world, this is a core precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19. Rwanda was the first sub-Saharan nation to mandate a full lock-down, with borders closed to anyone except Rwandans returning home. Because of quick action, the nation has managed to limit the spread with no deaths to date. Medical officers report that the existing protective equipment and ventilators are sufficient for the time being, but medical facilities would be stretched to a breaking point if the caseload were to accelerate. President Paul Kagame has warned of the long-term impact that the virus will have on the African economy and suggested $100 billion as the figure required to prevent mass deprivation.

In this blog, Leanne Cameron interviews two Rwandan teachers, Cleophace Nzabagerageza and Laurien Ikuzwe. They comment on changes at their respective institutions and those that have occurred throughout Rwanda since the lockdown.

LC: How are you feeling about everything that is happening? Are you staying busy?

Cleophace: Physically I am feeling well. And in this lockdown period every day I take approximately four hours to read different resources about the subjects that I teach (English, Kinyarwanda, and ICT); I look at books and materials from the internet to try and improve my understanding. But I am worried about when this pandemic will stop so that we can go back to school. Due to the speed and the number of people who are sick from or spreading COVID-19, different counties have taken measures to wipe it out, so I am concerned for people who are suffering. But about my career as a teacher I am worried whether the students will forget things that they have studied which would require me to begin from basics. Nobody knows when the lockdown will end and we will return to normal.

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Cleophace delivering a motivational speech at his school pre-COVID

Laurien: This COVID-19 period has been a time of reflection to me about my profession. I’ve been reflecting on my work as a teacher, asking myself; why I do what I do? What kind of a teacher was I? What kind of a teacher I want to be? How does my teaching matter in the lives of my kids and the community?

In this period, I see the power of effectively-shared knowledge. My prior teaching was mainly philosophic and followed these steps: acquisition, understanding, application and becoming. But as we have found ourselves in this trying situation, I went quickly to check on my students (especially those who are my Facebook friends) and asking them how they are coping with the situation. I realized the power of connection and see how my job has impacted my students in many ways. Considering what I see around me, I think it gives me opportunity for understanding social cohesion and what life means in a community. I am learning that life is about understanding one another and seeing that life is relative. Whatever is happening to one might happen to another. Thus, it reminds me to dive into how we should build a common life together.

LC: Tell me about your students. How are they coping with the lockdown?

Cleophace: My school is a private technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institution working under the control of Rwanda Polytechnic with the Workplace Development Authority at the head head. It is a coed school with male and female students from both local and urban areas in attendance; my students are 15 to 19 years old. They are working towards a TVET certificate of completion in the trades of  Motor Vehicle Mechanics and Tailoring. I talk to my students regularly through social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook, but we also talk on the phone and email as well. They tell me how they feel; many are scared and have lost the hope about when the pandemic will stop to let them go back for their studies.

Laurien: I teach student in Grades 10-12 at a government-aided boarding secondary school. Their ages vary from 15 to 22 and they come from all across the country: from cities, suburbs, and countryside. They all are in scientific studies (STEM), and I teach them English for communication. They have all been sent home.

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Laurien at work

LC: Can you talk a little about the situation for primary-aged students? 

Cleophace: Our government has initiated a media programme of teaching via television and radio called Building Learning Foundations Radio and Television Programme; it is delivered in partnership with UKAid. The subjects that are delivered in this radio and television program are examinable in national examinations from lower primary to advanced secondary. For primary students, the subjects of Kinyarwanda, English and Maths* are delivered. For lower secondly, students can learn English, Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Kinyarwanda. For upper secondary, most of the schools use their websites where they post lessons and assignments. The Ministry of Education has also strengthened the program of e-learning so the students can find different resources to help them keep the ‘mood’ of education and learning. Universities are also using e-learning platforms to keep students connected.

But access to the internet and even to power is still a big problem for many Rwandans, especially in the countryside. Many students don’t have a personal computer or smartphone to even access the internet this is a problem especially for students who are in universities. Fortunately, the Ministry of Education have assured those students who aren’t able to follow either radio or e-learning programs that they will go on from where they stopped when schools start again. Further, to facilitate even those students who cannot easily find internet, smart phones and computer, the Rwanda Education Board has initiated a toll free line of *134# where they find some questions to test their knowledge. So the use of those programmes is to keep their mind sharp and occupied but not to replace the classroom.

LC: Do you think your approach to teaching will change in the future due to this period of lockdown? 

Laurien: When it comes to the approach to teaching English language after COVID-19 period, I absolutely think that I will change somewhat due to the lock down. I will adapt to new approaches because it is the first time in my life (maybe for many people) to experience a global and yet local lockdown, I realised education has a reason to be much more contextualized to the real life situation. There are a lot of things to consider in English language teaching (ELT). For instance, we are likely to be persuaded to integrate technology and to use all available digital devices in ELT because the world is becoming more digitized; many jobs from different domains of life have been saved by working at home during COVID-19 due to the support of the internet. For instance, many schools were forced to shift their schooling activities to e-learning, though it has been tough for many. I believe that everything started like this and there is hope that learning and work will continue to be customized.

Cleophace: With this lockdown period, I have enough time to think and reflect about the content that I will deliver whenever we will go back to school. I am preparing and writing clear and relevant notes for content delivery. This will help me to change my teaching style since notes will be prepared in advance; I will be able to engage students in more hands-on learning. I know I will also need to think about different learning theories and try to individualise my teaching strategies.

LC: Do you think this will influence what English language you teach in the future? More vocabulary about viruses and pandemics, maybe?

Laurien: Yes! Now, I think some language items will be added in my ELT: medical vocabulary, and vocabulary for talking about pandemics and epidemics, as you have mentioned. I will also add more work on technology and other necessary language commands.

Cleophace: When we prepare for classes, we go through the line of curriculum that the Ministry of Education has established. But illustrations, examples and explanation together with cross cutting issues are adapted depending on the situation. This means that my teaching will be led by the moral lessons left by this COVID-19 and some unpopular vocabulary items will be retained, and vocabulary around pandemic, lockdown, confinement, outbreak, curfew, etc. will be integrated in the courses that I deliver.

 

*English, mathematics, and all other subjects apart from Kinyarwanda are taught in English for the primary level.

 

Aprendizaje Bajo Cuarantena

Una entrevista entre Julia Paulson de CIRE y Arturo Charria Hernández, Secretario de Educación Municipal de la ciudad de Cúcuta Norte de Santander, Colombia. La entrevista se enfoque en como Arturo y sus colegas están respondiendo a Covid-19. Cúcuta tiene población de mas de 700,000 personas y se ubica en una región que enfrenta retos sociales y educativas desde antes de la crisis de coronavirus. Exploramos también como la emergencia de covid-19 abre preguntas y permite reimaginar la educación y su rol en la transformación social.

The English translation of this blog is available here

Arturo

Foto: Arturo Charria Hernández

JP: ¿Cúcuta  tuvo retos educativos antes de que llego el coronavirus – podrías pintarnos una foto de la zona y la situación educativa?

ACH: Antes de la llegada del coronavirus teníamos retos de carácter institucional como ausencia de docentes, que son adjudicados desde el Ministerio de Educación Nacional. Esto se da por aumento acelerado de matrícula producto de la migración venezolana y estudiantes desplazados del conflicto armado. Adicionalmente, estas poblaciones se concentran en zonas donde no hay mucha infraestructura educativa (colegios) generando desescolarización.

Otro reto es que, aunque la educación es pública, muchos de los servicios se contratan año a año y no se dejaron contratados. Esto implica que algunos servicios como transporte, conectividad o docentes de apoyo en discapacidad no comienzan al tiempo que el inicio de clases. Esto aumenta la brecha en la calidad educativa y en los derechos de los estudiantes.

JP: Y con la llegada de coronavirus, que ha cambiado?

ACH: Ha reflejado retos muy grandes en relación con las condiciones en que viven los estudiantes, porque no sólo no tienen dispositivos tecnológicos apropiados o conectividad, sino espacios físicos para realizar sus actividades. Muchos estudiantes viven en hogares en donde tener una silla y una mesa para hacer la tarea es un lujo con el que no cuentan.

El coronavirus también evidencia la dificultad que tienen docentes para reinventarse en el uso de nuevas tecnologías y ajustarse a la necesidad que vive el sistema educativo. Esto ha permitido importantes discusiones de fondo que antes no se daban: pertinencia de ciertos contenidos, el currículo, la forma en que se evalúa y, especialmente, el valor de los afectivo en la educación.

JP: Como tomaste la decisión de cerrar los colegios y cuáles son las preocupaciones principales que la decisión abre para ti?

ACH: La tranquilidad que debían tener estudiantes, padres de familia y comunidad educativa en general. No teníamos condiciones apropiadas para garantizar la salubridad y eso implica ser prudentes. Era una decisión que debía tomarse a nivel nacional, pero no había línea directa, la tomamos un día antes que el gobierno nacional y creo que eso ayudó a acelerar la decisión desde el ejecutivo.

JP: En Cúcuta , la educación sigue en cuales formas bajo cuarentena? Que están haciendo tu y colegas en la SED, maestros y maestras y familias para crear oportunidades de aprendizaje?

ACH: En  Cúcuta  sigue de manera flexible y en casa. Algunos usan plataformas de las páginas de los colegios, otros usan redes sociales (WhatsApp y Facebook) para el intercambio de información y acompañamiento en tiempo real. También se envía material impreso como guías de autoaprendizaje para quienes tienen dificultades de conectividad. Hemos sacado unas directrices muy claras desde la Secretaría de Educación Municipal de Cúcuta en donde establecemos que lo importante en este momento es el ser y no solo el conocer. Estas orientaciones reflexionan sobre el principio pedagógico de la evaluación en estos tiempos difíciles. Y también orientamos sobre el papel de los padres de familia en este momento que deben estar presente, sin reemplazar totalmente a los docentes. Sabemos que en estos momentos la educación no puede ser una carga emocional para las familias, porque eso puede generar violencia intrafamiliar, depresión, estrés e incluso deserción escolar.

JP: Tus pensamientos sobre la educación y tus prioridades para la educación han cambiado en los recientes semanas y días? Como y porque?

ACH: Definitivamente. Nos ha hecho más humanos. Hemos entendido como nunca la importancia de trabajar lo emocional y lo afectivo, de cuidarnos. Pero también acelerar discusiones de fondo del sistema educativo. ¿De qué sirven tantos temas que ven los estudiantes en sus clases? Las discusiones sobre lo curricular y la evaluación ganan espacios que antes no tenían. Es una oportunidad para dar grandes transformaciones sobre el sentido ético de la educación y sobre lo que significa la escuela en la relación con la vida de una sociedad.

JP: Como te sientes como educador? Encuentras esperanza en algunas lugares o fuentes? Como enfrentas sentimientos de desesperanza?

ACH: Encuentro mucha esperanza. Hay profesores y directivos docentes haciendo cosas maravillosas. Todos nos estamos reinventando para reencontrarnos con los esencial. Cuando se asoma la desesperanza, siempre recuerdo las palabras que me dijo mi esposa un día que fue muy duro: “Esto también pasará”.

Lector, si eres educador o alumn/a y quieres compartir tus experiencias del aprendizaje bajo cuarentena en este blog, por favor contacte julia.paulson@bristol.ac.uk. 

 

Learning Under Lockdown: Colombia

This blog post features an interview between CIRE’s Julia Paulson and Arturo Charria Hernández, Municipal Education Secretary in the city of Cúcuta, Colombia. The interview focuses on how Arturo and his colleagues are approaching the educational response to Covid-19 in Cúcuta. The city of over 700,000 people is located in a region which was experiencing considerable social and educational challenges prior to the pandemic. Arturo also discusses if and how the emergency response to the pandemic is raising questions and opening spaces to reimagine education.

La versión del blog en español está aquí.

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Arturo Charria Hernández

 

JP: Cúcuta was facing educational challenges prior to the arrival of coronavirus – can you paint us picture of the region and its educational situation?

ACH: Before the arrival of coronavirus, we had institutional problems like a lack of teachers, all of whom are assigned to us by the National Ministry of Education. Our lack of teachers is due to a steep increase in enrolments since we have migrants students arriving in the department from Venezuela, as well as Colombian students arriving due to displacement related to armed conflict. Additionally, these students tend to be concentrated in zones lacking educational infrastructure (schools), which leads to higher numbers of children out of school.

Another challenge is that, although education is public, many of our services are contracted annually and contracts are often delayed. This means that some services like school transport, internet connectivity, o learning support assistants for students with additional needs do not start on time and classes begin without them. This increases inequities in the quality of education and affects the rights of children to receive an education.

JP: What has changed thanks to coronavirus?

ACH: Coronavirus reflects the very challenging conditions that our students live with. It isn’t only that they don’t have access to appropriate technologies or the internet, it is also that they don’t have adequate physical space to carry on with their learning. Many students live in homes where having a table and chair on which to do their schoolwork is a luxury that they don’t have.

Coronavirus also highlights the difficulties that teachers have in suddenly needing to reinvent themselves by using new technologies and adapting to the new needs that the education system presents. This has opened space for important new discussions about issues that weren’t being discussed before, including around educational content, the curriculum, the ways in which learning is evaluated, and, especially, around the value of emotion and care in education.

JP: How did you make the decision to close schools in Cúcuta  and what concerns did the decision open for you?

ACH: We made the decision based on the wellbeing that students, parents and carers, and the educational community in general should have. We didn’t have the appropriate conditions to guarantee people’s health and this implies being prudent. Closing schools was a decision that should have been taken at a national level, but there wasn’t a direct line. We took the decision a day before the national government and I think that this helped to accelerate the decision from the executive.

JP: In what ways does education continue under lockdown in Cúcuta ? What are you and your colleagues in the Education Secretariat, teachers and families doing to ensure that learning continues?

ACH: Education is continuing in a flexible way in homes. Some are using the platforms of school’s websites, others use social media (Facebook and Whatsapp) to share information and support students in real time. We’re also sending printed material guides for independent learning to support those who have difficulties with internet connectivity.

We’ve sent very clear guidance from the Municipal Education Secretariat in which we highlight what is important at this time: that the student as a person rather than the sum of their knowledge. This guidance reflects on the pedagogical principals of evaluation in these difficult times. We also provide guidance on the role of parents, who should be present without totally replacing teachers. We know that at this time, education can’t be an emotional weight for families because this could generate intrafamily violence, depression, stress and even school dropout.

JP: Have your thoughts about the purposes of and priorities for education changed in recent weeks and months? How and why?

ACH: Definitely. These weeks have made us more human. We’ve understood more than ever the importance of working on the emotional and affective, of caring for ourselves. But, we’ve also accelerated fundamental discussions about the educational systems. What is the purpose of so many themes that students cover in their classes? The discussions about the curriculum and assessment are gaining traction that they didn’t have before. This is an opportunity for major transformations around the ethical purposes of education and about what schools signify in the relation to the wider life of a society.

JP: How do you feel as an educator? Where are you finding hope and what do you do when you encounter despair?

ACH: I find a lot of hope. There are teachers and principals who are doing marvelous things. We are all reinventing ourselves to rediscover what is essential. When I do meet despair, I always remember what my wife told on a day that was very hard: ‘this too shall pass’.

Reader, if you are an educator or student and would like to share your experiences learning under lockdown on a CIRE blog, please contact: Julia.paulson@bristol.ac.uk.