Learning Should Never Stop - Teaching in a Pandemic

29 August 2020

Teachers everywhere are facing the new school term with one big problem: how to teach students safely in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.

Hamisu Hamisu Haruna teaches English at Al-Qalam University in Katsina, Nigeria. He says that when the pandemic came, he did not hesitate, or slow down, to make changes to the way he was teaching.

"I believe one thing - that everything imaginable is attainable, and there's no word, ‘impossible.' What matters is trying. You try and try until you get the right thing. So, although progress is coming steadily, but surely nothing is impossible for me. And that's why when this issue of coronavirus came and all lives are shifted to online, I didn't hesitate starting it."

Hamisu Hamisu Haruna, teacher at Al-Qalam University in Katsina, Nigeria
Hamisu Hamisu Haruna, teacher at Al-Qalam University in Katsina, Nigeria

Haruna added that he told other educators about online programs, occupational training, and conferences to help them move their teaching online. He himself learned new skills from the U.S. State Department's E-Teacher program. It offers free online classes for teachers outside the United States in cooperation with U.S. colleges and universities.

High cost of data

One of the biggest problems with going online in Nigeria is the cost of data for cellular phone users. Haruna noted that one way teachers deal with that problem is by combining two methods of giving lessons. One is synchronous learning – where the teacher and students are present together online at the same time. That is in addition to, and helps support, asynchronous learning – where the student goes online to get the teacher's lesson at a later time.

"...And in order to come up with a solution to the problem of that high cost of data, we usually use WhatsApp platform by recording our lectures and sending the lecture to them."

Haruna said that after teachers record two lectures and publish the recordings online, they often use video conferencing to talk with students.

"For example, we use both synchronous and asynchronous online learning. We use Zoom as part of the synchronous one where we schedule meetings with the students just for 30 minutes to serve as a discussion meeting. ... And the purpose of organizing, of scheduling this meeting is just for the students and the teacher to interact by asking questions. ... They can use the 30 minutes to ask the question to the teacher and the teacher can easily respond."

Haruna reports that both students and their parents have reacted well to this method of teaching.

"So, by so doing we were able to achieve quite a lot and the students are really following the classes. And they are really appreciating the classes because it serves as something which is new to them. And they really accept it. And even the parents also contribute immensely by cooperating. Some parents even used to give their children their phone for them to use for the sake of the classroom."

Making CDs for students

Another teacher who took part in the E-Teacher program is Egypt's Shereen Mohamed. She records her classes by using an interactive device at school. Then, students have two ways to get the teaching materials. They can watch them on YouTube, or for those lacking an internet connection, the school provides a compact disc (CD) or a data storage device with the recordings.

To make sure her students are learning, Mohamed says they have to take tests that she creates on the Quia website or on Quizlet. Yet she warns that it is not wise to only use these online platforms.

"I think it will be very difficult to make some assessment for my students. They must have some exams, real exams, to evaluate their progress. How can I evaluate it online? It will be very difficult, but I think I should send them an interactive worksheet to answer it during the online session to check their understanding. ... If it is difficult to answer the questions, I should return back to the lesson and re-present or make a different presentation about the item."

In the new term, Mohamed plans to use Flipgrid, an app that can help students make videos to share with their teachers and classmates. She hopes this software program will give students a chance to talk about the things they are learning.

The head teacher at Mohamed's school has asked her to train other teachers in using technology for their classes.

Learning should never stop

In the Philippines, the new school term has been delayed until October 5. Glen Cortezano teaches at the Los Baños campus of Laguna State Polytechnic University. She said she led an online class to help teachers move "to the new normal."

"We know that learning should never stop, right, and we should always find ways, we always find ways, even if we cannot meet face to face."

She added that her university is using a modular approach to educate students who have no internet at all.

Cortezano is part of a team of Curriculum Checkers. They examined the education program of all the teachers.

"We will be checking the objectives, activities, the strategies, the lecture, the assessment... we reached out to our students and we had this survey. Who among our students do have the Internet access? Who among our students did not have it? Our university will be printing all our modules and they will also be responsible to deliver the modules to our students wherever they are."

The biggest problem, Cortezano says, is organizing classes that require special skills or equipment.

"How about the physical education subject? How can you teach swimming? How can you teach sports, dancing, and in laboratory, we have baking, and we also have food, nutrition and dietetics. So, we were asked ... to give only the theories... It's actually difficult to ask them to do the experiment at home!"

The teachers worked together to create lesson plans for all their classes and have sent them to be reproduced and given to students. When it is time to return their work, students drop off each lesson at a government office, where it is sent to the university.

Helping other teachers

Glen Cortezano, Shereen Mohamed, and Hamisu Hamisu Haruna have all completed the U.S. State Department's E-Teacher Program. They lead training programs on using technology for teaching online.

For more information on the next 8-week summer program and events in the coming year, contact the U.S. Embassy near you.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Jill Robbins reported on this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

attain – v. to accomplish or achieve (something); to succeed in getting or doing (something)

steadilyadv. moving continuously or slowly

data – n. factual information or records

platformn. an operating system

lecture – n. an educational talk

appreciatev. to understand the worth or importance of (something or someone)

contribute – v. to give or donate

assessment n. the estimation of the ability of someone or something

checkv. to look at or examine (someone or something) to see if there are any problems

access – n. the right to use something; a way of entering a place

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