World’s largest teacher
At T4, we believe in community strength and the network effects that come from bringing teachers and schools together. And we want to shine a spotlight on the great work we see happening in classrooms worldwide.
T4 Turning to Technology global survey set out to understand and analyse the experiences and views of school teachers across the world during the exceptional circumstances of a global pandemic.
Mass school closures to stop the spread of Covid-19 meant a sudden switch for hundreds of thousands of teachers to remote or hybrid forms of instruction. This meant teaching in circumstances that few schools would have prepared for. In many cases, it meant that teachers had to embrace technologies that were unfamiliar to both them and their students.
This survey was a collaboration between two organisations: T4 and EdTech Hub. T4 is a global organisation committed to providing engaging tools, initiatives and events for teachers to improve children’s learning. EdTech Hub is a non-profit research partnership that seeks to empower people by giving them evidence to make decisions about using technology in education.
Questions were designed to categorise teachers’ experiences of teaching during the pandemic and asked about their own and their pupils’ access to technology, how teachers used technology to teach remotely, about digital resources they used, limiting factors teachers faced in doing so and what levels of learning loss they observed among children they taught. Another series of questions asked teachers about what training and professional development they were offered or received during the pandemic and what participants thought should be priorities to address learning loss among children.
The survey was open between April 7 and May 23, 2021. This analysis is based on 20,679 completed or largely completed responses from teachers in 165 countries. Full details of the survey methodology, sample breakdown and approach to recruitment are detailed in the full report.
We believe that teacher voice should be central to any discussion about education. Too much decision-making and commentary in education fails to draw upon the expertise of front-line teachers, particularly those with deep experience of teaching.
A new inequality: the deepening digital divide
Government responses to the coronavirus pandemic across the world caused huge disruptions to children’s education. Schools were closed for long periods from early 2020. In some countries and regions there were intermittent re-openings but in others schools remained closed, with restrictions and local lockdowns continuing to last well into 2021. This large-scale survey of 20,679 teachers from 165 countries across the world asked participants in detail about their experiences and observations during the pandemic. Some of the results make for sobering reading. Children continued to learn during the pandemic as schools switched to remote or hybrid forms of instruction, although their effectiveness in doing so varied greatly. It is no surprise that curriculum-related learning loss among school-age children occurred on a massive scale. Its pattern, though, is striking.
Below: Have any of these groups of learners experienced more learning loss than other students? Top 5 answers shown. Shown as a %
Teachers’ answers on which groups of children had experienced the most learning loss re-ordered the hierarchy of long-observed categories of disadvantage among school pupils and have highlighted the complexities of educational inequality.
The most frequently observed group of children to suffer learning loss during the pandemic were those with less access to the internet or to technology (60%), teachers reported. These children were more likely to have fallen behind in their studies or to have experienced significant gaps in their learning when compared with pupils from the poorest households (56%), and more so than children whose families experienced financial hardship or unemployment linked to Covid-19 shutdowns (47%). The fourth highest category was children whose parents were, in their teachers’ observations, unable to support them in remote learning at home (44%). Teachers said that these children were far more likely to experience learning loss than pupils with low prior attainment or from an unstable home background (both 33%), with a disability or other educational special needs (30%) and other categories of disadvantage such as minority language learners.
Below: Have any of these groups of learners experienced more learning loss than other students? By school type. Shown as a %
One notable finding was how relatively few teachers reported that girls experienced more learning loss than boys linked to remote teaching: just one in six (16%) said this was the case. Even fewer (14%) said parents prioritised boys’ learning over girls’ during Covid-19 lockdowns. These figures are still unacceptably high. Discrimination against girls to limit their educational (and social) opportunities entrenches inequality and poverty. We know this happens in many parts of the world, however, and we might have expected these figures to be higher during a prolonged period in which most learning transferred from school to home environments, where we know such discrimination stems from.
Below: In your experience are any of the following true? Shown as a %
Access to technology
Below: Technology access.
Of course, many of the categories of learning loss overlap. It is reasonable to assume, for instance, that children from the lowest socio-economic status families are also likely to have more limited access to broadband or wi-fi internet access at home or to a laptop, tablet or smartphone. And yet, schools have the opportunity to be the great leveller here, if resourced and supported sufficiently. Education systems worldwide must equip them for this urgent task. The use of technology in education is certain to become more sophisticated and more important, even if this current generation of school children never again experiences lockdowns and enforced school closures or restrictions on a similar scale. When technology is made available in schools, it has the potential to bridge the digital divide and support those children who do not have access to devices or the internet at home. The T4 survey exposes a sharp digital divide in which children in government-funded and, especially, low-cost private schools and schools in rural locations were much more likely to have less access to technology throughout the pandemic. Their education suffered in consequence.
Almost a quarter of teachers (23%) reported that their school did not have access to the internet at all. More than half (53%) said insufficient online access hindered their schools’ ability to provide high quality instruction to children during the year that spanned the global peak of the pandemic. Shortages of technology hardware for instruction also constrained the capacity of schools, more than half of teachers (52%) said. A statistic that leaps out among the survey’s findings is that more than four in ten teachers (42%) said that they brought their own digital device, whether it be a laptop, tablet or even a smartphone, into their school for educational use. This is not a reasonable expectation for any education system to place upon its teachers and is highly concerning.
Among teachers who took part in the survey, 29% said that there was only one computer, laptop or tablet for instruction available for the entire school and 16% said that children had to bring their own device with them. Another 14% said there was only one computer, laptop or tablet for each class. Schools in rural areas, and in towns or semi-dense locations, made less use of technology than schools in cities and metropolitan areas. While this might be expected, the digital divide between urban and rural schools is stark and means that hundreds of millions of children’s learning was adversely affected due to where their families live. When asked whether their children’s education was hindered by poor internet access, the gap in percentage points between rural and urban school teachers was 15 percentage points (61% versus 46%). Asked if inadequacy of digital resources held them back, the rural-urban gap in teachers’ responses was apparent, with a 13 percentage point difference (59% versus 46%).
Below: My school has access to the internet. Shown as a %
A big variation between types of schools
Private schools were far more likely to have good-quality internet access and digital resources. Schools run by charities or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were also better technologically resourced than government-funded public schools and religious schools. In contrast, the low access and use of technology in low-cost private schools stood out. Low-fee private schools have grown rapidly in recent years in many low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to meet demand from parents for an alternative to government schools, especially in rural and remote areas. Nonetheless, low-cost private schools offered far less access and encouragement to use digital tools in teaching and learning than government and other schools. This difference was greater than can be explained by the rural-urban divide. For the most prevalent technology used during the pandemic, video conferencing tools (e.g. Microsoft Teams, Zoom), there was a 30 percentage-point difference in use between low-cost private schools and charity/NGO schools (40% versus 70%).
Below: Teachers who shared lessons via the school learning platform. Shown as a %
Likewise, teachers in low-cost private schools had less access to tech at home (59% versus 89% among private school teachers). This may reflect disproportionately lower paid teacher salaries in low-cost private schools as well as more such schools being situated in rural areas.
More experienced teachers emerge as the most ‘tech-savvy’
The findings of this survey tell another story, too. It is a story of how teachers stepped up to the unprecedented challenge of educating and guiding children during a global pandemic that led to lockdowns and restrictions on normal education practices. Teachers did so by turning to technology, by embracing and mastering new digital tools for instruction and by exploring and developing new digital pedagogies.
And here, the greatest surprise is that it was not the cohorts of more recently qualified teachers from the so-called ‘digital first’ generation who led the pivot to adapt to this new normal for remote learning and instruction. Instead, it was the most experienced teachers who used digital tools the most. They taught more classes online. They deployed the most sophisticated and creative types of remote teaching such as recording videos or audio messages for their students.
Hence, the findings well and truly dispel the myth of older teachers being reluctant to embrace new technologies. Theirs was the group, typically those with more than 20 years’ experience, that in fact emerged in the pandemic as the most ‘tech-savvy’ teachers.
Below: Did you do any of the following during the COVID 19 pandemic. Shown as a % – By teacher experience
There was a negative correlation between teachers’ experience and the degree of encouragement they received to use digital resources to plan and teach lessons, with 83% of the longest-serving teachers saying they were encouraged to do so, rising to 91% among the least experienced. Similarly, more experienced teachers engaged in significantly greater quantities of professional development during the pandemic than those who joined the profession more recently. 54% of teachers with 30 plus years’ experience undertook more than 10 whole days of training over the previous year, this falls to 31% for teachers who have been in the classroom for 5 years or fewer. We might have expected the opposite since newly qualified teachers should be receiving more hands-on support.
Below: How much time in total was spent on your professional development or training over the last 12 months? By teacher experience. Shown as a %
This digital upskilling of teachers worldwide is highly significant, as is the leadership role shown by the most experienced classroom teachers. The explanation for this trend is not likely to lie in degrees of digital dexterity prior to the pandemic but in skill and confidence in the craft of teaching. More experienced teachers acquire greater knowledge and understanding of how children learn and adapt their pedagogy accordingly. They appeared better able to transfer their long-honed skills of in-person classroom management to the direction and coordination of remote learning, allowing them to focus on the digital resources and techniques they needed to deploy.
What’s the matter with maths?
One oddity to emerge concerned teachers of mathematics and their engagement with technology.
Maths teachers were consistently the least likely among teachers of core curriculum subject areas to use a range of digital tools for teaching and learning.
Below: What kind of tools or resources did you learn about during your professional development? Shown as a %
Teachers of mathematics also reported the lowest proportions of almost every type of training in comparison to teachers of all other curriculum subjects, with an average difference of 4.7 percentage points between maths teachers and the subject with the highest share. Part of this picture may be explained by the fact that textbooks are more likely to be available for mathematics than for other subjects. But the same is true of digital resources, which are commonly available for maths. The gap, therefore, remains puzzling given that the nature and content of maths makes it in many ways a curriculum area very suited to digital teaching and learning strategies, including using sophisticated, open source software and apps such as Cabri Geometry.
In contrast to the comparatively low uptake of digital tools and training amongst maths teachers, both digital uptake and the quantity of training were noticeably higher for science teachers and language studies teachers in comparison to other subjects. 49% of teachers of both these curriculum subjects engaged in the greatest quantity of training and professional development, of more than 10 whole days.
Below: What teacher development or training did you take part in over the last 12 months? Shown as a %
Priorities to address learning loss
When asked what governments should do to address any learning loss experienced by school children during the pandemic, more training was the most commonly chosen option. Three of the top-five ranked choices related to technology-related items.
Below: What should governments do post COVID-19 to address any loss of learning experienced? Shown as a %
Assessment was one of the areas more generally for which technology was used relatively less frequently. The survey found that 27% of teachers used technology for assessments daily, 29% weekly and 20% once or twice a month. Another 7% of respondents used technology for assessments once or twice a year and 17% never or almost never did so. That relatively fewer teachers used technology to assess student learning is problematic, given that assessment is integral to teaching and learning. It might reflect a lack of access to computer-based assessment tools.
Teachers’ reflections on the pandemic
Nonetheless, the overall picture is clear. Faced with a once-in-a-generation challenge of switching in rapid order to a new model of remote teaching and learning, the teaching profession worldwide by and large rose to this task. This was despite the limitations faced by many of poor internet access and an inadequate supply of digital devices, and indeed of limited access to software on these devices. Perhaps most encouraging of all, most teachers relished doing so. The vast majority considered that the experience of teaching during the pandemic had made them better teachers and over half had become more enthusiastic about teaching. Teachers were asked what the impact of switching to remote instruction and using educational technology tools had been on the quality of their teaching: 86% said the experience made them a better teacher; just 4% said it made them worse.
This came at a cost to teachers themselves. Asked to describe what happened to their own physical, mental and emotional wellbeing since the pandemic started, 39% said that their wellbeing had suffered. But when participants were asked about their attitudes to teaching since the pandemic started, half (50%) were more enthusiastic about their vocation and fewer than a quarter (22%) less enthusiastic.
The upskilling of the teaching profession worldwide described in this survey, and the reinforcement of commitment and enthusiasm for their craft described by so many teachers, offers an immense opportunity as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis and school systems begin to plan for the future.
The findings of this large survey of teachers from across the world present practitioners and policy-makers in education with a paradox. While most children continued to learn during the pandemic, their experiences varied to an unacceptable degree. The pattern and degree of learning loss experienced among millions of children from when schools closed or their education was disrupted is real and urgent. And yet, the upskilling of the teaching profession worldwide offers an immense opportunity, as does the rekindling of commitment and enthusiasm for their craft that so many teachers described. Teachers, particularly those with the longest experience in the classroom, learned new digital skills, adapted their pedagogies and invested hugely in their professional development by engaging in significantly above-trend amounts of training during the year 2020-21, spanning the pandemic. Almost a quarter paid from their own salaries or drew on their families’ resources to do so.
The answer to this paradox is equally apparent. Nothing can replace the synergy, the spark, the special relationships forged by face-to-face teaching in the classroom. And yet, technology holds the potential to be a great leveller in education when systemic considerations around equity, access and inclusion are forefronted. Technology can supplement and enhance in-person teaching with interactive lessons, personalised learning and assessment for children with specific needs, from the most disadvantaged to the most able. It offers fast and efficient sharing of classroom craft among teachers worldwide. And it can connect teachers and children in remote or marginalised locations and communities. Children who are absent from school need not miss their lessons. It is just as likely, perhaps much more so, that the digital divide that has been exacerbated during the experience of remote learning during the Covid-19 global emergency, and is chronicled by this survey, could widen educational inequality still further. More than one third (37%) of teachers want governments to provide digital access and devices to children from low socio-economic status groups, children with special educational needs and other groups with higher needs; their call should be heeded. Rapid action is needed, by the international community, governments, education authorities and schools, to narrow and if possible close this digital divide and harness the goodwill and new-found skills of teachers.
Taking technology more seriously
The importance to children’s learning of equitable access to the internet and to digital devices must be taken far more seriously by the international community. Connectivity is not a silver bullet. Nor is technology hardware. Ensuring that educational content is accessible online or offline is crucial. Blended modes of learning are key, given the huge amount of investment in infrastructure required to enhance internet connectivity, particularly in LMICs and rural and remote areas within these. This means developing educational resources that can be accessed through multiple modalities, channels and means (online or offline, through low-tech and high-tech options). That said, equitable access to the internet is a key building block in narrowing educational inequalities. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals make only passing reference to this: SDG 4.1 (to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes by 2030) defines basic school infrastructure as access to drinking water, handwashing facilities and electricity. Its most recent progress report to the Secretary General (July 2021) made a single reference to ‘availability of internet and computers for pedagogical purposes in schools’ being low. This issue must be given higher priority.
It is very clear that teachers and their students need better access to technology. That means both internet access of high enough quality to facilitate the streaming of live online lessons when required and more digital devices: laptops, tablets, even smartphones. It is simply unsustainable for 42% of teachers across the world to bring their own devices to school to support their students’ learning because so few children would otherwise not be able to watch educational videos, access learning resources or develop technology skills that will be ever-more important in the economy of the future. While the circumstances of the pandemic were an extreme event, technology in schools is no longer a ‘nice to have’ element but is integral to a high-standard, rounded education. This means substantial new investment in technology at all levels: in connectivity, in devices and in software. It is time to investigate bold ideas such as free internet access for schools and a credible plan to connect tens of thousands more schools to the internet every year. Technology companies and mobile network providers should step up here, alongside international bodies and governments.
Change within schools
Reversing the digital divide also means changes to the way in which schools and teachers operate. There are, for instance, questions to ask about why computer-based assessments were not routinely used more widely by teachers during the pandemic. Regular assessment is integral to effective learning and digital resources can facilitate this well. Training, supervision and support for newly qualified and less experienced teachers should be examined to find out why teachers with less classroom experience were significantly less likely to teach lessons online especially using video conferencing tools, school virtual learning environments, or to engage in technology-related training. Teachers of mathematics, and the mathematics community at large, should be asking why their subject appears to be out of step with other curriculum areas in engaging with online learning, digital education tools and training in technology.
Schools and education authorities should urgently be reviewing and enhancing safeguarding rules and online safety training for ways in which teachers use technology to communicate with children using direct messaging channels such as SMS and WhatsApp, given the clear risks of their misuse or of false allegations. The wide use of such communication tools may have been a byproduct of a lack of basic IT infrastructure that allows for teacher to student/parent communication in a more controlled environment (i.e. email within a productivity suite such as Office 365/GSuite or a messaging via a dedicated learning platform). The specific nature of the pandemic probably resulted in teachers seeking to communicate with students by whatever means was available, but school leaders and education authorities should be reviewing all factors to ensure a more suitable communications infrastructure is in place moving forward.
Schools and education systems should also invest in their teachers. From their answers to the survey, teachers with less experience clearly needed better-designed support and designed training to help them engage with more sophisticated digital resources for teaching and learning. Most of all, however, school systems should value teaching experience. The survey evidence of how teachers who were more advanced in their careers dealt best with the pivot to online learning reinforces the fact that there really is no substitute for a workforce of experienced, confident, committed teachers skilled in classroom management. This is a core asset to any school system and approaches to professional development, career advancement, pay and retention should reflect this.
Among the most troublesome data to emerge from the survey relates to the poor availability and use of technology in low-cost private schools. The evidence base for their impact is inconclusive. Some previous studies have suggested that low-cost private schools perform at least as well as government-funded schools in some low and middle-income countries while operating on significantly smaller budgets. Several such reports, however, relied on self-reporting. Other analyses have suggested the opposite, although again the data is inconclusive. More research is therefore needed to understand the dynamics of low-cost private schools and how they can be supported to enhance teaching and learning for all.
If we accept that technology has an integral role to play in enhancing children’s education and, when used well, in broadening their opportunities, we must consider how schools, and education systems more broadly, will meet certain unavoidable baseline costs associated with its infrastructure. In this survey low-cost private schools repeatedly ranked lowest on most items in relation to access, deployment, training and safeguarding children and teachers. This is a worrying picture and raises the question of what added value, if any, such schools offer in comparison to government schools. A high number must improve the modes of instruction they offer and have often neglected the contexts in which they work. The survey shows that a high proportion of charity/NGO schools are addressing the challenges they face much more effectively. There is a case for an independent evaluation of the quality of education offered by low-cost private schools in low and middle-income countries, with a focus on how they use technology for learning. This should be conducted by a credible, non-partisan organisation. Such an exercise should consider whether the trade-off between these schools’ model of driving down costs to achieve ultra-low fees is, or is not, producing an acceptable standard of education.
If the pandemic has taught us one thing about education, it is the immense opportunity offered by technology to guarantee and enhance the uninterrupted learning of school children across the world, even during a prolonged period of global crisis. This opportunity to supplement and enrich education will only grow as more sophisticated digital tools for learning are developed and teachers become more confident and skilled at using them. This opportunity must be seized. The pandemic has also taught us that access to and use of technology for education has the potential to widen social divides and further marginalise disadvantaged groups of children. It is fundamental that any decision-making process around technology in education is rooted in enhancing equitable outcomes. The potential technology offers must be spread as widely and equitably as possible among children and young people, whoever they are and wherever they are.
Andria Zafirakou, urban school, England
Andria Zafirakou is the first to admit that, before the pandemic, she had little familiarity with technology. All that changed when lockdowns forced her to teach remotely.
Ms Zafirakou, 42, has taught art and textiles for 16 years at Alperton Community School in Brent, north west London, an area of high deprivation.
At first, she assigned tasks to children through Google Classroom, with little interactivity. Later, she moved to video conferencing on Google Meet.
“What was really fascinating was, having taught in a similar way for all that time, I realised everything had to change, I couldn’t use the resources that I had used in the past,” she says.
“I would teach one lesson but I would spend two and a half hours planning for that lesson.
“Don’t forget not every child has paint and paper at home. I would have to come up with lessons that were innovative, different, that they could do at home and still be creative and still follow what we were meant to be learning. I think I taught the most incredible lessons, which I was proud of.”
Ms Zafirakou is a member of many teacher networks and spent weekends swapping ideas for techniques and resources with teachers across the world.
“I spent a lot of time upskilling myself, learning new things, discovering new artists, really moving away from what I did in the past, which in that context was irrelevant,” she says.
“For example, there is an artist called Robert Tardio. He would find objects around the house and turn them into portraits: food, a screwdriver, tools. So, I set that as a project for my pupils aged 12 and 13 who at that time were looking at portraiture.
“And my actual way of teaching, my pedagogy had to change. I had to think about the way I would ask a question, the way I would check my students were learning. Normally your eyes are everywhere and you can check kids’ learning and you can see their work, and say ‘that’s not right, try it like this’.
“When you have been teaching as long as I have, teaching is second nature. You feel comfortable, you feel confident. We self-reflect quite a lot. We are able to say, ‘that wasn’t good’, ‘that was rubbish, ‘I don’t feel comfortable about that’. I have a bit more confidence to say, ‘okay, how can I make it better?’ “It made me even more determined to be brilliant in the classroom, to make my lesson the lesson every single kid would want to come to and for it to be their lesson of joy or fun, of excitement.”
Rjay Calaguas, urban school, Philippines
Producing short video lessons and distributing them through a social media group became an essential part of teaching for Rjay Calaguas during the pandemic. He taught himself video editing skills from free online tutorials and for an entire school year made three short films a week.
His videos were highly successful, based on feedback from his pupils and their parents, he says. But training himself to produce them was, he admits, a challenge.
Mr Calaguas, 31, is a kindergarten teacher at Northville 15 Integrated School, a government-funded school in Angelas City in Pampanga, a central province in the Philippines. He teaches two classes of children aged between four and six, each with 29 pupils.
Children were offered modular distance learning for the whole 2020-21 school year, with modules distributed to their parents.
To support them, Mr Calaguas began filming videos of between 5 and 10 minutes in length to supplement lessons such as counting from one to 20 and learning basic shapes, parts of the body, the planets, and the animal kingdom. He uploaded these to YouTube and shared links with parents in a Facebook group.
“During the first months it was very challenging,” he says. “Eventually it became easier for me because I am used to producing video lessons. Facebook is very important so we can communicate with our parents easily.”
The city government provided free webinars and training for its teachers and he taught himself to use video editing software using online tutorials on YouTube and how to change the background to videos.
One difficulty was lack of internet access among some parents, many of whom are poor with the majority not owning a laptop or smartphone. The city provided free wi-fi for two hours a day and tablets for many low-income families, although some pupils whose parents were out at work had to wait until they had enough data to watch the videos.
The response, he says, has been very positive. In meetings with children and their parents via Zoom or Google Meet, both say they enjoy the videos. As a result, he believes the children have kept up with their learning.
“According to their responses to our modules they have continued to learn because they write of their experiences. Also, I am always asking them if they understand or understood the video lessons. It is a big difference if you see the teacher on the screen compared to only using the module.”
He believes he is a better teacher thanks to this experience.
“I learned a lot from using the technology so I can serve our learners more despite the pandemic. I love teaching.”
Joshua Chukwu, rural school, Nigeria
When his rural primary school closed during the pandemic, learning stopped completely for the 45 children in Joshua Chukwu’s class. Families of his pupils, who were aged seven and eight, did not have access to the internet. Only one parent had a digital device.
Mr Chukwu, 28, who teaches mathematics, basic science and English at Local Government Primary School 1 in Ibiade, in a remote area of Ogun State in south western Nigeria, began to telephone as many children as he could at their homes.
“I would just get them to remember some of the things I had taught and be able to do some basic literacy,” he says.
He visited some children to teach them in their homes, but the distances between pupils’ houses made that difficult. As an alternative, he found an open space in the compound of one of the parents.
He contacted as many of the children’s families as he could, and encouraged them to bring chairs, their school books and a pen. And, under a mango tree, he created an outdoor classroom.
Three times a week 25 children in his class would come for a two-hour lesson. He used his own laptop and smartphone, sometimes playing videos to reinforce or expand their learning.
“I was able to help some of them to make progress,” he says. “Because they were not of the same learning ability, some of them had to learn very elementary stuff. I saw they had issues so the lessons were differentiated. I made progress with some of them and their reading skills improved during the period.”
He continued to teach in the shade of the mango tree from July to early September 2020.
When the school reopened, all but one of his class returned but their learning loss was acute, especially among children who did not attend his outdoor classroom.
“I saw that some had really not been learning,” he says. “Many of them had even forgotten most of the things they had learnt. I had to take the lessons in a calm way and help them to refresh their memories. So, revision was done for a few weeks before normal teaching began.”
“They really missed out on some things – five months in the life of a child in a rural community not learning is so much.”
During this period, Mr Chukwu completed several training courses via his smartphone, on growth mindset for teachers, designing graphics, video editing and creating video animation, all of which he paid for himself.
The experience, he says, made him still more determined in his career as a teacher.
“I have been inspired by seeing what the children in those communities go through”, he says, “inspired to want to help them even more and want to impact children across their learning.”
Melissa Morris, urban school, United States
For five years before the coronavirus pandemic, Melissa Morris experimented with Skype and Zoom in lessons. She was already comfortable with using video conferencing tools. But teaching remotely for more than a year forced her to take her technology skills to a new level.
Ms Morris, 49, teaches instrumental music at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York City, where more than 40% of teenagers are from low-income families.
The school was closed for more than a year, with all teaching taking place remotely from March 2020 to April 2021. She taught general music to some classes and upper-level guitar to others, including some who had only had six weeks of in-person guitar lessons in the previous school year.
Three days per week were allocated for whole-class teaching online. On the other two days she sent daily lessons to students and gave additional teaching and support to those who needed individual instruction.
This was a particular challenge with guitar lessons as many students were reluctant to turn on their cameras for live lessons. Instead, Ms Morris used Microsoft’s Flipgrid platform to swap videos with pupils.
“I would send home an assignment: ‘Play me these four measures’, and because they wouldn’t show me their video live, they felt more comfortable sending a video,” she says.
“Now I could actually see what their hands were doing and I could respond back with a tailor-made video for that child. For example, I would be able to give directions like: ‘I noticed you were using your second figure on the third fret. Can you get your third finger on the third fret? It will look like this.’”
She found it exhausting as she supplemented these videos with phone calls.
“We were up at 6.30, we were on our schedule bright and early and we didn’t put down our technology until we were falling asleep with it on our lap because the parents needed support, the students needed support, which was most of the time on the phone,” she says.
The experience was very different to her pre-pandemic experiments with technology when Ms Morris would organise virtual “mystery” tours and connect her classes to children and their teachers in places including Florida, Morocco and Kenya.
Then, she says, there were “no walls to their classroom, their morale was like a firecracker. It was energised, and it literally took me nothing to energise them other than to set up this meeting”.
Once there was no option other than remote learning, this all changed, she says.
“It was not energising. I did not have the experience of the days prior. It was debilitating and you could see the morale sink, and sink even more to the point where you couldn’t even get them to turn on their cameras any longer.”
Abhilasha Singh, private school, Abu Dhabi
It was the youngest children in her school who Abhilasha Singh worried about most when her school switched to online-only learning. And yet, it was among the teenage pupils that the impact was greatest. Their formal education was delivered well virtually, she says, but it was elements of growing up that they missed out on.
“As a principal, I can say we feel very accomplished and didn’t allow any learning loss and we took care of our children,” she says, “but I know for a fact that even though the subjects and topics were covered, other parts of the learning took a back seat.”
Ms Singh, 48, is principal of Shining Star International School in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, a private school that teaches the Indian curriculum. Many of its pupils are the children of Indian expatriates, some are from Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.
In some ways, she was fortunate. Several teachers at her school had volunteered for a virtual programme to teach children at a UNHCR refugee camp in north west Kenya with Project Kakuma initiated by Koen Timmers, a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize in 2017 and 2018. They thus had experience of preparing pre-recorded lessons.
“That experience was quite handy so we transitioned very smoothly into the ‘new normal’ when the remote instruction happened,” she says.
Before the pandemic she also co-hosted a monthly TweetMeet, a Twitter conversation for teachers facilitated by Microsoft Education, where she learned about online learning tools. Ms Singh required all her 67 teachers to complete training in two of the company’s education programmes.
When schools in Abu Dhabi were instructed in March 2020 to cease face-to-face teaching and move to online learning, she was asked by the Abu Dhabi Education and Knowledge Council how many of her pupils did not have a digital device or internet access.
A survey of parents found that, of her 1,100 pupils, 34 could not access online learning; the government provided them with Chromebooks, routers and sim cards.
“I was mostly worried about the kindergarten children especially when students were coming to the school life for the first time: how would they manage online learning?”, Ms Singh says.
“The senior students would not switch on their cameras and that was really challenging because the non-verbal communication, facial expressions, lighting of the eyes, some of these things are the ways that the teacher understands whether the child has understood, and how it is going with the class,” she says.
“But when the camera is off, you just don’t know whether the child is there or not and how the student is sitting in front of the screen. That kind of learning loss has happened, definitely.”
1. The international community should give higher priority to seeking more equitable access to the internet to support children’s education. Education actors, including governments, must work with technology and telecommunications providers to consider bold ideas such as free connectivity for schools. We recognise, however, that in countries where electricity supply is a challenge, its provision should take priority.
2. We need the systematic and regular collection of data on schools’ access to the internet in each country, with a simple grading system for the quality of their bandwidth or mobile network coverage, using a globally accepted method. This should be overseen by an international body.
3. It is shocking that 42% of teachers bring their own digital device to school for work purposes. Providing access to technology devices and resources for teachers and children in disadvantaged groups must be a priority, accompanied by a better understanding of how technology can be most effectively deployed to reduce the digital divide.
Valuing teachers’ experience
4. The leadership role played by experienced classroom teachers illustrates their critical importance to school systems. Governments and education authorities should re-evaluate strategies to retain and support experienced teachers, including enhanced salary scales and other forms of increasing motivation.
Technology and assessment
5. The use of technology for regular formative assessment by teachers is under-utilised and its development should be a priority for the education community and technology companies, including bespoke models for school systems with large class sizes and that use whole-class teaching.
Mathematics teaching and technology
6. A representative body for teachers of mathematics should investigate engagement with digital teaching tools among maths teachers including their take-up of subject-specific teacher professional development and identify potential barriers to technology use for the benefit of children’s education worldwide.
Teachers’ professional development
7. More focus on using digital resources should be given in teachers’ professional development with an emphasis on how these can support the context in which teachers are working, including in using digital learning platforms where appropriate.
8. Schools, regional authorities or governments should investigate ways to use technology to bring teachers together for more interactive training including semi-structured interactions in communities of practice.
9. Schools should have robust safeguarding arrangements whenever digital communications are used by teachers to contact students, especially direct mSchools should have robust safeguarding arrangements whenever digital communications are used by teachers to contact students, especially direct messaging services. Regular training and support in staying safe online must be offered. Authorities must support schools and ensure these are in place, to protect children and teachers.
Low-cost private schools
10. A credible, non-partisan organisation should conduct an independent evaluation of how technology is used for learning in low-cost private schools in low and middle-income countries. This should compare outcomes for children with those of government-funded schools in similar settings and contexts.