By Maimuna Ahmad, Bright Kemasuode, Pamela O’Brien and Sandra Underwood

30 October 2020 - 14:08

Child using laptop at home
'Our school looks very different from the way it looked on 14 March.' Photo ©

British Council

Teachers in Bangladesh, England, Nigeria and Spain tell us how they solved one of the year’s biggest issues in education, and which new methods they’ll keep in face-to-face classrooms. 

All the teachers featured in the article were panellists in our Education Exchange webinar series.

Maimuna Ahmad (Bangladesh)

Maimuna is the founder and CEO of Teach For Bangladesh, an organisation working in Bangladesh’s education system since 2012, and a partner of the global Teach For All network. Follow @maimunanasreen on Twitter.

Schools in Bangladesh closed on 17 March 2020. The Bangladeshi government repurposed parliamentary broadcast channels for educational TV and created a digital library. But there’s a digital divide in our population which makes assessment a challenge:

  • 51 per cent of households have access to a TV
  • Five per cent have access to a computer
  • 95 per cent have access to a phone in a family home, but not a smartphone.

There’s lots of emphasis on exams in Bangladesh, and immense pressure for children to perform well. 

Some in the education field criticise the culture of high stakes exams – which encourages rote memorisation – as a distraction from real learning. Still, it’s difficult to move away from tests, and some want national exams to go ahead. The national exams are gatekeepers to academic progress. 

Others advocate to move away from exams and focus on learning, with diagnostic assessments on return to school. 

The teachers in my programme have reached about half of our pupils over the phone, for teaching, emotional support and some assessment.

We use apps – for example, WhatsApp and Messenger – for assessment.  We also send audio messages to pupils with educational content and an assessment. We assign textbook content to complete and return to the teacher.

But we can’t reach all students consistently. 

Private schools have resumed classes virtually with assessment. So, the gap will continue to grow between pupils who have resources and those who don’t. Children who were falling behind academically will fall further behind, and children will return to school with varying levels of education. 

It’s important not to look at the pandemic as only a time of learning loss. Pupils are experiencing intense disruption and trauma. But they are learning – they are experiencing family and community differently and learning different competencies. 

Based on that – how do we reimagine what learning is, and how do we assess it?

Sandra Underwood (England)

Sandra is Second in Faculty and Head of German at Stantonbury International School. Stantonbury is an 11-18 high school and one of the largest high schools in England.

In my school in England, we used a simple but challenging three-star system for learning tasks – gold, silver and bronze. Pupils at Key Stages 3 and 4 could take on learning at any level. 

Learning usually took the form of video, with writing and reading. Key Stage 4 had optional extension tasks. We didn’t teach every subject every day. Instead, we taught core subjects with extra options. 

We’d spend about 20 minutes learning followed by a 20 minutes quiz. We assessed pupils’ progress based on that quiz. It wasn’t tedious, and there was a clear achievement at the end. 

We used Satchel’s ‘Show my Homework’ platform. Students could access their own scores, and I think it gave them a sense of pride in their achievements.

Students also created reflective journals – not just for school learning – which we monitored but didn’t assess. 

We gave pre-recorded feedback on assessments using the Loom app. It allowed students to see and hear their teacher.

Pamela O’Brien (Spain)

Pamela is a Head of Secondary at the British Council School Madrid, where students between 2-18 years old have a bilingual education. Follow @Global_MFL on Twitter.  

At my school in Spain we teach the English national curriculum alongside the Bilingual Baccalaureate. Most of the students are Spanish and also have to learn the Spanish curriculum. 

Our school looks very different from the way it looked on 14 March. But we know our students and their personal circumstances, which has allowed us to adapt to meet their needs.

Most of the students have access to technology at home. We had started to integrate Office 365 before lockdown, so we were prepared to set up the virtual classroom. During lockdown there were some helpful updates to the system, like the hands-up feature.

We’ve seen a big change in what we want to assess, rather than how to assess. 

We assessed our early years students with immediate verbal feedback. We made smaller groups on Microsoft Teams where primary students could show their work on camera. They used the chat and emojis and presented their projects by livestream. Teachers were careful to call on children by name to answer questions. We used private channels so students could concept check with the teacher.

Students uploaded work for assessment. It’s automatically tracked, unlike in a face-to-face classroom. Students had access to a private area to upload their assignments and teachers left written and audio feedback. We felt it was important for students to hear their teachers’ voices. 

We used the Abacus and Book Club apps for reading, and Purple Mash and Mini Mash for drawing.

Secondary students could upload notes after a lesson, and we had a reading cloud to upload book ratings. 

I look forward to going back to the classroom and keeping some of the positive practices that have emerged while we’ve been teaching remotely. 

Bright Kemasuode (Nigeria)

Bright is a second year Fellow at Teach for Nigeria and the founder of the social enterprise Edusort. Follow @BKemasuode on Twitter.

In Nigeria, our first response after lockdown was to contact students to make sure everyone was safe. 

I work in a part of Nigeria where access to technology is difficult.  So we innovated as a community. For example, we broadcasted lessons over the same microphone as the call to prayer from the Mosque.  

Teachers who take part in my project developed worksheets for students to complete at home. There was no unnecessary visiting, but students were learning regardless.

Then we introduced a multidisciplinary project. Education and religious leaders set up extra classes with small numbers of students on selected days of the week, so that the classes weren’t crowded. 

There were also government interventions, including radio and TV programmes – but they weren’t available to all. Many learners don’t have access to the internet. 

We made weekly and biweekly assessment sheets. The teachers used those to evaluate progress, and students could repeat the previous week or fortnight of learning if needed.

Follow @Schools_British and #ConnectedByLearning.

This article is adapted from the webinar The challenges of remote learning and pupil assessment, chaired by British Council’s Shannon West. 

Watch other webinars in the series or sign up to the next live webinar

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