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School closed, no internet: finding ways to keep children learning in the most remote places

5 March 2021

Photo of student's hands with ruler, pen and notebook

COVID-19 school closures have disrupted education worldwide, but worst affected are children in low-income countries living in remote areas where online teaching is not an option.

Open University International Development academics have published a report of a successful trial, carried out with World Vision Zimbabwe, which offers ways to deliver learning in a COVID-safe way to children without internet, TV, radio or even printed texts.

Called CHILD (Community Help for Inclusive Learning and Development), it builds on an existing Open University programme, IGATE-T, set up before the pandemic to support the education of marginalised girls in nine districts in Zimbabwe.

CHILD’s core is a network of Community Learning Champions, the majority of them women who are not professional educators but are known and trusted in their local communities. 

Low tech lessons

Via their mobile phones, they receive daily learning activities designed for a low-tech environment – using, for example, pen and paper or counters. 

The Champions share these with their community in whatever way works best locally; in one case, a Champion cycled around three villages distributing handwritten copies of the activities to parents and carers of children.

During the study, 110 community champions were able to reach over 1,200 learners across four districts in Zimbabwe.

The academics leading the project said that CHILD is not an attempt to replicate school, but a crisis response to mitigate the effects of school closures on children from very poor and very remote communities.

“Sporadic disruptions, and unpredictable and uneven returns to school, are likely to be features of education for millions of children for the foreseeable future,”said project leader Dr Alison Buckler. 

“Exploring how community education champions can be mobilised and supported is crucial to understanding more about the diverse and creative ways children’s learning can be maintained.”

Guidance for others

The report makes six recommendations to guide others in setting up similar schemes.

Since the pandemic struck, the Open University has been finding ways to overcome the disruption to its students by drawing on its experience of delivering learning in challenging environments, said Dr Buckler.

“We have been pioneering large-scale distance learning initiatives in low-resource contexts for more than twenty years.

“Many of our programmes are working with marginalised learners, and we know that these are most likely to drop out of school permanently because of school closures. It is vital we keep them enrolled and engaged.”

Read the full CHILD report.

Read how The Open University is adapting its International Development learning programmes here

Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

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