Digital solutions target inclusive education and areas without internet

Building back better

The UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean in Kingston held two virtual consultations on 9 July 2020 (Caribbean Consultation #1) and on 22 July (Caribbean Consultation #2) to discuss with partners how UNESCO can optimize from the multi-stakeholder partnership with the Global Coalition to close the education gap in the 20 English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean sub-region during the COVID-19 period, especially in areas with little or no Internet access. The consultations initiated an exploratory dialogue on how selected members of the Global Education Coalition can provide support to education in the region to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

Distance learning, online teaching, virtual seminars...and capacity development to build back better

For most teachers and students around the world, this has become the new education reality due to the school closures in times of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But what do teachers and students who have no Internet connection do? What if there are no electronic devices to access these distance learning modalities? 

To seek sustainable solutions to continuing education, especially for those living in low or no-connectivity areas, the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean UNESCO Office in collaboration with the UNESCO Education Sector invited trendsetters in the field of digital learning, such as Microsoft, Havard University, Video Games without borders, Learning Equality and the Blackboard Academy to learn from their innovative and inclusive technologies to leave no one behind. 

Prioritizing education as a solution in the crisis is a critical investment in recovery
UNESCO Assitant Director-General for Education, Ms Stefania Giannini

The Global Education Coalition

In her opening remarks on July 22, UNESCO Assitant Director-General for Education, Ms Stefania Giannini underscored the role of UNESCO in identifying and harnessing countries needs and opportunities as a key priority, and by extension. The pandemic presents an unusual opportunity to address emerging inequalities within the education space, as well as rethinking what makes quality education - thinking critically and behaving as responsible global citizenship. The COVID-19 crisis also afforded an opportunity to further prioritize and advance Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), by building on lessons learnt and harnessing emerging practices. 

Dr Faryal Khan, UNESCO's programme specialist for education in the English and Dutch Caribbean welcomed the participants to enable exchange of information on the Global Coalition for Education and the challenges Member States in the Caribbean are facing. She stressed the need to optimize partnerships to explore distance learning solutions that integrate all students, including those from low-income and marginalized communities, and that could continue beyond COVID-19.

Dr. Valtencir Mendes from UNESCO Headquarters in Paris presented UNESCO's unique partnership to combat educational disruption worldwide: the Global Education Coalition. The Coalition combines the three dimensions of ensuring connectivity, empowering teachers to embrace this new educational reality and ensuring gender equality in education.

Read more here on the Global Education Coalition

The UNESCO education partners

UNESCO's education partners present in the meeting included Microsoft, Lab Xchange from the University of Havard, the Blackboard Academy, Learning Equality and Video Games without Borders.

Alexa Joyce from Microsoft explained to the audience how the company is helping governments create national strategies for hybrid learning through “blended learning”, a combination of online and offline tools, with connection plans, webinars, Teacher-Champion training, learning resources for students and parents.

The Blackboard Academy is dedicated to helping teachers create inclusive online learning. Joel Armando, Program Manager of Blackboard, explained the Academy's three-dimensional approach to continuing learning: providing online courses for teachers, creating a community of practice and providing a learning kit. In addition, the Blackboard Academy will offer online training workshops for 40 representatives of the Ministries of Education of the 20 Caribbean members of the UNESCO Cluster. These "master trainers" will be equipped with the necessary digital skills to further improve the online teaching capacity for educators in their countries.

Robert Lue from the University of Havard presented Lab Xchange, a free platform focusing on the life sciences, which gives teachers and learners the tools to create their personalised classroom with personalised teaching and learning materials. The platform provides a virtual public library with a variety of media files and topics for teaching life sciences mainly to secondary school students. Each teacher can build individual pathways (with resources, videos, documents) and share them with his students, which allows personalised learning and teaching and ensures that the teacher can respond to the needs of his students.

Kolibri is an intelligent technology with a special focus on equity to support quality learning in resource- and connectivity poor contexts. Lauren Lichtman from Learning Equality, the makers of Kolibri, explains how the application empowers teachers during COVID-19. Kolibri teaches educators how to use the technology and how it can be integrated into different learning environments with little or no Internet connectivity. In addition, the offline application also runs on a variety of low-cost devices. Kolibri is already in use in 22 countries throughout the Caribbean region.

Video games can be used as a tool to change the world in line with the United Nations' goals for sustainable development, with particular emphasis on ensuring access to quality education
Francesco Cavalla, Videogames without borders

Francesco Cavalla from the NGO "Video games without borders" tells the story of the creation of their first educational game "Antura", developed in the context of the Syrian civil war for refugee children. It helped to combat illiteracy and improve psychosocial behaviour through gamification, i.e. learning with a lot of fun where the pupils forget that they are outside a classroom.

The "Flatten Island" video game was developed in response to the Covid 19 crisis to teach children in an interactive manner how countries and societies can flatten the curve.

My kid wants to see their friends and go out.  Educational video games could help the children to have some fun in learning again while being excluded from social life due to Covid-19
Lucet Montgomery, Mother of a high-school student

Ms. Latoya Swaby-Anderson moderated the interactive dialogue with Member States and discussed the need for educational technology in times of Covid-19.

Kevie, a youth representative from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, recalled that the challenges this crisis has created in students' lives must be taken into account when creating digital educational opportunities, as students push for the need to interact with peers and become easily distracted in distance learning. This calls for peer-to-peer learning solutions that can be flexibly adapted to student availability.

Ismail Noble, Belize pointed to the need to continue to prepare education systems in the Caribbean with blended learning modalities, as the region is vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes. He reiterates that COVID-19 has created a window of opportunity to recognize the need for an adaptive transformation of the education system, which should be built in such a way that it adapts to the new reality in times of covid-19 and is prepared for upcoming disasters.

"Parents are an important part of the educational community. We need to include them as an integral part of the education system," concluded Everton Hannam, Secretary-General of the Jamaican National Commission for UNESCO, in his role as representative of the Caribbean Council of National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).