This is the first of a series of posts about the 2021 UKFIET conference. Here, we provide an overview of the research presentation that Su Corcoran, Helen Pinnock and Rachel Twigg delivered as part of a panel on disability.
Background to the project
When schools were closed across the globe in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of learners had to learn at home. Their parents and caregivers became responsible for delivering this education. There was an increase in the number and variety of home learning resources available through online platforms, but less focus was put into supporting learners with disabilities, especially in low-income contexts where access to the internet is limited. In partnership with the Norwegian Association of Disabled, EENET set out to develop easy-to-read resources and guidance to support learners, their parents and caregivers with home learning.
We wanted to make sure that these materials matched a need. Therefore, we sought to understand what support and materials were already being provided for children’s home learning and the barriers learners faced trying to learn at home.
Two surveys were conducted. Over 1000 parents, teachers and other education system stakeholders from 27 countries completed an online survey. A second telephone survey reached 97 parents in Zambia and Zanzibar who had no access to the internet. In our UKFIET presentation, we explored the findings of both surveys, highlighting the major challenges identified by the respondents.
The respondents raised the following concerns:
- They mentioned the additional risks faced by children who were already living in poverty. Families who relied on the informal labour market found that their income-generating opportunities decreased as non-essential businesses closed and they struggled to provide for their children.
- The focus on delivering education using radio, television and/or the internet may have provided quick and easy countrywide coverage. However, learners without access to radios, television or the internet were unable to use this provision.
- Parents mentioned uncertainty about how they were expected to take responsibility for their children’s learning. They wanted access to useful guidance, especially on adapting home learning materials.
- Not knowing when schools would reopen caused additional stress and worry for caregivers, indicating a need for mental health support during the crisis.
- Home learning provision did not always consider learners with disabilities. They were often invisible. For example, television programmes did not feature sign language; some mainstream schools stopped their additional rehabilitation and learning support provision; and school closures in some areas meant that access to medication ceased.
A number of respondents described home learning support they perceived as successful. Despite the challenges mentioned above, lessons disseminated through television and radio broadcasts reached large numbers of learners in some countries such as Eswatini. Elsewhere, there was a focus on the distribution of hard copy materials that families without access to television, radio, or internet appreciated.
The most innovative use of online platforms came through teachers’ and parents’ use of social media. For example, teachers shared short videos through WhatsApp groups and used the platform to make regular contact with children (and their parents). Parents shared resources and other advice with each other through locally established peer-support WhatsApp groups.
- In Jakarta, Indonesia, a stipend was available to families through the schools, enabling them to access the internet.
- In England, learners with educational health care plans were allowed to continue attending schools and other education programmes provided by disability centres.
- In northern Syria, electricity was more reliable at night. Night schools were set up that took advantage of this electrical supply.
The respondents suggested that when schools are closed good home learning for ALL learners requires: safe, healthy homes; local support networks for sharing resources and caring for each other’s children; access to electricity and the internet or to reading materials if this is not possible; input and/or support from educators to either provide home learning lessons or adapt general provision to make them accessible to learners with disabilities or additional needs. There is also a need to repair, strengthen or develop existing educational frameworks to improve on the conditions in which children may be expected to learn at home.
From the survey, we have identified five key recommendations:
- Catch-up education, good nutrition and health support, and effective disability rehabilitation should be a focus to prioritise and encourage recovery from widened equity gaps when schools reopen.
- Where possible, national human resource development strategies (such as education sector plans and donor support programmes) should prioritise electricity supplies and internet access for schools and wider neighbourhoods.
- Teachers, schools and other local agencies providing education programmes need autonomy, access to appropriate (e.g. hard copy) resources and the ability to distribute these through their network to reach more children.
- Learners experiencing crisis are under additional pressure. Learning resources should be designed to fit around the patterns of their lives. Parents need guidance to set up learning routines and adapt resources for children with disabilities and additional learning needs. The content of our home learning resources was therefore designed to integrate learning activities into daily routines.
- Where possible, plans should be developed to support the mental health of young people and their parents. Such support could be integrated into the process of distributing educational content. It is also important to keep parents up to date on existing plans and possible changes.
More information about the home learning project is available on EENET’s website. Project reports and copies of the home learning resources and guidance can also be found there.
This blog post is based on data analysis conducted by Su Lyn Corcoran, Helen Pinnock and Rachel Twigg. The wider project team involved in developing the data generation, language translation, and project management for the surveys and the creation of the home learning resources includes: Sandrine Bohan-Jacquot, Hasmik Ghukasyan, Cotilda Hamalengwah, Alexander Hauschild, Mustafa Himmati, Said Juma, Moureen Kekirunga, Khairul Farhah, Khairuddin, Polly Kirby, Ingrid Lewis, Oleh Lytvynov , Duncan Little, Emma McKinney, Aubrey Moono, Alick Nyirenda, Ayman Qwaider, Paola Rozo, Hayley Scrase, Anise Waljee, and Jamie Williams.