Teacher Insights

Nusrat Baquee

Allied Schools, Pakistan

Allied School System is one of Pakistan’s best secondary schools, focusing on scholastic development, personal growth and ethical enrichment. With over 1,000 campuses across Pakistan, it has expanded itself in both rural and urban areas. The complete infrastructure of our education system changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Being used to always teaching face-to-face, we had to switch to digital mediums of teaching. This not only affected the teaching and learning, but made us realize that Pakistan still has made no considerable progress towards the proliferation of internet access and its use by masses.

The global problem of digital divide was further highlighted during the pandemic. As educators, we faced a lot of issues when it came to teaching and learning.

Foremost, the infrastructure of ICT in the country was not that advanced to cater to the needs of all. In many rural areas, there is no ICT structure at all. There were constant connectivity issues during the online teaching process. Low speeds of internet and connectivity problems persisted throughout and is still very much there. This problem is worse for rural areas schools and households. In addition to the infrastructure, there is an issue of unequal access to the internet. Some households could afford to buy the required gadgets and had internet access, but most of the families could not provide their children with the computers or internet services for education purposes. These economic issues made learning very difficult for majority of children. Parents had mobiles phones, but with more than one child in a family they could not cater to the needs of all. Furthermore, the lack of skills has worsened the situation. Many teachers and students do not know how to operate computers and use internet for teaching and learning. Most parents on the other end did not know how to use computer or phones for education either so were completely unable to assist their children in online learning. Understanding and proper use of technology is a very critical issue. Most of the children in our school saw the internet as a source of entertainment. This behaviour persisted during the online classes where children were distracted towards fun websites and used the computers for chatting with friends during study hours. Overall, the matter of concern is that we are facing challenges in basic things like infrastructure of ICT, lack of skills, and inequality in resource distribution where income and educational inequalities are of most crucial nature.

Kirk Thompson

Humanities & Maths Teacher St Bede’s College, Victoria, Australia

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and exposed the ‘digital divide’ within Australian schools, for both students and teachers.

Remaining offsite and learning online spiralled into a lack of motivation to learn for students, who were deprived of socializing and partaking in extracurricular activities. For educators too, often struggling to find new and innovative ways to deliver the curriculum by engaging means, often a sense of guilt eventuated from exhaustion and an inability to effectively assist.

Online learning impacted digitally divided students’ opportunities to communicate and collaborate. To address this, I thought it fundamental to provide avenues for them to practice these skills virtually. Students partook in ‘break-out rooms’, via Google Meets or Zoom calls.

This forced students to turn their microphones on and talk to each other. They were encouraged to use this tool outside of the virtual classroom, setting up their own Google Meet or Zoom to study together, and simply chat—something that they were deprived of. I also used a ‘Google Jamboard’ or live ‘Google Document’ within a virtual class to brainstorm ideas together online. Again, students were exposed to resources and examples of how to collaborate with classmates.

Often for teachers, there was the constant search for learning tools and innovative learning models. My learning team identified the importance of becoming members of each other’s Google Classrooms, the platform used to communicate with students and deliver lessons. Thus, we could observe and even use other teachers’ activities and learning tools, as well as ideas from across the internet or from textbook resources.

We also had the ability to view which part of the curriculum colleagues were currently working through.

This created a sense of comradery and support, needed to narrow the deepening divide occurring through a lack of regular communication and varying digital capabilities.

Whilst this support and strategy strengthened collegial relationships during difficult times, additional training and technological support is required for educators. From my experience, many teachers are unaware of the digital opportunities which exist, or even how to utilize the platforms being used with students. Unfortunately, this in itself deepens the digital divide, as students face unequal learning opportunities.

It would be wise to offer mandated ICT modules for educators, to ensure all are equipped with a standard for technology competency. This learning module could offer suggestions for digital teaching tools, but more importantly, emphasize that teachers must accept the reality of teaching in a digital age, and understand the requirement to adapt and to reform our teaching strategies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced students to change how they learn. There is more ownership of their learning as they must be organized, resilient, able to develop their time management skills, and often self-direct the duration and extent of how hard they work. I found the move to digital learning forced me to reconsider how to deliver contemporary lessons, and this renewal was refreshing, and at times, exciting. To address the digital divide, we must all acknowledge that we teach in a new, online world. Then, like students, we can change how we teach and strive to narrow the digital divide.

Sonu Nayyar

Delhi Public School Mathura Refinery Nagar Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India

In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, students in India were forced to shift to a virtual model of education. While the transition was quite smooth for the privileged, the underprivileged ones are in a pitfall, even today, because of a lack of access to internet and electronic devices to view online content, leading to inequality in educational services.

Girls at home face bias when their brother too requires a digital device. Many rural and low-income communities lack reliable, affordable internet access. In addition to this, many teachers were never trained to conduct digital classes and parents are still not equipped to support their children with English language learning at home.

If some students only have internet access via their smartphone, online studies become more challenging for them.

Likewise, those who rely on a shared family computer fear that their learning will be inaccessible at any given time. Those who face economic or social disadvantages are also more likely to be in the lowest income bracket. These unequal levels of access give rise to a digital divide among the students. However, despite the challenges, teachers and educational institutions need to take measures to ensure that children do not lose out on their education and carry forward the approach of blended learning for the development of future generations.

The digital divide was further highlighted during the pandemic. As educators, we faced a lot of issues when it came to teaching and learning.
Some recommendations
  • Hybrid learning combining online educational materials with traditional in-person classroom methods with multiple forms of resources.
  • Provide time for students to watch the videos during class, using school devices, or the ability to use devices in the classroom or library during non-instructional hours.
  • A rigorous intervention, like an after-school tutoring plan and/or during weekends.
  • Regular progress updates for students, so they know what they need to do and how to improve.
  • Assessments like tests or projects graded in a more traditional way.
  • Show instructional videos that are short enough to keep the focus of students and limit their screen time. Professional development of teachers on blended/ hybrid learning.
  • Consider open lab times in classroom and longer deadlines to enable students to get the access.
  • Build digital etiquette into classroom assignments with tasks such as word processing, web browsing, PowerPoint presentations, and videos.
  • Revise assignments that require extensive internet research, video streaming, or downloadable content bandwidth-intensive work.
  • Use libraries as resource rooms for students who lack adequate technology access to go there to manage their own learning. Extend Wi-Fi to the laboratories, common rooms, and wider areas of the school.
  • Help students bridge the divide by educating both students and parents on how to get proper access.
'If the digital divide is left unaddressed, the gap between the under-connected and the hyper-digitalized will widen, aggravating existing inequalities.
We need a coordinated multi-lateral response to deal with the challenge of digitalization. Can we take what we’ve learned and create strategies that will help to heal the digital divide before it worsens further? This is the big question!'

Amber Birsen

Mathematics Subject Lead, St Michaels CE Primary School, Dorset, UK

The digital divide is nothing new; it wasn’t a side effect of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic just shed a harsh light on the reality that many people do not have equal opportunities because of their access or lack thereof to the internet and/or appropriate devices.

The need for distance learning only widened the gap between children living in poverty and their peers. Those on a lower income have to be frugal with their earnings, but before, there were other options—the library or an Internet cafe. All this changed, however, when we were plunged into the unforeseeable lockdowns.

With multiple school age children at home, the only device being a smart phone, and still being required to work from home themselves, many of our parents found themselves overwhelmed by their new lifestyle. We decided early on to pre-recorded lessons to provide the flexibility for parents to fit in school around their own jobs and needs for the devices in their home. For some parents, it was a case of working all day and then watching the pre-recorded distance learning on their phone screen in the evening.

Lack of suitable devices was the case for many children in our care. Although we made sure our videos were compatible with most devices and any attachments were sent in PDF form—meaning they could be opened on any device— sometimes a small smart phone was not clear enough for a worked example or a lengthy explanation. Without the ability to properly engage in the learning, the gap began to quickly widen. Another important consideration is that some parents felt uncomfortable asking for more devices, despite the school having some for those in need. The worry of being judged for not already having them meant they then went without.

In our school, we provided almost 10 per cent of our families with a device. This may have been the first appropriate device in their home or an additional device due to the high demand in the household. There were days where our SLT were knocking on doors, stepping two metres back, and delivering the laptops which weeks before were used for planning by the teachers. These devices were received by relieved parents and excited children.

Another interesting challenge was that of language. With English not being the first language of many of our parents, they were unable to navigate the learning that was being set. Although over time we were able to show them how to translate the work with an easy click, for a time, some children were unable to access the learning being provided by the school. In our school, we are very fortunate to have a supportive EAL team and in many cases, these families were provided with separate learning to focus on developing their language skills.

The lockdowns have also alerted us to the high number of adults without the technological skills to navigate the online world. If a parent’s own confidence is low, this can affect their usage and in turn mean many children are not accessing the distance learning.

For us, welfare was at the top of our list.

We wanted to be in contact with our children weekly and after a few weeks of phone calls, we moved swiftly to zoom calls. In small groups, teachers sat with their pupils, read them stories, and had children read to each other through screen share. Games were played, and questions about work were answered. Sadly, for children without devices, they missed out on these emotional support groups and the chance for support with their learning.

We also filmed feedback videos on work for those at home, identifying misconceptions, showing good examples of the work submitted, and revisiting areas where more input was needed. Another example of where children without devices missed out.