Reimagining Digital Learning: Lessons from the Learning Passport in Timor-Leste

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools worldwide governments rapidly worked to deploy remote learning to continue education. 9 in 10 countries around the world used online learning platforms to support children’s learning in 2020. However, understanding of how students, especially those from marginalized households in remote areas, can access, use, and learn from digital platforms is limited. As schools reopen, digital learning is here to stay, both as a tool to support teaching and learning in the classroom and outside of it. Thus, it is imperative that we continue to learn more about what makes digital platforms work to improve learning and how they can be delivered to effectively support children and teachers, especially in vulnerable situations.

Throughout 2020, the Learning Passport programme expanded in 8 countries as a remote learning response to COVID-19 school closures. Timor-Leste was the first country to implement Learning Passport in their digital learning platform called ‘Eskola Ba Uma’ (or ‘School Goes Home’). Now, as schools reopen in Timor-Leste, the Ministry of Education aims to build on the digital learning expertise built during school closures to support teachers and students within classrooms. To achieve this, UNICEF is working with the Ministry to develop the use of Eskola Ba Uma for blended teaching and learning in classrooms. As a first step, user experience testing and focus group discussions were held with teachers and students from grades 2,3,7, and 9 in four schools to understand the needs, perceptions, and constraints they face using digital learning. This rapid exercise allowed the Ministry and UNICEF to learn directly from users, informing upcoming teacher training and the wider implementation of the Eskola Ba Uma programme in schools.

UNICEF/Maria Tubio Children from Caitehu School learning with the ”‘Eskola ba Uma” app.

 

This blog outlines three key findings from these user experience tests:

  1. Teachers are very excited about digital learning and supporting students to learn digital skills. All teachers agreed that digital instruction is an important way to impart digital skills to students. They felt that using digital learning tools allows students to learn from anywhere, especially during emergencies. They found that it makes learning fun (for example using YouTube videos) and gives students more opportunities to practice with interactive content. Teachers also said that they are keen to expand their own technological and pedagogical skills. However, they expressed concerns regarding a lack of access to electricity and connectivity when using the app both at school and at home.

Benefits listed by teachers for students:

  1. Training and continuous support are key to enable digital learning. While all teachers in the focus groups had access to and could use mobile phones, less than half are comfortable using other devices, such as computers or tablets. Most students use smartphones owned by family members but primarily for watching videos and playing games. They still use books and other printed materials for learning at home. Many students rely on older siblings for support while using digital devices, highlighting the importance of assistance to feel comfortable when faced with challenges. Almost all teachers perceived the app to be helpful for teaching but expressed the need for training on how to use it. A few teachers and students from rural areas also felt less comfortable using the platform because they “do not know much about it”. Given the lack of previous experience with digital learning, regular training and support can make teachers feel more comfortable and improve the use of devices and the learning platform for classroom teaching.

 

  1. Students learn to navigate the app quickly and are intrigued by its features. After using the app for the first time, students were happy and enjoyed the opportunity to engage and learn through digital content. Students found the short training and induction on the use and navigation of the app very helpful.

“This app is easy and I can use it alone, but if there are some difficulties, then we don’t know. If you Mister didn’t walk us through it, then we wouldn’t know where to press. But now we know that already. If in the future we use tablets to access this app, we will still remember. We can teach the other kids about this app.”  – A 7th-grade girl from Aileu

Almost all older students were able to navigate between different sections on the app and search for relevant content. Many students mentioned they like the potential of using the app at their own pace, using it by themselves, listening to audiobooks, and watching videos.

 

More to come. In Timor-Leste, research with teachers and students will continue as teacher training is scaled and the implementation of the Learning Passport in classrooms begins. This is part of a global initiative to build rapid action research into the deployment of the Learning Passport to learn and improve the programme as it scales across contexts.

 

This programme, research and blog was made possible with support from GPE. This is part of a global initiative to build rapid action research into the deployment of the Learning Passport to learn and improve the programme as it scales across contexts.