Teaching in the face of a pandemic: An educator shares her experience

In the face of Covid-19, children have been affected by school closures and lockdowns. Mostly affected are children from vulnerable families that cannot access reliable internet or devices such as laptops, to aid their virtual school learning programme.

For this reason, Rwanda Education Board, with the help of Building Learning Foundation (BLF) and UNICEF, developed a home learning initiative to support children learning remotely by airing lessons on national radio, offering a more inclusive and accessible model, that helps to build up fundamental skills for all children. Radio learning is the cheapest and most accessible medium, especially for teaching pupils who are not at school.

 

Josiane Ingabire, a mathematics teacher at GS Remera Catholique School teaching P2 and P3 pupils, has been presenting lessons on radio for pupils. Fortunately for her, she was involved in the pilot phase by BLF in 2018, trying out some activities from a sample unit of the mathematics toolkit in 2018.

 

Every week, she records her lessons at Radio Rwanda, one lesson per grade each week, which are then broadcast on seven radio stations in Rwanda. Weekly schedules are then shared through radio advertisements, social media. The art of teaching by radio for her, however, is very tricky since it involves engaging her invisible learners.  

 

“As soon as schools closed in March,” she shares, “I was worried about my learners and how I would continue supporting them to learn. By chance, I was approached by BLF and they asked me to volunteer to teach children via radio. I was very happy and immediately agreed. However, since it was my first time producing a radio lesson, I was nervous when I recorded my first lesson.

It was a very strange environment for me the first time, having no classroom and no pupils. Just an empty room with computers and microphones, seen for the first time in my life.”

In the beginning, scripts were developed by the BLF technical team and then recorded from the national radio studio every week. Currently, however, she is fully equipped with the skills to develop her own scripts to sustain her even after learners return to school.

Making her lessons interactive

Since her lessons involve six to nine year-olds, Ingabire has to ensure that her invisible learners are attentive. To do this, she ensures that her pupils follow instructions, when recording, and are engaged in responding to them.

 Her audience also engages in activities during breaks provided in the lessons, and she incorporates songs in her lessons as a teaching tool. 

“Depending on the lesson of the day,” she adds, “I also encourage them to have low cost learning materials available ahead of time, these include counting stones, bottle tops with or without numbers, flash cards and much more. I end every lesson by mentioning materials the learner will need for the next lesson. During the lessons, parents or guardians are encouraged to join in and support pupils in activities.

“They help children to listen to the instructions given during each lesson. For example, when I say, “now it is time for you to pick up your counting stones and place them on the table or the ground” parents or caregivers ensure that the children have the counting stones or sticks ready.”

Using her time productively at home

Ingabire has been teaching for 10 years now. Her home, when our team visited, was filled with recycled materials, from bottle tops, cards cut out of boxes, cut-out clothes for shapes, and sacks as charts. 

She explains that her work involves a lot of creativity to aid her pupils learn by visualising. As such, when she is not recording lessons, she uses the rest of the week to make the time to create learning materials that she will use in her class when schools reopen.

The mother of three also helps her children learn and follow radio lessons.

“I would like to encourage my colleagues to use their time at home productively by doing self-study as it improves our teaching skills. The lockdown and school closure should not prevent us from continuing to learn. It is an opportunity for us to grow our skills.

 I also encourage parents, even if illiterate, to always support their children. The support does not require you to know how to read or write. For example, you can check if the child is doing what the radio teacher asked them to do. Check if they are writing or counting or reading numbers on flash cards as per the radio teacher instructions. Some activities also require the children to tell their parents the answers, or just to discuss something with them,” she says.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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