Authored by Dr. Peter Bateman, Executive Director, Association of International Schools in Africa
With the advent of COVID-19 AISA schools have had to manage a significant change in the way learning happens. We see learning taking place online, in the classroom and in many iterations of the two, sometimes with very short notice. Here at AISA we have long believed that appropriate use of technology in the classroom will improve student learning outcomes. The idea of only ‘going online in an emergency’ has not been one that we at AISA have subscribed to, and the current learning paradigm in our member schools bears this out.
Adopting a flexible approach to learning has now become a key part of the remit of all our schools. While schools may not have much choice in this transition, and it has caused considerable stress and re-working of learning plans, there are many examples of improved student learning that have emerged as a result of adopting a well designed multi-modal or hybrid approach.
Currently in AISA member schools across Africa, in classrooms where students have access to a digital device, the most assignments are completed independently as students work at their own pace through a predetermined set of material. If well designed, this increase in students agency allows them to take as much or as little time as they need. They also have options for more in-depth exploration of some topics and opportunities to design their own learning pathways. Learning can take place in this way in a variety of settings. Notably, if schools need to close during COIVD-19 this multi-modal approach offers just the model required as it delivers most content online, but the learning venue can transfer between the classroom and home as required. Teachers become facilitators of learning as they guide students through learning and provide one-on-one or small group help when needed, wherever they are located. This model offers excellent opportunities for flexibility and individualization in terms of pace and content and thereby increasing learning outcomes for students.
Many AISA schools have adopted blended learning models that give students a significant amount of autonomy in terms of constructing their own learning. This self-directed mode may also include project-based learning opportunities facilitated by teachers who guide and encourage students to challenge themselves. This student-directed approach helps to increase student completion, learning accomplishment, and ongoing success in education.
An area that has been particularly challenging for our schools during COVID 19 is the level of support generally afforded to students with special needs. In some of our schools, the off-campus online learning approach has derailed personalized learning plans for individual students. But some schools have found that blended learning also offers new possibilities for these students who are coached and mentored online by teachers who make use of technology in new and innovative ways that support learning in small groups or with individuals.
Throughout the COVID-19 transition, we have also learned that there are learning needs that are not well met by particular learning modes. Schools have found that younger students do find online learning more of a challenge – as do their teachers and their parents and caregivers whose role in their child’s academic life also changes. But a multi-modal approach where the appropriate use of technology supports enhanced student outcomes is certainly possible and desirable.
No doubt, the past few months have been a steep learning curve for all our educators and students. I would hope that the benefits of well designed multi-modal or hybrid learning systems might be one aspect of the pandemic’s impact that we explore further as we continue with our mission to improve student learning.
The Association of International Schools in Africa is dedicated to serving its members throughout Africa during this challenging time. Please let us know if you require additional or specific information, resources and or support, and we will endeavour to assist you as soon as possible.