5 innovative ways kids are going back to school

Sep 01, 2020
Every September, when the warm summer air begins to cool, and the leaves start to turn bright shades of red, orange and yellow, our thoughts turn to 'the most wonderful time of the year'. The ubiquitous back-to-school jingle inspires visions of parents gleefully riding shopping carts through the aisles filling them with notebooks and pens, while their less enthusiastic children trudge behind them. 

This year, however, back-to-school looks different. Because of COVID-19, more parents are ordering their school supplies online. Masks and hand sanitizer have become must-have items. And for many families, their lists include new technology to allow for e-learning. 

And much like families in Canada, families around the world are preparing for an uncertain return to school.

Before COVID-19, there were about 258 million children and youth out of school globally. And according to the World Bank, more than a billion children were affected by school closures due to COVID-19. Many children from privileged backgrounds or high-income countries were able to adapt their studies to online learning while many more vulnerable children have been left behind.

Without access to education, vulnerable children in low-income countries face compounding challenges including decreased opportunities in the future, and an increased risk of violence and child marriage.

World Vision is committed to ensuring all children have access to quality education. And in the age of COVID-19, innovation is critical to making access to education possible in the world’s most challenging places.  

Here are five innovative ways kids are going back to school around the globe:

Isaac, Uganda

a young South Sudanese boy listens to a radio and writes in a notebook.Photo: Aggrey Nyondwa

Isaac, 14, lives in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, Uganda, with his little brother, his foster mom and three foster siblings. Originally from South Sudan, he and his brother fled conflict there in 2017.

Before COVID-19, they would go to school every day at 7:30 am and help their foster mom in the fields on weekends. When schools closed, radio lessons were introduced, filling the gap in their education. But soon the family’s old radio stopped working.

World Vision Uganda staff saw the need and began distributing radios to the most vulnerable children and families in the settlement, beginning with children from child-headed households and foster families like Isaac's. 

Isaac and his siblings are among the 15 million children across Uganda that have been affected by the school closures back in March.

“Some of my friends stay very far, I could only see them at school. I miss them and I miss learning new things,” he says. “I want to study so hard and be the president of South Sudan in future. I want to bring back peace to our country. This is why I want to go back to South Sudan.”

Nexi, Philippines 

a young Filipina girl sits at a table with books open in front of her.Photo: Girlie Legaspi

Nexi,12, is part of the child sponsorship program in the Philippines. She graduated valedictorian of her class at an online ceremony last year. “I was hoping I could walk on the stage with my parents as we received my award. Sadly, COVID-19 prevented that from happening. But I understand it’s for our safety," she says.

Like most children, Nexi still prefers face-to-face learning. Nothing beats sharing stories or doing assignments with her close friends, she says. 

The pandemic has affected more than 20 million learners across the Philippines. With cases of COVID-19 still on the rise, the department of education has postponed in person classes until there is a vaccine. Instead, distance or blended learning is being implemented, using radio, TV, online and modular learning methodologies. 

Nexi's family has limited access to the internet and other technologies, so her local school will provide printed modules to make distance learning possible.

For Nexi, no matter what the mode of learning is, she’s determined to do her best. “I know there will be challenges when we start our classes, but I will still do my best. I want to study well so that I can be an engineer someday,” she shares.

Nahed, Jordan

a Jordanian woman stands at whiteboardPhoto: Elias Abu Ata

Nahed has been teaching with World Vision Jordan's remedial education programme since 2015, teaching English to Jordanian and Syrian refugee children alike. The aim of the program is to prevent children who struggle with learning from dropping out of school.

When COVID-19 hit, Nahed and other teachers with the program were trained to teach classes remotely using tools like WhatsApp and ZOOM. 

“I had so many concerns regarding the remote teaching methods. But since I’ve started teaching from home, I’ve noticed that it was a totally different experience than I thought. It feels like I have my students in a classroom with me. With the online interaction in WhatsApp groups and weekly ZOOM sessions, I can see that the students are understanding the lessons and receiving the material properly. I feel happy when I see my students are very responsive, and when they submit their homework correctly and on time.”

Santos, Uganda

A South Sudanese man sits in front of a chalkboardPhoto: Aggrey Nyondwa

Santos, 23, is a teacher from South Sudan living in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, Uganda. He became a teacher specifically to help children in his community. 

“After seeing how children struggled to learn, I enrolled at the primary teachers’ college and learned the skill to help my people," he says. 

When schools closed in March, he saw once again, how the children were struggling. Some had become idle at home, some were working with their parents, and a few girls from the village had gotten pregnant. This pushed him to start up a mobile teaching program, working voluntarily during the lockdown. 

Santos teaches in groups of 10 or fewer, and wherever he conducts his classes he ensures there is a hand washing facility. The children must wash their hands before and after the lesson.

He teaches outdoors as much as possible, to allow enough space for physical distancing. While teaching, he keeps a safe distance from the children and has introduced an innovative way of marking from a distance, with his eyes.

María, Colombia

A Colombian woman gestures to a bag she is weavingPhoto: Education Cannot Wait staff

María is a member of the Wiwa Indigenous community living in the ethnically diverse region of La Guajira, Colombia. During lockdown, she and other women in her community began teaching children and youth to weave bags, a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. 

World Vision Colombia, in partnership with Education Cannot Wait, is providing culturally appropriate materials to the Wayú, Wiwa and Kogui Indigenous communities, and the Afro-Colombian communities in the area, to encourage traditional artforms, like weaving, painting and storytelling. The aim is to build community and encourage a transfer of traditional knowledge and history to younger generations, while learning a new skill. 

"For our culture weaving is very important," says María. "When we are weaving, we are building. First, we must build spiritually. We start with something small and we grow. As I weave, I grow too. If I learn how to weave well, I will have a good life of my own. Weaving is like community. When we start small and work together, good things happen.”

While they wait for schools to reopen, children in La Guajira are not waiting for an education.

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