The Pacific Islands e-Learning Talanoa

The Pacific Islands e-Learning Talanoa was organised by the PICISOC Education Working Group and drew on the experiences of four regional e-Learning leaders with more than a total of 50 years of combined e-Learning or ICT for Better Education experience.

It was scheduled for 7PM on Thursday 20th November, with some confusion on the actual time due to daylight saving issues.

The aim of the Talanoa was to share e-Learning (or ICT4Better Education) experiences, issues, good practice and lessons learned from some 15 years of initiatives in the region and to see how these can inform current plans.

Presentations

The following is a summary of the key issues and lessons learned from each of the presenters.

Gail Townsend

Gail spoke about the Distance Learning project in the Cook Islands, providing qualified teachers support via the internet to remote island students that do not have qualified teachers.

Gail commented that in hindsight, they really didn’t fully understand what it was all about (they didn’t know what they didn’t know) and that they didn’t really know if the hardware and software  was appropriate and if the teachers, students and parents were ready. The program really relied on a few passionate teachers and technical staff. But they had a great idea and a willingness to make it work and they learnt as they went along. As one example, providing redundant equipment in case the item breaks was not thought about initially, but it was added in the second year.

Four key issues were identified:

  • Student readiness (for self-managed learning) was unknown
  • School principals and teachers understanding, and readiness for e-Learning was unknown
  • Parents understanding and expectations was unknown
  • Good communications are critical to work through these unknowns

Overall, the education system was not really ready for e-Learning.

A key lesson learned is that students needed additional in classroom help/supervision for this kind of learning and additional local Teachers Assistants had to be found and trained.

One unintended outcome was that when e-Learning students came to the main island for secondary schooling the following year, they found it much easier to assimilate, already knowing other students and teachers virtually.

Artila Devi

Artila is the Education lead in the Catalpa run e-Learning for Science in the Pacific program in four Islands. The program addresses devices, contextualised digital content, and teacher professional development. It is based on the belief that the digital device compliments the teacher and does not replace them and at the core of the project are three elements of a) Context, b) scalability and c) sustainability. Key elements will be the development of contextually appropriate digital science resources that link to the curriculum and embedding e-Learning within the current community social context.

It is in its early days and efforts are being made to engage all people and organisations that have an interest in education, not just teachers and students.

Key elements for success have been identified as:

  • Involving and sharing with the whole community that is interested in education
  • Design for scalability to allow MOEs to build on the program over time
  • Design for sustainability through long term planning, not just for the term of the project
  • Developing partnerships e.g. with USP and SPC

She commented that advances in the ICT sector such as most teachers having smart phones and connectivity becoming cheaper and more available are making the project much easier.

Siaosi Sovelini

The honourable Minister from Tonga, who is well known to PICISOC members as a long-term champion of ICTs, discussed the project of ensuring learning can continue if schools in Tonga are closed for extended periods, e.g. for a COVID 19 lockdown. The key element was ensuring learning from home with technology could be successful. He commented that the urgency of COVID 19 really forced MOEs to rapidly advance e-Learning which had previously been something they thought they would get around to later.

As not all students had access to the internet, so a multi-media approach was developed involving radio, TV, internet, and paper. Content was locally developed for all media.

An early trial was conducted, and a survey of teachers, parents and students carried out and changes made to accommodate feedback. Interestingly, the most common comment was that now people appreciated how much work teachers do to teach their children. The survey was quite an eye opener to MOE staff.

Finally, a national trial was conducted to ensure all schools could be covered.

Lessoned learned are:

  • Informing and supporting parents is critical for home learning
  • Education in the outer islands has improved (an unexpected bonus) and parents developed a better appreciation of teaching and what teachers do
  • Primary school students prefer radio while secondary prefer TV and internet
  • Training in cyber safety is important

The honourable Minister concluded by saying they are still learning a lot about home learning and they are developing better ways to help students learn and they are investigating special education internet packages with the internet provider. He further commented that being forced to do this by COVID was a key driver for their success.

Alapati Taupo

Alapati is the senior Education Officer for ICT in Tuvalu and has been running the E-learning School System to provide access to more digital learning resources for all primary students. Because of the limited availability of the internet in outer islands, the system was designed from the ground up as off-line and power was provided if not available.

OERs (e.g. RACHEL) are stored in redundant servers and portable devices such as Kio Kits and access is through computer labs and tablets. Alapati mentioned some key challenges as being the amount of red tape (the system is not well suited to e-Learning, especially in financing/budgeting), getting school ownership, e-Learning not being a priority on some islands and alignment or adaption of the OERs to the curriculum. They are now working on aligning the content with the curriculum and contextualising it. He commented that considering the remoteness of the outer islands, equipment redundancy was built in the original design

Key success factors include

  • Support from top to bottom is essential (cabinet to teaching staff, island councils, donors and partners) to undertake e-Learning
  • Capability must be available to deploy and support the technology (with redundancy built in to cater for equipment failure) on remote islands
  • Getting school buy in and ownership of the system in key and takes time
  • Must carry out Measurement and Evaluation to allow the system to develop

Alapati stressed that e-Learning will never substitute face to face teaching and concluded by saying “It is a marathon, needing 3-5 years sustained effort” and it must be driven by a vision. Initially he thought it was all about getting the hardware and resources to the schools and completing the teacher training, but the reality is that there will be lots of failures and hurdles to treat as learning experiences to adapt to and develop better solutions.

Some common themes and issues

The following themes and issues were drawn from the presentations, questions, and chat messages

  1. e-Learning is a (continuous) learning process. Providing the hardware, software and content is only the beginning.
  2. We must allow for “failures” and unexpected adaptations, meaning projects and programs must be flexible.
  3. Our approaches must be more inclusive and consider the wider elements and priorities around education
  4. There seems to be many reasons for, and expectations of, implementing e-Learning/ICT4BE and the vision and outcomes must be clearly stated and understood and M&E must be included to clearly demonstrate benefits.
  5. Planning up front for sustainability and scalability is important. (We have had enough standalone pilots and trials)
  6. COVID 19 seems to have increased the priority of implementing e-Learning and we should capitalise on this (also to help other national emergencies effecting education)
  7. There is good potential for learning from each other
Additional resources

Based on the presentations and issues raised above, the following resources could be useful:

  1. The Principles for Digital Development (including sustainability and scalability) https://digitalprinciples.org/principles/
  2. The Pacific Education Cluster Learning Continuity Mapping exercise. https://public.tableau.com/profile/mindfultime#!/vizhome/TestLCM/PECLearningContinuityMapping
  3. The most recent independent evaluation of learning outcomes from e-Learning in the Islands is perhaps the Kiribati Tablet Trial 2019 report by the University of Chicago. The Snapshot report is attached FYI.

Click to view the Kiribati Tablet Trial – A Snapshot Report

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