The past two months have been a whirlwind. From school closures across the world, to the growing numbers of unemployed, the tensions caused by this pandemic have reached almost every community of our world. But there is still so much hope. Through my role at Teach For All, I have been inspired by the innumerable stories of collective leadership and innovation of our network.
With the global online penetration rate at only 59% and only 25% in sub-Saharan Africa and 48% in South Asia, learning on technology often exacerbates existing inequities.
In particular, I have had the fortune of witnessing what great educators do when faced with extreme challenges of technology access. About 6 weeks ago, a group of us from around the world started a WhatsApp group called “Teaching Without Internet.” It is a global group open to educators within and beyond the Teach For All network. The original group included teachers from Kenya, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, India, the United States and a few other countries. Our group quickly grew to the limit of 250 on WhatsApp, and we began replicating the group for different languages (Spanish, French, and Arabic) and across different regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, and the US. New groups grew out of these groups to include topical areas such as Teaching With Radio.
Most students across the world do not have access to Google classrooms, smartphone applications, and Zoom.
This may come as a surprise, but the majority of people around the world still do NOT have consistent access to the internet. With the global online penetration rate at 59% and only 25% in sub-Saharan Africa and 48% in South Asia, learning on technology often exacerbates existing inequities. (And this doesn’t even take into account consistent internet connection.) Most students across the world simply do not have access to Google Classroom, smartphone applications, and Zoom.
So, this group of persistent educators shared stories of success and frustration, strategies and barriers, opportunities and resources. We were hoping to accelerate the impact we could have in reaching our students, keeping them safe, and ensuring they didn’t stop learning, despite our existing technology and infrastructure barriers.
I was particularly moved by those teachers whose students had absolutely no access to any mobile phone or radio -- whether it was a teacher helping teachers on a remote island in the Philippines, or teachers in Nigeria who stayed in their school communities in the rural north of the country. Educators across the globe opted to keep learning happening in their local communities by using public announcement systems or delivery of paper learning packets. They are working side-by-side with local community leaders to ensure students are safe, healthy, and learning.
I want to share two things this extraordinary group has already done:
- We created a living document on “Key Recommendations for Teaching Without Internet.” In the coming months, we will be adding to this document our best practices for what works when it comes to creative uses of technology for learning. There are links to resources, ideas for solving technology challenges, and advice from the experts.
- We are continually hosting practical workshops on how to get creative with non-traditional forms of technology for learning. The past two weeks we have maxed out capacity in workshops held almost entirely on WhatsApp (with a conference line for audio), showing what’s possible on basic devices. Although our “Using WhatsApp and Telegram for Instruction” workshop this week is already at capacity, you can join this global English group for more opportunities.
- New strategies are rapidly being implemented by teachers learning from each other. Just today, a teacher from Nigeria shared examples of how they are adapting the techniques introduced in a workshop with teachers in India and Malaysia. I’m blown away at how fast innovations can be transmitted on social messaging apps.
What are we calling our mighty alliance of educators in these groups? The Teaching Without Internet Alliance (TWIA).
If you are an educator reading this and want to get involved as a leader in the Teaching Without Internet Alliance, I invite you to reach out. We plan to have a leadership meeting on May 19th to further discuss how to take this group forward and advocate for our students, their families and their communities to keep our students learning, even without the internet. Message me if you’re interested in joining.