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The Highs And Lows

by Lucy Oliff, Kivukoni School, Kilifi

Since March, nearly 17 million children in Kenya have been unable to attend school, and the vast majority of those, unable to access any kind of formal school education at all.

It has been an extraordinary time for all involved, and one hopes that students have engaged in other meaningful activities in their homes and communities developing new valuable skills - as well as the values of patience and versatility.

Many private and international schools have however managed to adapt quickly, and keep students engaged and progressing with school work. 'Online learning' has been the buzz in all school communities fortunate enough to have the necessary digital resources and 'know- how'. But what's this online stuff really all about - and how are the children finding it?

Online schooling can range from just a few educational video clips and tasks shared via Whats app, to being taken through a whole school day with 'live lessons', literally sitting in a virtual classroom, engaging with teachers and students in the (almost) usual ways. Using digital meeting platforms, students and teachers see each other face to face, and interact verbally in real time, or 'muting' if they have nothing to say. "Please mute yourself' is the catch phrase of the day in most classes! There are various platforms being used to manage the virtual classroom approach; Seesaw, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom and Class Dojo among others. And all of them have improved greatly over the course of this digital year, which when combined with the growing pool of ed-tech software, engages the students with tools to make the lessons interactive, lively and able to foster meaningful collaboration. Children as young as 3 years can navigate their online platforms, and many will happily record themselves talking, dancing or drawing, and upload their activities with a click of a button. Teachers can give instant audio or video feedback, personalized for each student, which encourages them to submit the next activity all the more. They love to feel this connection with their teachers and classmates; feeling part of a community is what many children miss more than anything.

Older students, with Jamboard, can share ideas and discussions around an interactive whiteboard, all brainstorming simultaneously, whilst 'Padlet' allows them to combine images and ideas on sticky notes, along with their selfies - of course a popular concept! Loom allows teachers to share, start and stop educational videos, with the teacher's video image inset on the screen- discussing with pupils as you go through the material. 'Kahoot' enables exciting whole class quizzes - and so the list goes on... All these tools and more have seen an enormous improvement in the nature of

'online schooling' this term - and necessarily so.

However - it is still not for everyone, and many pupils struggle greatly with the digital dimension. Sitting still for so long and too much screen time is not a desirable or even possible learning style for many- and that's where teacher's need to be even more inventive. Creating activities that allow pupils to be physically active at home during lessons, whilst still maintaining a sense of a 'classroom' is another key skill that teachers are learning all the time. Still, some pupils just do not enjoy the digital interface full stop. Fair enough. With different learning styles, digital learning sidelines many of the more physical and kinesthetic learners. Others however have even preferred the more 'remote' approach, and have flourished without the social pressures that can exist in a real class setting - and this is something educators everywhere will also learn from.

Pupils all over the world have had different experiences, and have struggled through the various challenges. Despite everyone's best efforts, the lack of real time teaching has certainly slowed things down, and even left many behind; it will likely take a year at least to make up for the time lost in 'real school' and get everybody back on track. But when all is said and done, the silver lining will be the appreciation that both students and parents will have for school routines, for the benefits of sports and creative arts, for teachers themselves - and most of all - for the magic and irreplaceable impact of camaraderie on the pupils' drive to learn and thrive. Covid 19 and school closure has indeed taught us all perseverance and versatility, but let us also hope that it teaches us all gratitude - as we no longer take for granted the simple routines and pleasures of a wholesome school life.

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