Relevance beyond the crisis: Latin America’s innovative education strategies
- Latin America was unprepared for distance learning
- Governments have responded with innovative strategies
- The trend toward more technology in education will continue
This report is part of a GIS series on the consequences of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. It looks beyond the short-term impact of the pandemic, instead examining the strategic geopolitical and economic effects that will inevitably be felt further in the future.
As a consequence of the rapid spread of Covid-19, 23 countries in Latin America have closed educational institutions, leaving more than 95 percent of students – 154 million children – out of school.
Education systems are undergoing the biggest distance-learning experiment in history. When the crisis struck, most schools in Latin America were not ready for digital learning. Over the past few decades, most countries in the region have resisted change, despite poor educational outcomes. Until Covid-19, the incorporation of technology into schools focused excessively on equipment and hardware without fundamentally altering learning processes. Recent events have suddenly forced education systems to rely on technology for learning continuity. But, with widely varying conditions across the continent, one response cannot fit all.
When the crisis struck, schools in Latin America were not ready for digital learningLatin American school systems have demonstrated resilience and flexibility. Though facing extremely challenging conditions – poor infrastructure, low budgets, teachers lacking the expertise to use distance learning resources, and the digital and learning gap – governments established innovative strategies.
Some tactics have already proven successful:
Using several channels to reach all learners
The region has responded to lockdowns by combining different modes of distance learning, like digital media and social networks, with television, radio, printed materials and study guides.
Among the 23 countries in the region, 74 percent are delivering education via radio and television. This low-tech solution has been a vital strategy as it can be set up quickly, at scale, and with little investment. Its use has dramatically increased access to remote learning for K-12 students. Moreover, 52 percent of states made digital content available through a variety of platforms (good examples include Chile, Colombia, and Peru) and 35 percent combined printed material with social media. Only Uruguay was able to fully transition to virtual classrooms to cover the curriculum and allow teachers to communicate with students.
Gamification to motivate students
There is evidence that gamification improves engagement and student learning outcomes in traditional subjects. It has also been demonstrated to increase motivation during school closures, especially among younger students. The games Creapolis (Argentina), Qranio (Brazil), Kokori (Chile), Shamanimals Fantastic Tales (Colombia), Local Heroes (Mexico), and DragonBox (Uruguay) were all widely used.
Access to connectivity
Partnering with mobile operators and telecom providers was essential in mitigating access inequities. Among many examples in the region, the Ministry of Education of Colombia negotiated a suspension of internet fees to access education tools, facilitating connectivity in rural and poor urban areas. Paraguay and Argentina have also made agreements with large tech companies to offer educational packages at zero cost.
Supporting parents to help their children with remote learning
Distance learning places a heavy burden on parents and caregivers, who often juggle between supervising their children, their own work and house chores. Some countries, like Guatemala and El Salvador, are providing teaching guidelines and learning materials to parents and caregivers. Others are also providing socio-emotional support to ease the transition. For example, Jamaica has established 36 helplines to guide parents.
Insights from Africa and Asia
The Latin American experience shows a good balance between providing educational material, carrying out a multichannel strategy, and constantly enriching the learning experience. These examples can be transferable. But Latin American countries can also learn from other middle and low-income regions’ responses to the Covid-19 crisis.
Targeting hard-to-reach groups
Effective education response plans explicitly include references to students from marginalized groups like girls, children in remote settlements, refugees and special needs students. For example, Uganda will hand out large-print and braille materials for visually impaired learners. When it comes to the most vulnerable, it is often nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who step in, rather than governments. In Pakistan, an NGO has made resources available to many deaf students.
Engaging multiple actors
The current crisis has highlighted the importance of bringing together stakeholders from the private sector, civil society and community leadership. For example, the Pal Network has mobilized around 690,000 volunteers in 14 countries across the global south. Civil society organizations in Africa teach marginalized groups (e.g. street children) or protect children from forced labor. In India, Pratham, the country’s largest educational NGO, has been working with illiterate parents to help them support their children’s education. In Ghana and Pakistan, locally trained facilitators were hired to enhance the foundational literacy and numeracy skills of children who have dropped out of school.
Connecting teachers and communities
Through platforms, teachers can share solutions that work. One example is DIKSHA in India, which hosts and curates lesson plans and learning materials uploaded by teachers. Such solutions can be complemented by tools that provide feedback to teachers, such as the Tusome platform in Kenya, which helped teachers struggling to reach targets in impoverished areas.
It is often nongovernmental organizations who step in to help the most vulnerableSchools have also resorted to technology to communicate with families. Many groups between educators, parents and students have been created on WhatsApp, one of the most popular messaging applications in regions with limited internet connectivity.
The pandemic has given educators, students, policymakers, and society at large a better understanding of education systems’ vulnerabilities and shortcomings. More fundamentally, Covid-19 has challenged deep-rooted notions of when, where and how education should be delivered. Technology offers an opportunity for educational reform. Pedagogical practices could be based on 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability.
In Latin America, the use of multiple technologies has allowed the system to reach children from a broader range of socioeconomic backgrounds. The regional response to the crisis has shown that transforming education not only requires technology, but also more adaptability.
The crisis has shown that transforming education not only requires technology, but also more adaptabilityGoing forward in addressing inclusion, governments will probably adopt a blended approach (with in-person and online components) to make education more accessible and effective. However, unless equity and inclusion are at the core of the strategy, technology will not improve them – it could even increase disparities.
An emerging EdTech ecosystem
In Latin America, the implementation of educational technology (EdTech) will be challenging. The lack of digital infrastructure and equipment, insufficient financing, and teachers’ lack of digital skills will not change quickly. However, investing in universal connectivity, in both schools and households, is expected to form a key pillar of any strategy to build a more equitable “new normal” after the shock.
Countries are likely to invest more heavily in EdTech, perhaps partnering with nontraditional actors. Surging levels of cell phone use will present an opportunity for the field. In the aftermath of Covid-19, the global expansion of distance learning will generate more data about what works well and what needs improvement. Teachers are already reporting improved skills in educational technology as well as a better understanding of the importance of digital tools. With distance learning in the spotlight, the trend is likely to speed up.
Empowering teachers, not replacing them
The introduction of technology will not improve learning if the teaching approach remains the same. In a region like Latin America, where systems are rigid, the pandemic will not overcome inertia if educators are not appropriately trained.
The crisis has highlighted the central role of teachers. The human factor is essential in education. Investment in capacity development and change-management skills will be crucial for the development of education in the region.