Digital empowerment for distance education - Teacher story from Dominica
The rapid transition from the traditional classroom to the online environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures has required a great deal of commitment, time, and perseverance from teachers around the world and in the Caribbean. While it has opened up the possibilities of digital transformation, it has also presented many challenges.
In an interview with UNESCO, Wanitta Eli, primary school teacher from Dominica, shares how she has taken steps to empower students against bullying, how she has engaged to prepare students, parents and other teachers for the new online teaching format, and what lessons and useful tools she has learned in the 'Distance Learning and Teacher Training Strategies'.
Giving back as a teacher
My name is Wanitta Eli, I teach Language Arts and Social Studies at Roseau Primary School. I am also a student-teacher at the Dominica State College.
Most people would say their high-school time was their best time, but for me, my primary school days were my best days. I used to always look up to my primary school teachers, they made me so comfortable being at school. I believe this is why I felt the need that I should do the same as a teacher and pass this on to my students, so they feel comfortable themselves and enjoy learning.
In my first year in the classroom, I had a child who transferred from another school. She felt a bit withdrawn and was a bit bigger than other children in primary school. I tried my best to encourage her and made her feel valuable and valued herself, so she doesn't feel left out. This has created a strong bond between us, and other students respect her, as she has become so close to me.
Impact of COVID-19
One of the biggest challenges was getting the parents to understand that normal school hours must be respected even when their children are at home. The parents were not used to having to get up in the morning and make sure that their children were online by 8:00 a.m. so that classes could start.
The abrupt change left me no time to teach my students how to operate their devices, nor the platforms we had to be introduced to so quickly. I have always been a computer-savvy person, so I started to teach the parents how to operate the platform so they could help their children, and then teach the students how to operate their platforms when their parents were not with them to help them.
However, it was a bit difficult to keep track of all 64 students that I was teaching online. I also lost many students online because they did not have the devices or because there was no internet connection at home. Students would tell me, "Miss, I might have to go by my neighbour's house" or "Miss, I might have to go by this or that person's house," and that's not always very safe. This is why I didn't encourage that.
In order to find a solution, I held face-to-face lessons in the school three times a week. This was a hectic time, as on these days I would go to the school to do my lessons with the students who couldn't get online, and then come home in the afternoon to do my online sessions.
The UNESCO-CCEP-Blackboard training gave me more confidence in online tools, which some of them I already knew. In face-to-face classes, I always used the projector and tried to incorporate as many multimedia elements as possible.
Of the elements that I learned in the teacher training, I especially appreciated the idea of having an orientation phase at the beginning of the school year to get the students comfortable with their devices. I want to use this time to show the students how to use a device and how to use the platforms we will be using.
The Blackboard teacher training also provided live worksheets in the course material. I find these very useful and use them as a basis to prepare my own worksheets according to the topics that we are going through in class. The self-correction feature motivates the students and saves a lot of time for me once they are prepared.
Even though we are now back in the classroom, I want to keep a blended learning style and use online tools and strategies that I have learned, such as video presentations and the online games that we used during distance learning. I would also include some practice sessions to teach the students how to search for information on the Internet. It is important that the Kids stay connected to the digital world.
In the penultimate module of the UNESCO-CCEP-Blackboard training, we talked about accessibility. I found that very impressive because I didn't know that such software existed for persons with disabilities.
The videos showed how to include all the children and it looks like the children are enjoying it. Despite the disability they live with, there is something for each of them, even for children with a hearing impairment. I was amazed that there was such a tool that could be very useful. I hope that this will bring our special education teachers up to speed.
I also think about using it myself in my classroom to sensitize my students to understand how other students living with a certain type of disability might feel, what challenges they have, to give them that empathy.
The Future of Education
We never know what will happen next, so the students need to be skilled enough that if the schools close again, they will still be comfortable enough with the digital options to work on their devices at home without relying on their parents or teachers.
Acquiring all these digital tools makes life easier as a teacher, whether the pandemic continues or not, it is always good to be prepared, also in terms of employment. Digital literacy and ICT skills are not only important for us teachers, but also for the future of our students.