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Digital empowerment for distance education - Teacher story from Trinidad and Tobago

Tinuke Ola-Peters is a French and Spanish teacher from Trinidad and Tobago. She has been teaching languages for 15 years. Tinuke currently teaches at Holy Faith Convent Penal, which is also her own alma mater.  

In an interview with UNESCO, she talks about the challenges of communication and teaching languages from a distance, and what she learned from the Distance Learning and Teacher Training Strategies in the Caribbean SIDS programme to engage all her students more actively. The programme is implemented through UNESCO's Global Education Coalition in collaboration with Blackboard and the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning (CCEP).

Challenges with COVID-19

Our school is a convent in a rural district in Trinidad and Tobago, and although it is seen as one of the prestigious schools, we also have a significant number of students who come from less fortunate families. For many of the children, phones are the only devices they have access to. When the school closed due to COVID-19, we had to do a drive to get tablets and laptops donated for students.

Online, you don't have the same opportunities to approach students if there are problems. For example, if they have missed class or if they need to do make up work. The possibilities for communication are limited. Especially for the exam groups, it is difficult for them because the physical interaction and support from peers they usually have in face 2 face is missing or limited online, so too is the community experience. 

When I was a student, I had the opportunity to interact with my friends daily, and to experience certain activities physically like graduation. My current exam students no longer have that.
Tinuke Ola-Peters, French and Spanish Teacher, Trinidad and Tobago

Addressing students with special needs

Some of my students have special needs, and for most of them I know what their learning difficulties are and how to address them. For example, one of my students is autistic and we sat down with her, her counsellor and her parents to find out what her particular learning style is.

This helped me adapt the lessons for her, for example, I would create my PowerPoints so that she can read them clearly and I would always include audio so she can review on her own without feeling left behind.

But there may be more students with challenges who have not been tested, so I try to make my lessons as inclusive as possible. For example, I do not use specific fonts and sizes to make the lessons accessible for people with dyslexia. I also just use one vocabulary word or expression on a page that is big enough for them to follow, combined with a nice picture and the audio of the pronunciation that goes along with it.

I am constantly working in the background while also teaching, and while I love it, there are days when it just feels like too much. We shouldn't add to our workload, because for many of us, being isolated at home is already very stressful.
Tinuke Ola-Peters, Teacher

Online Strategies

At my school, I'm one of the teachers responsible for organizing and securing the student profiles needed for the digital platform we use, and I'm also one of the teachers to turn to when it comes to troubleshooting.

I am constantly working in the background while also teaching, and while I love it, there are days when it just feels like too much. Many students contact me by sending me private messages or emails, and it can take me a few days to reply because I haven't checked the emails or there are simply too many. We shouldn't add to our workload, because for many of us, being isolated at home is already very stressful. That's why the feedback feature I learned about in the UNESCO teacher training is very useful for structuring my days and setting boundaries. By setting up the feedback section, I can respond within a certain amount of time so I can maintain my downtime, and students can expect to get a response to their questions within a set timeframe.

The UNESCO Blackboard training also taught me that it is easier for students to consume and respond to shorter videos. Instead of one 45-minute video, I now prepare 4 ten-minute videos, and I learned that adding subtitles on the screen is especially valuable for learning languages. I have also created an animated version of myself, which is fun for me and for the students.

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