Mauritius: Education - Managing the crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic will certainly have a considerable effect on children's education. The situation has alarmed the institution and innovative measures are being taken as soon as possible. Questions to Deborah Houdet, Class Teacher, and Jeffery Hart, headmaster, at Clavis International Primary School, Moka.

1) What is/could be the impact of Covid-19 on elementary school children?

At this time, they have been out for four days and we don't know how many days, weeks, or months this could continue for. As time goes on, we'll be better able to assess how this is impacting them. If this is anything like summer holidays, where we see what's commonly referred to as Summer Slide, research has shown that children can lose up to 20% of their learning gains in reading and over 25% in maths when students are inactive for two months. If the time off is short, we could see our students rebound to their expected levels over the course of a few days or weeks. If the time off is longer, then the effects could take weeks or months to rebound from.

2) How to compensate for the closing of classrooms at the educational level?

With even just a few hours of academic work each week, it is not difficult for students to maintain the level they are at and not regress. Providing a range and choice of learning opportunities for students to engage with on a daily basis can support continued developed growth and progress; however, while it may not be as impactful without the classroom learning experience and their teacher, dedicated parental guidance and support is crucial. The communication between parents and teachers is fundamental, it is the best tool that teachers have at this moment to follow the students' evolution in their learning and guide parents through the activities during home schooling.

3) Are online tutorials effective?

Depending on students' age and developmental readiness, they can be highly effective for students. Not all students learn and understand in the same ways, so students must have a variety of learning tools and strategies at their disposal to fit the strategy that fits them best. For example, online tutorials in the Early Years can be challenging but teachers can use it to share activities and guidelines to parents. While learning online has been a part of the Internet since its beginnings, it is still a different approach to learning that parents are used to. It can offer academic flexibility and choices while also creating new ways for family time, but it requires a lot of dedication and discipline from the student along with the appropriate commitment and support from the parents.

4) What is the role of parents to supervise children during these difficult times?

It is a huge challenge for parents to give full support to their children when they are also working from home so we can only ask parents to do what they can. The parents' role becomes that as an assistant teacher. While their teacher can provide the learning ideas, activities, and resources to engage with distance learning, teachers are relying on parents to help them understand the work, provide them with an appropriate work environment, model enthusiasm and interest in the work, and offer help and guiding questions to support their children's learning. An important role is also to be there to support our students' social and emotional development. Children need comforting that everything will be OK and to help alleviate their fears and anxiety. As children look to their parents for this assurance, parents need to model and show their children that they will do everything they can to keep them safe. This will go a long way to allowing children to focus on their learning rather than virus fears.

5) What are the different methods used around the world?

Countless online learning programmes and applications service learning for students across all academic, social, and emotional areas. Some provide practice activities and learning games, some are for exposing and teaching new skills and understandings, and some focus on developing critical thinking skills. An online search for home- or distance- learning will provide 100s of options. The goal is to find the resources that fit best with our students and their needs. Services like Google Classrooms, ManageBac, or Seesaw are some of the many platforms out there to help connect students to the learning engagements and track their learning.

6) What about Mauritius?

While there are many options to support student learning at home, we also have to be mindful of the technology and internet limitations that some families might have. If you have data caps or one computer but three children, families often need to look for creative ways to keep their children's minds active. When you add to this that many parents are also working from home it makes the roles and responsibilities that much more challenging. We can provide different activities, subscriptions to different online learning websites, and advice for parents to support their children but we can only ask parents to do what they can, given their unique circumstances.

7) The virtual world can never replace everything. Is a child's lack of interaction with classmates another worrying factor?

Hugely. We know that so much of a student's learning comes from collaborative interactions and socialization with their peers. We can encourage parents to talk to their children and engage them in discussions and debates, or we can set-up video conferencing with their peers from school; however, while a lack of interaction does not mean it will be detrimental to their academic learning, it can, for example, impede their communication, social, and critical thinking skills. Interactions allow students to be more active in the learning process, providing them with possible deeper understandings, different perspectives on what is being learned, and increase their language development.

8) Closing remarks...

This is a huge learning curve for teachers; we are used to a very different way of teaching that allows ongoing face-to-face interactions. In saying so, I am feeling blessed to be working in a school where we were ready to put new systems in place quickly and effectively. The headmaster and the management team knew exactly how to guide and support us (teaching staff) through this different way of teaching that Covid-19 is exposing us to. One thing that has been made very evident during this challenging time is how important it has been to have supportive colleagues to work with. Managing a crisis like this is far more comforting and reassuring knowing that we are getting through this together.

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