Category Archives: Education

Remote learning difficulties in low-income countries like Indonesia

When Learning Is Really Remote: Students Climb Trees and Travel Miles for a Cell Signal

By Richard C. Paddock and Dera Menra Sijabat

Across the Indonesian archipelago officials have shuttered schools and implemented remote learning, but internet and cellphone service is limited and many students lack smartphones and computers.

In North Sumatra, students climb to the tops of tall trees a mile from their mountain village. Perched on branches high above the ground, they hope for a cell signal strong enough to complete their assignments.

Around the globe, including in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, educators are struggling with how to best make distance learning viable during the pandemic. But in poorer countries like Indonesia, the challenge is particularly difficult.

More than a third of Indonesian students have limited or no internet access, according to the Education Ministry, and experts fear many students will fall far behind, especially in remote areas where online study remains a novelty.

millions of Latin American university students dropping out

Over the past two decades, millions of young people in Latin America became the first in their families to head to college, a historic expansion that promised to propel a generation into the professional class and transform the region.

But as the pandemic grips the region, killing hundreds of thousands and devastating economies, an alarming reversal is underway: Millions of university students are leaving their studies, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

racism in the classroom

1 in 10 US students English-learners

More than 1 in 10 of the nation’s approximately 50 million public school students speak a native language other than English, according to the latest federal data. Roughly 3 in 4 of these English learners speak Spanish.

The percentage of U.S. students who are learning how to speak English has grown significantly in recent years, rising from 8% in fall of 2000 to 10% by 2017, the data indicate.

Researchers have found that attending dual-language programs, where instructional time is split between English and another language (oftentimes Spanish), attended by both native and non-native English speakers, help children become bilingual. But only 35 states offered these programs, according to the Department of Education’s latest data.

Without those opportunities, English learners tend to stop being fluent in their first language when they reach high school and miss out on all the benefits of becoming bilingual students.

No internet for distance learning? Use TV

In wealthy countries, the debates over how to deliver education remotely have focused on how to make online classes engaging and interactive. But such talk is sheer fantasy for many of the world’s students, including millions in affluent nations, who do not have broadband connections or computers.

After decades of declining relevance in the face of heavy investment in internet learning, educational television is again having its moment. Educators and governments scattered around the world, desperate to avoid a long-term setback for an entire generation of children, are turning to the older technology.

And they are calling on the charm and glamour of locally known actors and news hosts, as well as teachers, to try to hold the attention of students from preschool to high school. They say they are heeding the cardinal lesson of the YouTube era — the shorter and snazzier, the better.

“Ideally, one would have, like, laptops and all these super fancy things at home,” said Raissa Fabregas, a professor of economics and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, who has studied educational television in Mexico. “But if you don’t have them, this is better than nothing.”

Credit…Marco Garro for The New York Times

While television lessons are not as valuable as online interactions with teachers and other students, experts say, educational broadcasts do pay dividends for children’s academic progress, their success in the job market and even their social development.

To make lessons less passive and more effective, many of the lessons being broadcast now use all the tools of professional studios, like eye-pleasing sets, script writers, 3-D animation, multicamera shoots, graphics and even related smartphone apps.

In the United States, where education varies widely because it is handled at the local level, some places have paid little attention to developing remote learning, focused instead on an ill-fated effort to reopen schools. Others have worked hard to develop robust online programs. But that is of no use to the four million schoolchildren who do not have internet access at home, a difficulty especially prevalent among Black, Latino and Indigenous students.

Television holds promise as a low-cost complement to online schooling and a lifeline for students with few other resources. A vast catalog of educational programming exists, but analysts say policymakers have mostly missed an opportunity to make use of it.

“How many parents right now are just trying to figure out how to get through the day while their kids are just watching TV or on the iPad?” said Melissa S. Kearney, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland, who has published research about “Sesame Street.” “We could do a lot of good if people who are in a position of trust with those families could point them to some of that positive content.”

Since March, many parts of the world have resorted to televised schooling, with an array of strategies. The programs range from recordings of classroom lessons to educational cartoons, and from local efforts to national ones. Some focus on one age group, while others, like Peru, have adapted the national curriculum for all grades.

Many parts of China offered a blend of online and televised classes, but Sichuan Province chose to broadcast all of its lessons on television because the government said it worried about students spending too long on their computers

In Tanzania, Ubongo, an organization that makes popular educational cartoons aimed at younger children as well as parents, decided to offer its programs for free to television stations across Africa.



Credit…Marco Garro for The New York Times

“Outside of Africa, there’s been a push for internet-based learning,” said Cliodhna Ryan, the head of education at Ubongo. “But in most African countries, the majority of children just do not have that access. At the end of the day, the best educational tool someone has is the one they already have in their possession.”

New Jersey’s public television station, NJTV, began working with the state’s teachers’ union to produce school programs after learning that 300,000 of the state’s children had no internet access, said John Servidio, the station’s general manager.

In the end, more than 200 teachers recorded lessons out of their own homes. Some were decidedly low-tech, but one teacher used his cat’s blanket to build a green-screen studio. From April until the school year ended, grades three through six each had an hour of programming on the station every morning.

“A commercial station would never be able to support this,” Mr. Servidio said.

In Indonesia, too, the pandemic has helped revive a state-owned television network that had been hemorrhaging viewers to private stations and Netflix. In a country where nearly a third of people are not connected to the internet, the state-owned network, TVRI, began broadcasting ‘Belajar Dari Rumah’ — Studying from Home — in April to children of all ages.

Parents have not been entirely receptive. Many Indonesians, for example, say they do not have enough education themselves — or enough time — to take on teaching responsibilities at home. Many are demanding that more schools reopen, despite only a portion of the country having been deemed safe for in-person classes.


Credit…Marco Garro for The New York Times

In Brazil, officials capitalized on the work of the Amazonas Media Center, which was founded in 2007 to provide televised lessons to 300,000 students in remote areas. Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, the programs have expanded to several Brazilian states, with educators adapting them to different cultures and teaching styles. More than 4.5 million children have watched, according to the center.

“This tool became stronger out of a necessity to reach a greater number of people and have a bigger outreach, but it’s not going to stop there,” said Wilmara Messa, the director of the Amazonas Media Center, which has a 60-person production team.

Analysts say it is too early to know how effective televised schooling has been during lockdown, but there is scattered evidence that past efforts have been effective.

In Mexico, a long-running program of broadcasting lessons to students in rural areas led children to stay in school for longer and earn more as adults. Professor Kearney and a colleague found that children in the United States with access to “Sesame Street” programming were more likely to be at an age-appropriate grade level.

To solve the biggest drawback of televised learning — the lack of interaction and feedback from teachers — some places have designed ways for teachers to monitor students’ progress. Many of them rely on cellphones, which are far more common in poor regions of the world than broadband hookups, though even access to a phone can be a barrier.