Last spring, Ontario schools pivoted rather rapidly and unexpectedly from in-class to online at-home learning. Granted, I was actually off of work recovering from surgery during the set-up and first week of implementation, but I came back to work into a system that was functioning well. My students each already had their own Chromebook, and they were used to using them independently during class. It was a given that each home had wifi, and while connectivity might not always be strong enough for the whole family to have great internet access, I could generally see my whole class for devotions each morning and students were able to complete their learning online. It was a definite challenge for students to switch from in-class to online, but they were well equipped.
My new students in Guatemala will be starting classes this coming week. We were very much hoping that students would be able to come to school in person – restrictions have eased from the very strict lockdown that stayed in place for much of 2020, and the Ministry of Education was requiring schools to submit a Covid plan to be approved before students began their school year. However, we received word this week that because our department (think province) of Sacatepequez is in the red (as determined by percent of Covid tests completed that have positive results), we will not have students coming in person. While we are in the red or orange, students must take their classes online. We anxiously await yellow or green.
So just what does online education look like in Guatemala?
My students in Ontario all had their own Chromebook. This is obviously not a given for all students – even in our younger grades, students didn’t necessarily have a device. But JKCS put together a plan to loan out school devices to families for as long as needed. Here in Guatemala, it is even less likely that students have a device. If they do, it’s almost certainly a phone. It’s much more likely that there is a phone or two that parents own and use. It’s already a significant difference to plan lessons and work that will be seen (and likely not done) on a phone. That phone might also need to be shared between multiple students.
Next let’s consider wifi. I held out for as long as I could before getting wifi for my own home in Canada… and I think I got it back in 2015. It was simply not feasible to live without wifi in my home. Here, I am blessed to have regular wifi access – at home, and throughout a lot of the school. Of course, concrete and block walls mean there isn’t great wifi accessibility into each of the classrooms and offices, but my TEFL colleagues and I have been enjoying the sun and warm weather while working in the courtyard where we generally have great wifi access. Wifi is much less likely in the average Guatemalan home than Canadian. Many of our students simply do not have wifi at home. What they do have, however, are phone plans. My Guatemalan phone plan has 8GB of data a month, but anything that I access through Facebook and WhatsApp don’t count towards that 8GB – they’re basically free. (Let’s save the conversation about the ethical implications for another time… but that would be a very good conversation to have!)
It is quite ingrained in me from teaching in Ontario that students do not belong on a teacher’s social media. I let students follow or friend me once they’ve graduated, if they really want to by then. So please imagine my… culture shock to hear that our main educational resource is Facebook. It all comes down to that free data access. I’ve been added to Facebook groups with my fellow teachers and students. I’ll post my teaching videos there. I’m also a part of WhatsApp groups where students can text with questions as well as sending things like voice memos – a great tool for the English teacher! Parents are picking up an envelope with worksheets for the week, students will complete them, and they will swap out the old for the new on a weekly basis. Considering that my students might need to share a phone among multiple family members, and considering what we know about student engagement and attention span, I’m aiming for a five minute video, with a maximum time length of ten minutes. I don’t know my students, and they don’t know me, and I get approximately ten minutes of one-way video interaction with them a week (two classes), with worksheet feedback on how they’re doing and what they’re understanding.
So it’s definitely going to be a fun challenge!
And… if you’d like a little taste of what those videos look like, I’ve added one here for your enjoyment.