Global Digital Education Community Gets Top Marks for COVID-19 Response

Last year and a good part of 2021 will be tagged as a time of pivotal change for educational communities around the world. Teachers and students in Canada and elsewhere were confronted with upheavals not only in their daily lives and in the way they worked, but also in the way knowledge was acquired. Adaptation and resilience were the watchwords of the day and key to getting through it all intact.

In a matter of months, the international digital production industry came to the rescue by accompanying, supporting, and equipping the educational sector and in transforming its practices and offerings in the process. It was the best of times as far as inspirational and insightful initiatives go. Here are three that stand out.

UNICEF wrote the book on timely educational support

UNICEF went into high gear with a variety of programs as soon as school closings started being announced in country after country. For example, in Rwanda, it invested in radio communications in conjunction with government authorities to compensate for the suspension of in-person classes. The upshot was that radio quickly became the most accessible and universal medium for the whole population during the lockdown, especially for students. UNICEF’s efforts in providing audio lessons and courses helped to keep Rwandan students in the loop even when they were out of school.

In Macedonia, UNICEF developed educational television programs to provide pedagogical continuity outside the classroom. Lessons were recorded on cassettes in Ivory Coast to be viewed at home. In Malawi, investments were made in radio to allow students to continue learning during the health crisis. The idea was to invest in media everywhere so that families and students could access the support they need to keep the learning process open even after the schools were closed. It’s difficult at this stage to evaluate the final results, but these and other initiatives significantly minimized the impact the pandemic had on education thanks to, among other things, the potential of digital to continually deliver the goods.

SESAME STREET is ‘where we meet’

Sesame Street and its Sesame Workshop division have been committed, loyal supporters of the education community for over 50 years. Throughout this time, they’ve been providing the tools, the resources, and the role models for children, parents, and teachers to build a better world. They’ve worked closely with children from every walk of life, in all kinds of situations, some of them particularly difficult.

Sesame Street launched the Caring for Each Other initiative at the very outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, developing new resources specifically designed to support families and educational leaders during the health crisis.

A good example is the Sesame Street and Autism: Resources for Parents program to help parents of children living with autism spectrum disorder. This special one-hour program was broadcast on CNN, especially in the Middle East, along with numerous videos filmed and posted online to help children deal with stress, understand the health directives, and maintain educational continuity.

Sesame Street also partnered with other international organizations, including UNICEF, to get its messages out to families living in lockdown.

Giovanni Gagliardi FvT3t9iOaJI Unsplash
Photo credit: Giovanni Gagliardi / Unsplash

Donations of tablets for youth centre residents

While schools were being shut down last spring and students kept in lockdown at home, kids in youth centres were being doubly deprived: locked down inside four walls, unable to go out, far from their families and often without any way to go online, they found themselves in demanding and demotivating situations with no solution in sight.

The Fondation pour l’enfance et la jeunesse du Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean decided to do something about it and began handing out free tablets to residents in a number of Quebec youth centres in April 2020. With the tablets, they could communicate with their family and friends again, keep up with their education, and entertain themselves during the long lockdown days and nights.

Research for a better tomorrow

The director of the chair in multimodal media literacy at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Nathalie Lacelle, took advantage of the extended teleworking period to complete a study for supporting the development of digital youth publishing in Quebec based on favourable production, broadcast, and consumption methods. The field study was financed by the Fonds de recherche société et culture du Québec. Its objective was to understand the challenges faced by both publishers and schools in their respective approaches to digital literature for children.

The result of this extensive research is a wealth of advice for both producers and publishers looking to invest in digital storytelling for children and for teachers interested in putting digital literacy to work in the classroom. A “Works” section provides access to relevant Quebec books along with an understanding of their pedagogical potential. According to those leading the project, it will be regularly updated to provide a reliable reference source for digital creators and teachers alike.

Many businesses and organizations generously provided key resources free of charge to the project as a gesture of community support.

As the pandemic winds down, there will be questions about how digital technology’s role in education will be viewed in the long term. The research carried out by Nathalie Lacelle and her team highlights a number of major challenges to overcome in the process of adopting digital technology in the classroom, including a lack of resources currently compatible with school curricula, as well as shortcomings in teacher training. Will the pandemic experience actually bring about lasting changes in teaching methods? As always, time will tell, and necessity being the mother of invention, tweaks will be made to ensure that those in teaching positions have all the tools they need to get an A+ on the job of educating the next generation.

Prune Lieutier
Prune Lieutier is both an independent digital experiences producer for youth, and a young researcher in education at UQAM. As part of her work for young audiences, Prune has been in charge of many innovative projects, mostly involving a large work ecosystem, where creators, developers, researchers and broadcasters (Interactive Fonfon, The Mysterious Creatures Club, etc.) collaborated. She is also very involved in various academic research, for the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, the Quebec Research Fund-Society and Culture, and others. As part of her practice and research, she has published and given numerous conferences and papers, notably at the National Library of France in Paris, at Berkeley University or for major scientific media. Her projects for youth, led as a producer or as a young researcher, won two Boomerang Grands Prix (Best application for youth, tied with the NFB, and Content), the NUMIX Convergence Jeunesse Award, and the MITACS-National Research Council Canada Award for Commercialization, among others. Finally, Prune is the founder and general director of the children's podcast production studio La puce à l'oreille, the first of its kind in the French-speaking world.
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