As we continue to explore communications and technological tools to help low cost private schools circumvent the challenges brought about by COVID-19 lockdowns across the world with our ‘Technologies for School Resilience’ blog series, we at Gray Matters Capital along with our education finance entities – EdFin Microfinance Bank in Nigeria, Taleem Finance Company Ltd. in Pakistan and Indian School Finance Company in India have been paying close heed to the constraints faced by the school owners we serve in adoption of technology for school continuity.
Surveys are one of the ways that we garner important insights to see how practically implementable some of our recommended tools are. One such survey on “Remote Schooling Readiness” of 150+ low cost private schools based in Lagos State (Nigeria) which we conducted along with EdFin Microfinance Bank in April 2020, revealed a remarkably interesting insight:
WhatsApp was the preferred platform of choice adopted by teachers of low-cost private schools in Lagos State for remote schooling, trouncing video conferencing tools like Zoom and even LMS like Google Classroom.
Over 63% of teachers preferred WhatsApp to engage with students, 71% for engaging with parents and 74% for collaboration with other teachers.
WhatsApp – a potent medium for School Continuity
It would be interesting to read some of the use cases of the app for education from stories in the press:
“We get content related videos through our mentors, which we send to our children on WhatsApp. After watching it, they inform us through audio messages that they have understood the content. If any student does not understand the topic, teachers make them understand it through an audio message. Then we forward them a worksheet based on that video. They do it and send us photographs. We patiently wait for all the replies as all students do not have phones at all times. I sometimes make a video call to add a personal touch and boost their confidence during these challenging times”
Ritika Arora (Govt. School Teacher, Delhi)
“We have created WhatsApp groups of different classes, and teachers send their recorded lessons on the group. We have made a timetable for each class and have asked parents to strictly adhere to the timetable since the classes are being run through a distance mode”
Keran Bahadur (Principal of Colonel’s Academy, Mhow)
“Previously, we wouldn’t know what the child is actually learning because of our busy schedules. Now we as parents have a role to play. We are sent daily time tables, educational content and assignments via WhatsApp which we have to monitor. The school wants our support and involvement”
Snigdha Padhi (Parent, Class X student of BJEM School, Jharpada)
“The lectures provided through Dadri Radio FM are beneficial and I am getting audio recordings via WhatsApp group. I also get my doubts cleared through it”
Sapna (Class 10 from Sanjarwas village)
Delving into the reasons
The factors that work in favour of WhatsApp making educators warm up to this mobile messaging app are listed below:
- Familiarity with the medium
- Ease of usage and ability to share content by message forwarding
- Free to use (not accounting for data charges)
- Ability to create groups (Class and Subject-wise)
- Ability to broadcast (one to many communication), narrowcast (one to some) and engage in one-to-one communication
- Teachers can share educational content in the form of videos, images, PPTs, text documents, URL links, audio recordings – both prepared by them as well as secured from other sources
- An effective channel for communicating school notices, student performance etc. to parents
- Facilitates peer-to-peer (P2P) collaboration. Teachers can use it for curriculum planning, student activities, question banks etc. Students on the other hand can learn from each other and can work on group assignments and projects together.
As we can see, WhatsApp’s usage for education by teachers isn’t really a novelty. However, there are certain challenges associated with it besides the need for students and teachers to have network connectivity and access to an internet enabled device.
- Limited attention spans of students as they can easily be distracted by other apps
- A few students may experience inconvenience of preparing assignments digitally (especially on devices with small screens and low memory space) and submitting them
WhatsApp Best Practices for Educators
Bearing in mind the lack of proximity to students, teachers can follow the undermentioned best practices to make their engagements with students and parents more efficient:
- Focus on byte-sized (abridged) learning modules: Video content – whether self-recorded or shared as a YouTube link (ideally not exceeding 5 minutes); Audio recording (ideally less than 60 seconds or less); document (not exceeding 3 pages) or Typed text on WhatsApp chat (Not exceeding 3 paragraphs). Teachers can break chapters into micro-chapters for more effective consumption by students.
- Qualitative and Authoritative Sources of Education Content: The school must validate all sources of content shared with students. Click-bait websites or those with spurious content should be avoided. If there are programs on TV or radio or content on an EdTech platform recommended for students to refer to, the teachers can use WhatsApp as a medium to complement what’s imparted via these platforms.
- Quizzes, Trivia and Practice tests: To test the understanding of kids, assessments need to be conducted at the end of every module much like in class. These need to be in MCQ (multiple Choice Questions) format and can either be typed, hand-written and clicked as a photo or submitted in a PDF document. (Check our blog: Tools to convert Class Material from Physical to Digital)
- Module assessment followed by answer key: When a test is given, it should be followed up by an answer key. If a Maths test is conducted, the teacher should also provide the steps of how the correct answer is arrived at. This can be submitted much like how the assessment questions are sent.
- Get Students to be Participative: Make students send audio recordings (consumes less bandwidth) or seek clarifications by texting. Foster collaboration and peer to peer learning by encouraging students to create separate groups.
- Get Parents Involved: During the lockdown, when parents too are at home, getting them involved as a quasi-teacher / facilitator helps. Having a separate channel of communication through voice / video calls would help set expectations for monitoring the student’s learning progress.
- Voice/ Video Calls with Teachers only on Appointment: Teachers must make the time of their availability for attending calls from parents known prior hand. Teachers must try to allocate time for video/voice calls with every student atleast once a fortnight.
- Make it FUN!: Besides the curriculum, teachers must also focus on co-curricular and extra-curricular fun activities to engage their students via WhatsApp. Teachers need to be creative in suggesting these activities and they’d serve as a hook for students. Have students record videos or audio, take pictures of themselves or doing an activity and share it with the group. If it’s a student’s birthday, make the whole class celebrate it by sending wishes. Fun Facts related to the subject or a sport would make engagement via WhatsApp all the more compelling for the student.
Let us know what you think of these recommendations. We believe that your teachers continuing your school operations through WhatsApp would help showcase your school as being proactive and would justify the school fees if being charged.