Zoom Dialogue on “Self-directed learning” in the time of Corona and beyond (In Sinhala) with the participation of the nascent Teachers Forum of EFSL was held on April 17th, 2020. The EFSL team was joined by Mrs. Yamuna Rathnayake an award-winning ICT teacher (Grades 6-11 ) from Ranabima Royal in Gannoruwa spoke about her experience connecting with students using WhatsApp during this school closure. She described how ‘ Sisu Pawra e-learning’ grouped students into clusters, and how through each cluster leader she was able to share teaching material with all the class students. Students either used their own smartphones and those of their parents or relatives.
Mrs. Pushpika Abeyratne (Masters in Teacher Education, B.ed, Attorney at Law), Deputy Principal of President College, Maharagama, did a presentation using her own experience on how she reached out to students after school closure. Ms Kavindya Tennakoon (Master’s Student in Learning, Design & Technology – Stanford University), as an edu-tech expert joined the discussion and gave valuable inputs on how e-learning can be promoted using simple technology even in school populations with sparse internet and PC usage. According to a LIRNEasia survey, 34% of individuals in Sri Lanka Used the Internet in 2018, though 48% owned a smartphone. Some of those smartphone owners may be in areas with inadequate broadband coverage.
The discussion revolved around the quality of textbooks, heavy course load in Junior Secondary (Grades 6-9) level, and other relevant issues. In Sri Lanka, children spend only 30 hours per week in school, but all students are provided with textbooks for each subject for further learning on their own. In fact, if proper guidance is provided by the school, the same textbooks can be used to turn our students into ‘self-directed learners’. Unfortunately, the competitiveness of national examinations has made students and parents very comfortable with spoon-feeding, targeting examination questions. Course-packets with questions and answers to past papers have replaced textbooks. In this time of Covid 19 when students are home-bound, schools can easily stay on the spoon-feeding model and provide question-and-answer course packets or direct students to exam-centric content available over the Internet or TV.
Alternatively, Covid 19 school closures can be an opportunity to turn our students into self-directed learners, using the help of textbooks which are already in their hands, together with easy to secure digital resource, and a little bit of creativity on the part of teachers. The Dialogue showed how self-directed learning at the Junior Secondary grades 6-9 in school was possible with the creativity and enthusiasm of the relevant teachers. This period (Grades 6-9) is unique in that it is one small window which is not defined by a competitive national exam. For example, students in Primary grades or Years 1-5 are driven by Grade Five Scholarship exam, Senior Secondary grades or Years 10-11 by preparation for the GCE O/L, and the Collegiate Level or Years 12-13 is the pinnacle of exam-centric education where students compete for free-of-charge opportunities at the public university system where available slots are limited to ~7% of a given youth cohort.
EFSL using education technology advice will support these teachers to conduct small research studies during this period and will aim at collecting field data to show how students, using integrated project/theme-based approaches can become self-learners, whether in school or not. The results will also be shared with policymakers at the NIE and the MoE.