Helping students be ready to learn whenever disaster strikes

Living on a remote island nation susceptible to cyclones, tsunamis and the effects of climate change, students in Tonga need to be ready to continue learning regardless of school closures due to natural disasters or pandemics.

December 13, 2021 by Katharina Glynne, Save the Children Australia
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3 minutes read
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Silvia helping Polouena to do her excercices while listening to the radio.
Silvia helping Polouena to do her excercices while listening to the radio..
Credit: Taikaati Pulotu

That’s why the Kingdom of Tonga’s Ministry of Education and Training, Save the Children and GPE have partnered to develop remote learning materials and guidance for students, teachers, parents and guardians.

Funded through a US$750,000 COVID-19 emergency grant from GPE, the Tonga Accelerated Resilience Program (TARP) is supporting Tonga to tackle the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to develop education systems that are much better prepared for emergencies of any kind.

When Tonga recently recorded its first ever COVID-19 case—almost 2 years after the pandemic began—181 schools in five regions of the country were closed, and more than 21,300 students and 1,600 teachers were affected. With final exams less than a week away, students were forced to learn from home and parents had to step into the role of home teachers.

The TARP was able to mitigate learning loss and disruption for thousands of students by providing them with pilot “learn from home” packages prepared by the project.

Parents were given guidance on how to best support their children to adjust to the lockdown and continue learning. Students were provided with paper-based, TV, radio and online lessons to follow. The project had already been working closely with Tonga’s teachers, providing training in how to respond to a school closure and support children to learn online.

Mosa, age 12, was one of the first students to receive the remote learning materials and chose the HAMA e-Learning platform to access his lessons online. Logging in for the first time, Mosa said, “I feel happy that I may study at home for my upcoming final exams that I’m going to sit tomorrow.”

Mosa was grateful for the support of his family and his teachers. “Thanks to my mom, I could study and learn new things from the topics the teachers have brought to us from the internet,” he said.

Mosa (age 12) was thankful to learn from home and used the Hama e-Learning platform to study for his upcoming exams. Credit photo: Patimiosi Ngungutau
Mosa (age 12) was thankful to learn from home and used the Hama e-Learning platform to study for his upcoming exams.
Credit:
Patimiosi Ngungutau

Learning from experience

Parents and students were given the opportunity to share feedback on the remote learning materials by completing surveys and participating in interviews. These data are being used to measure the effectiveness and appropriateness of the materials, to refine and upload them to the HAMA e-Learning platform and for distribution to schools.

Ana, who supported her nieces Elysa and Selena (ages 7 and 6) to study with paper-based and TV lessons, says the girls learned a lot from the remote learning resources they used.

As a teacher herself, Ana thinks that the material is of high quality but stressed the importance of providing support for children with different learning abilities. She has high hopes for Tonga’s remote learning program and strongly believes that “parents and teachers must work together to make sure children continue to learn even while schools are closed.”

Elysa and Selena (ages 7 and 6) were excited to learn from home and set up their desk on their balcony. Credit photo: Patimiosi Ngungutau
Elysa and Selena (ages 7 and 6) were excited to learn from home and set up their desk on their balcony.
Credit:
Patimiosi Ngungutau

The TARP project shows that while we can’t always stop disasters, we can be ready for them. Having effective, quality systems for remote learning is critical for minimizing disruptions like COVID-19.

By ensuring children and caregivers have rapid access to inclusive home-schooling materials, broadcasts and guidance, the Tongan government’s proactive actions are supporting children to keep their learning on track and their futures bright.

When the project concludes in December, it is expected that 362 teachers will have the skills to develop online lessons and support students to learn remotely. A further 20,279 students and their parents will be better prepared to keep learning whenever disaster strikes.

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East Asia and Pacific: Tonga

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