By Willyn Carrascal, GFF Representative, Philippines
As society evolves with its 21st century technological advancement, children’s way of learning is changing. Therefore, schools and teachers must adapt their pedagogy into 21st century learning. Children today have shorter attention span and are more inclined to learn through student-oriented learning with proper teacher-guidance. Based on our observation during our visits in schools in the Banga area, many of them have computers that were never used or already broken due to poor maintenance. School children in Banga do not have access to engaging materials to support their learning. Teachers also expected to do more administrative work whilst ensuring their students are not falling behind, taking their time away from their personal lives. This makes their job more stressful and may lead to teacher burnout.
There have been numerous research studies supporting tablet’s positive impact on students’ cognitive and social development. These studies have shown that tablets increased engagement and motivation, fostered independent learning and collaboration between peers and enabled teachers to adapt their teaching styles to suit the needs of individual students. A non-profit Project Tomorrow reports that mobile devices such as tablets in the classroom “provide students with equity, empowerment and a better understanding of complex concepts”.
Tablets in the classroom should not replace teachers’ jobs but rather enhance them. Tablets could be used as a reward system. Nevertheless, they can only be a powerful educational tool when it is embedded with the curriculum. They should be used with a purpose, targeted content and skills appropriate for students. It also reduces teachers’ preparation time for traditional resources and materials. If used effectively, teachers could set tasks that would allow students to manipulate the tablets independently whilst they work on the administrative tasks.
We conducted the first trial of Digital Learning Project with three teachers and fifty-two students from Kindergarten to Year 4 in Taba-ao Primary School. Initially, it was intended to be on Khan Academy but due to lack of internet connection in the area and the lower level of English in the schools of Banga, we were forced to review our plan. We decided to adapt our project to what the schools and teachers can do without the internet and that was with offline applications. Nevertheless, we kept the structure of our training sessions the same with our Khan Academy Plan. It is as follows:
- Training Sessions
- Independent Exploration Time
- Teacher Demonstrations
- Feedback & Evaluation
The first step we took was to go to schools that we wanted to do this project at. This was a rookie mistake as we have also learnt in our other projects. We found out that we had to go to the highest official of the district, in this case, the Department of Education Supervisor of Banga. Nevertheless, by going to these schools we were able to learn about the current status of usage of technology in the classrooms which varied from school to school. Most schools had technological devices such as laptops and printers that were only used by the teachers. Computers were barely used which led to their breakdown.
The District Supervisor of Banga was not able to give us permission to conduct this project until we had another permission from the Aklan Division Superintendent in Kalibo. This led to weeks of delays. We were then able to start it with a condition that it will not be on school hours. We chose the smallest school that we visited at that time, Taba-ao Primary School. The school head teacher and the three teachers were very cooperative all throughout the trial period.
- Training Sessions
Our training sessions covered:
- Explaining GFF HELPS as a programme under Glenn Family Foundation founded by Sir Owen Glenn
- The purpose and goal of this project
- Benefits of technology in the classroom
- Terms & Conditions (see Appendix A)
- Hands-on trainings
- Briefly trained teachers how to use some offline applications
- How to apply the apps in their Key Learning Areas such as Maths, English & Science
- Independent Exploration Time
After the first training session, we gave the teachers two weeks to explore the tablets on their own time so they will be familiarised with it before using it in the classroom. Then after the second training session, we gave the teachers two weeks to trial using the tablets in their classrooms. However, we faced several delays due to teachers’ unpredictable and hectic schedule. We often postponed our sessions due to teachers’ unexpected seminars and trainings from the Department of Education.
- Teacher Demonstrations
We designed this step to enable teachers to share ideas and concerns of using the tablets with one another. The goal of this is for each teacher to demonstrate to GFF Representatives and the other teachers how they would apply the use of tablets in their own classroom, specifically to their students’ year level and the content they are teaching. Though all three teachers were successful in this step, they weren’t able to provide feedback to one another due to our failure to lead the discussion post-presentations.
- Class Observations
After a few weeks, we booked a date to visit the school for class observations. This step is where we observe how the teachers use the tablet within their lesson and whether students could use them independently. We then asked a series questions to further understand how their experienced with the tablet has been.
One teacher used a pre-installed app whilst the other two teachers used a newly installed app called Fractions Ready that worked for both Year 3 and 4. It was easier for smaller class with twelve students to share one tablet between two or three students. The Kindergarten class with seventeen students though struggled as there weren’t enough tablets to share and younger students to tend to fight over the tablets. Nevertheless, all students were able to use the apps successfully and enjoyed their lessons.
- Feedback and Evaluation
This last step was conducted through a survey followed up with an interview of the teachers. Three students from Year 2-4 were also interviewed. With the data gathered from this, we can measure the initial impact of the tablets on teachers and students. However, improvement in grades and performance may only be measured after a few months of usage. GFF representatives may also need to pay casual visits for maintenance of the offline apps and tablets.
Overall, the three teachers and three students gave positive feedback on their experience of using the tablets. According to the students, they use the tablets mainly for Maths, English and Science twice a week. Teachers find it beneficial for the students as well as for themselves. The main positive impact that they’ve observed include:
- Increased in motivation and interest in topics they were teaching, especially the three core subjects.
- Students, especially those with short attention spans have developed better concentration as they focus on doing the activities on the tablets.
- Through the positive affirmations that they hear in educational games, students build confidence and self-esteem.
- Developed friendly competition especially when using Maths Workout.
- Positively influenced all level and type of learners:
- Introverted students who are normally shy to participate in role-play are now able to show their creativity through Toontastic.
- Students who were falling behind are now more motivated to catch up to their peers.
They also admitted that it has made it easier for them to teach the children and saved time from making materials. They cheerfully shared the improvement of two boys that they were previously struggling with. One boy in Year 1 had difficulties in reading and writing the alphabet but after using the English for Kids app, he could not only recognise It better but also improved his literacy skills. The other boy in Year 3 was described to have been always “day-dreaming” during class. Now, he can finish tasks better and more independently, especially when it’s using the tablets. These two boys are only two examples of how this project is affecting students’ learning. It is only the beginning and more is yet to come with all of the current and future students of Taba-ao Primary School.
Recommendations and way forward
Going forward we will expand this programme into a further six schools, with a total of 350 students. Our training sessions will be longer and will include workshops on offline apps, specifically for Maths, Science and English. These sessions will also cover how the offline apps could be used in these specific subjects.
In order to avoid delays, we will ensure that schools are committed and have an understanding that the program has a set time frame.
We also have to ensure that training sessions are student-oriented which means we need to make it as interactive for the teachers as we can and not just as talking. We need to be prepared and know the in and outs of the offline applications.