Commentary

Reimagining education amid Covid-19: lessons from Jordan

Rachael Fitzpatrick
Olivia Miller

How did schools in Jordan adjust to the sudden shift to distance learning and what can we learn from the country’s approach to inclusive education during the pandemic? Learning Bridges is an innovative blended learning model adopted by Ministry of Education in Jordan in partnership with UNICEF and EdDevTrust. To date, the programme has enabled half a million children to continue their engagement with education during Covid related school closures.

Over the past two years, schools in Jordan have closed, opened, closed again, and in some cases, not yet fully reopened. It is a familiar story, reflected in education systems around the world since March 2020. For Jordan, the shift to remote or semi-remote learning due to Covid affected nearly 2.4 million learners, risking disruption to learning outcomes and exacerbating inequality. This was particularly true for the most vulnerable and hardest to reach learners, including the many families and children with limited connectivity, digital devices, and technical skills. 

To mitigate the effects of school closures, the Ministry of Education (MoE) launched Learning Bridges in September 2020. It aimed to enable students in Grades 4 to 9 to recover lost learning from the previous year and accelerate learning in the new academic year – regardless of the availability of face-to-face teaching. To assess the impact of the programme (on teachers, students and parents and the MoE), EdDevTrust worked with UNICEF on the design of a study, developing interviews, focus groups and surveys for quantitative and qualitative insights. We examined the benefits, challenges and opportunities of Learning Bridges and shed light on ways in which the programme can be sustained and escalated in future. 

 

The Learning Bridges programme 

Learning Bridges is a national blended learning programme developed by UNICEF with technical support from EdDevTrust. True to its name, the programme builds bridges between textbooks and tech, school and home, and subject knowledge and real life. In practice, the programme provides students in Grades 4 to 9 with a weekly activity pack linked to the core subjects. Printed materials come with QR codes that link to online resources, which include audio content for children with poor literacy or visual impairments.  

Due to the uncertainty of when and how schools would re-open, the programme was designed as a blended and then entirely remote learning initiative. As the initiative grew organically in response to the Covid emergency, it became a dynamic programme with new ideas incorporated as the national roll out progressed. While most schools in Jordan are now back to in-person teaching, Learning Bridges is continuing to be used by teachers as a blended resource to recover and accelerate children’s learning. 

 

An inclusive, paper-based model – with a clever use of tech 

In the first year of implementation, Learning Bridges was implemented in over 70% of public schools in Jordan. The programme reached almost half a million children or 61% of students in Grades 4-9, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, engagement grew between the first and second semester. The fully paper-based model was essential to reaching these figures, allowing children with less access to technology to participate. The study revealed that 43.3% students reported sharing a device and only 9.2% were using a laptop or computer. As a result of the paper-based model, children in remote, poorly equipped communities, including those living in tented settlements were able to engage with the programme.  

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At the same time, valuable online resources were available with every activity via QR codes. The additional resources were initially incurring a data cost for the user, but in line with the dynamic nature of Learning Bridges, by the second semester, UNICEF and the MoE had embedded resources into the existing free-data DARSAK platform. Learning Bridges also took special steps to improve access to the technology component for the most marginalised children. For example, monthly data packages and adjusted electric schedules in refugee camps went some way to overcome connectivity challenges for 33,000 refugee children.  

For those who could access the technology, there were myriad benefits. A number of teachers and supervisors noted they had expanded their knowledge and skills in the use of technology for teaching as a direct result of Learning Bridges. Technology also fostered student-to-student collaboration; by uploading their work to social media they could support other learners who were struggling, get help from their peers and proudly share their achievements. The tech platforms encouraged collaborative working approaches and engaged students in different ways from their usual classroom practices. Some teachers also commented that they observed how creative students were being in using tech for their Learning Bridges activities, so they were able to learn from students directly as well as from the programme itself.  

 

A fresh, relevant cross-curricula approach 

Learning Bridges provided the opportunity to completely re-imagine the delivery of Jordan’s national curriculum and led to introduction of a truly innovative cross-curricular approach. The existing national curriculum was slimmed down and connections were built between key subjects. The worksheets begin with the learning outcomes for each of the core subjects (Arabic, English, Mathematics and Science) which are often interlinked to reinforce children’s learning. The integration of subjects was seen as one of the greatest successes of Learning Bridges, which has not only benefited learners across the country, but provided teachers with new ways of adapting and teaching.   

‘[I have changed how I teach]. [I create] activities that mimic the activities of Learning Bridges, that link knowledge to life, and stimulate diverse, different and innovative answers.’  
Male teacher, Amman
 

Alongside UNICEF and EdDevTrust, the curriculum department within the ministry played a key role in the core re-design work, building critical internal capacity. This was spoken of as a positive step forward by all those interviewed. Cross-curricular working was something both central and school level stakeholders hoped to expand on for additional year groups and with additional subject areas. By building the capacity of the ministry, the programme has built the potential for long-term improvements at the level of the education system. 

‘One of the most exciting things with this programme is the ability to connect Maths [to real life] by creating weekly exercises and linking them to other subjects for outcomes in the curricula. Different subjects were connected by one outcome and this was very, very positive.’ 
Content writer, curriculum department
 

The programme also managed to integrate the teaching of life skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and communication as well as covering relevant 21st Century themes such as global citizenship and sustainability. Research and experimental skills were new ways of learning for both students and teachers and a number of teachers said this had changed the way they would work in the future, seeing themselves in a less traditional light with additional skills and a mentorship capacity. 

 

Appreciating the roles of parents, teachers and champions 

Teachers, parents and other stakeholders played a key role in the success of the programme. The impact study highlighted how Learning Bridges has strengthened the connection between home and school, and collaboration between teachers and parents. The programme was designed with the home environment in mind, and on the back of each activity sheet there was guidance for parents on how to support (but not teach) their child – 71.7% of parents responding to our survey indicated that their roles in Learning Bridges was clear. As mentioned, the programme also embraced innovative and interactive learning methods which enabled students to test out theories with practical exercises at home. This further helped to cement parental engagement as they got involved with their children’s learning. A number of schools also held Learning Bridges exhibitions during school closures to share and celebrate learning during school closures. As a reflection of the inclusive nature of the programme, awards were given these events to teachers and parents as well as students.  

Meanwhile, the programme did a good job of building the skills of teachers and changing their perceptions of themselves and their learners. 30,000 teachers enrolled in the online Teacher Training Programme – a basic training on project-based learning, cross-curricular work and blended learning. 20,000 have already received a certificate of completion. Furthermore, 35% of teachers responding to the survey indicated they would change how they teach a because of Learning Bridges. This included changes in perceptions and expectations of their students.  

‘I thought the capabilities of my students were weak in self-learning, but I found that the number of female students able to self-learn has changed the way I think about future lessons.’ 
Teacher on Learning Bridges programme 

 

The study also highlights the importance of the Learning Bridges Champions, especially in the face of Covid-19 restrictions. Learning Bridges Champions were selected from among teachers and supervisors to encourage participation of local schools in Learning Brides and were effective at encouraging buy-in and engagement. As strong believers in the value of the programme, they were effective at encouraging others to try it. 

‘You have to convince someone of [the value] of something. I called each and every principal to tell them [Learning Bridges] was not an extra activity. One of the principals just said, “OK”. I told him to read just one activity and give his point of view. “If you think it is like any other programme, don’t do it. If you like it call me.” He called me back after two days; he liked the integration, so he encouraged teachers to use it.’  
Supervisor and Learning Bridges Champion 

 

All stakeholders noted these roles as being critical for increasing engagement in the intervention. Champions were particularly important for boys’ schools which had lower engagement rates with the programme.  

 

Looking to the future 

‘The idea of Learning Bridges came up because of Covid-19, but it is important to go on after the pandemic.’  
Ministry of Education official, Curriculum Department 

 

Following the remarkable success of the first year of the programme, Learning Bridges is continuing for students in Grades 4-9 and has already been expanded to include Grade 10. There are also plans to include additional year groups and contexts in future. As the programme progresses and grows, we acknowledge both the achievements and challenges of the initiative. Poor connectivity, lack of parental buy-in, having a clear role for teachers within the programme, and ensuring the programme caters to different children’s abilities are some of the issues which need to be addressed as Learning Bridges moves into its next phase. In partnership with UNICEF, we have identified nine opportunities to further strengthen the programme, both in terms of reach and quality of teaching:  

  1. Establish Learning Bridges clubs and continue nominating Learning Bridges Champions  

  1. Ensure appropriate resources and timely access to printed materials 

  1. Consider further inclusion, scaffolding and differentiation to ensure appropriateness for different levels of learners 

  1. Strengthen linkages between school and home through continued use of social media and other channels 

  1. Expand the use of technology for students, teachers and parents 

  1. Strengthen feedback loops 

  1. Further embed the cross-curricular approach 

  1. Enable teacher innovation 

  1. Expand the scope of Learning Bridges to make it accessible to more grades 

 

Read the full report, published on UNICEF's website, here