July 1, 2020

Education on the line

Education on the line

For many of the world's 1.2 billion children who are out of school due to the pandemic, continuing their education is not a matter of how or even when—but if. Kelley talks with Education Specialist Alberto Begue about the impact the crisis is having on students, families, schools and governments in developing countries and the opportunities it may provide to modernize education.

Find more about Alberto and his work here:

To see some of my work as a photographer/storyteller documenting education in developing countries follow these links:

And if you want to see pictures related to this story, check out our Instagram feed:

The theme music is Fragilistic by Ketsa
licensed under CC BY NC ND 4.0


Kelley Lynch: 0:01I want to introduce you to a good friend of mine. Hi Gemma . How are you?

Gemma: 0:10I'm good.

Kelley Lynch: 0:10Gemma is six. And like most students in the US, the last part of her school year was spent at home learning online. Can you tell me what it was like when you were doing your schooling on the computer?

Gemma: 0:27It was boring.

Kelley Lynch: 0:30Yeah, why was it boring?

Gemma: 0:40It was all online and there was nothing different going on.

Kelley Lynch: 0:41What do you mean by nothing different going on?

Gemma: 0:41Like, the same presentations all the time. It's a Zoom classroom, kind of.

Kelley Lynch: 0:52So how many kids do you know? Was it, was it like 10 kids or 20 kids?

Gemma: 0:59Probably like five or two.

Kelley Lynch: 1:02Oh, so it was very few kids?

Gemma: 1:04Yep.

Kelley Lynch: 1:06And then the teacher would work with you and those kids?

Gemma: 1:13Yes. She gave me assignments and I had to do it. I took the paper or something and then showed it online.

Kelley Lynch: 1:25Who's your homeschool teacher in a way?

Gemma: 1:48Well, both of them, actually.

Kelley Lynch: 1:48Your mom and your dad?

Gemma: 1:48Yes. Dad gives mom a break and he likes to build stuff with us. So I started learning about birds because when we made a bird house, it started interesting me about birds.

Kelley Lynch: 1:59That's very cool. And then is your mom the person who manages the online learning part?

Gemma: 2:06Yes, because Daddy is working at that time.

Kelley Lynch: 2:12And how is she as a teacher?

Gemma: 2:13A bit boring.

Kelley Lynch: 2:18She's boring. Is she? Why is she so boring.

Gemma: 2:28Because she doesn't let us choose our own work. I cried one day at lunch because there was too much online time so Mama said that I could do not so much online time.

Kelley Lynch: 2:42When you think back about when you were in school before, what is it that you miss?

Gemma: 2:49I miss working it actually me doing the work.

Kelley Lynch: 3:00And what about being at home and not going to school and not seeing your friends? How do you feel about that?

Gemma: 3:08A bit sad.

Kelley Lynch: 3:14And so what if you had to do that again next year? What do you think about that?

Gemma: 3:19I think that I would not like to do it.

Kelley Lynch: 3:38Hi, I'm Kelly Lynch. Welcome to A New Normal, a podcast about how we're adapting to the pandemic and where we go from here. My guest today is the Alberto Begue. Alberto is an education specialist. He's been working with governments, NGOs, and UN agencies worldwide for the past 17 years. In the wake of the pandemic, we've heard plenty of stories about children like Gemma and their families as they've struggled with the move to online learning. I wanted to talk to Alberto about those other children. The children we don't hear about who are struggling without education. Alberto, welcome to the podcast.

Alberto Begue: 4:21Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.

Kelley Lynch: 4:24Let's just start by getting an overview of what's going on with education in developing countries as a result of the covert crisis.

Alberto Begue: 4:35Yes. So, in what we call the global South and usually in our field globally, some 65% of schools are closed. This is 1.2 billion children, worldwide. Most of the countries, they shut down completely, even in countries with not many cases of COVID as a preventative measure. A bit copying what industrialized countries, if I can say Europe, the U S Canada, we're doing, but with very different conditions. And so they are suffering more the consequences of having kids at home .

Kelley Lynch: 5:09What is that situation look like for a child in Niger or Mali?

Alberto Begue: 5:16It's a measure. For instance, we have 60, 70% of the population living in rural areas. Even without a virus, many of these kids are not going to school. We have maybe let's say 30% of kids aren't going to primary education. 50, 60% of kids are not going to secondary education . Now all of them are at home and we are talking in areas where maybe 10% of the population has access to the internet. Where families don't have a laptop. They don't have a tablet. Smart phones often are very common, even in rural areas. Even illiterate people more and more, they have smart phones, but even parents they are illiterate in most cases. And so it's impossible to really have the parents helping the kids on distance learning. But it's not only that, we have teachers that are very poorly trained. This teacher's already face to face they are struggling a lot to teach kids, for instance, how to read and write in the first grades. Imagine now, how can you teach how to read and write online? It's literally impossible. Even here. My child is five and we are thinking, okay, what if there is no school next year? But we could do it at home. These people they're illiterate. Most of them, they have five, six, seven kids at home. This distance learning is really not going to happen. These kids are going to be at home, playing in the yard, playing in the village, but they will not get any education. And not only education, they will not get the food that in many cases, if they are lucky, they were getting in school. They will not be getting health checkups that they were getting when they were in school, all these issues are affecting not only education , but the entire life of children and youth in for instance, in Niger, but in many of the countries,

Kelley Lynch: 7:10If we step back, I mean, I know that education in the global South has undergone a lot of change over the last 10 years and more. We've seen a lot of changes in terms of the numbers of children who are out of school and in terms of quality. And I've been part of documenting some of that. And I know that you've looked into all of this in a much deeper way. Could you just take us back 10, 15 years and talk about those gains that have been made over that period of time?

Alberto Begue: 7:44National governments and international agencies, what we call donors have been investing technical expertise, resources to give education a priority. So we have seen a lot of good progress I would say in terms of enrollment, especially on primary education. Also, we have more kids, not only starting, but finishing school. Many more millions are transitioning to secondary school because nowadays in most countries, if you want to get a job, if you want to continue studying, y ou n eed secondary or vocational training. I cannot say that we are satisfied with the quality of education in many countries, but we saw also some improvements. A lot of teacher training was done. Most governments, they are strengthening a lot their systems. I m ean, really improvements w ere there. And now the situation w ill go backwards.

Kelley Lynch: 8:37So for example, I know one of the big things that people have been working on in past years has been girls education. When you think about girls not being in school, what are the consequences for those children?

Alberto Begue: 8:52For economic reasons, cultural reasons, religious reasons for decades, many girls, weren't going to school. Let's imagine the most radical example, Afghanistan under the Taliban, for instance. Zero girls were going to school . Zero. It was prohibited. But in Africa, for instance, in subSaharan Africa, we have many countries where for economic reasons, girls don't go to school because since they are, maybe they start school, they go to first grade, second grade, third grade. Then they have an age where they can help at home . They can go to fetch water. They can take care of their siblings, but they are suffering child labor. They are suffering gender based violence even more when they are not in school. I started working in education 17 years ago. You had countries where maybe for each hundred boys, you had 60 girls going to school. In many countries nowadays, in the first four or five years of primary education, more or less, you have the same amount of boys and girls. But also because of early pregnancy , early marriage, you have girls that when they are 14, 15, they will go out of school. But the thing is how the current situation will affect even more of these girls. These girls were in school. Now everybody's at home. When governments decide to reopen the schools, how many girls will not come back. They will be taking care of sick relatives for instance, or children at home. They will take the burden of these consequences.

Kelley Lynch: 10:30In Niger when I was there, one of the stories that we did was about girls and the impact of being in school, on pregnancy rates. The average woman was having what seven or eight children throughout her life. And when a girl stays in school, that actually has an impact on the number of children that she has because she gets married later. So she starts having children later. So not only is that a big improvement for her own health because early marriage, early pregnancy is very dangerous for girls. There's also that impact on the population. And particularly in the context of Niger, where you've got 12% arable land. You've got a huge population that's reliant on that. You've got so many young people out of work already, no jobs. I mean, these are real world reasons to have girls be in school.

Alberto Begue: 11:34So the benefits of having girls in school is well documented. And not only as you mentioned, not only individually for the girl, the particular girl that is in school, but for the entire country, for the entire society for, I would say, for the world. We have studies at the world bank on how the GDP, the gross domestic product is increasing dramatically when girls in particular, I mean when any child is going to school, but in particular when girls are going to school and also in terms of health as you mentioned for the young woman, for the children, she has children as well in terms of the use of family control methods, For instance, that in Niger is an issue as you mentioned, they have the fertility rate and the highest in the world. And it's really dramatic in a country that is suffering climate change. That is an issue that is linked to everything we are saying. How climate change is affecting things is that it's reducing the land that can be used, the water that can be used in the country and how this is, for instance, now terrorism in the area i s also affected by t his lack of resources. People that were historically farmers, people that have livestock and t hey a re nomads, for instance, they don't have anywhere to go now. And so this is affecting dramatically, the life of these people. Going back to the situation that we are facing now, we have been struggling to convince parents of the good for the girl, for the family, of having the girls in t he school. How the prosperity of the entire family, t he entire community will benefit from sending girls to school. How do we use t hese argument now when boys and girls are at home? When they cannot continue distance learning for a l ong t ime time, probably for let's say many months? And we see now that covid is going down in many countries like in Europe, for instance, We don't see the same here. It's the opposite in Africa and Latin America in Southeast Asia, for instance. So it's going to be many months that these girls are going to be at home, as I mentioned, taking care of relatives and also often working. They will be able to go to work on the informal economy. So by the time they reopen the schools, many of these girls, especially young women, they will never go back. This is not only a theoretical perspective, it happened with the Ebola crisis in 2014, 2016 in West Africa where Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia were affected a lot by Ebola and they shut down all the schools for more than a year. And there were thousands a nd thousands of girls that were not going to school, I was reading the other day, a report by the M alala foundation and t hey were estimating that t aken in consideration, the rates of girls that didn't go to school in Sierra Leone, after Ebola up to 10 million girls will not go back to school after the coronavirus crisis. Ten Million girls, more. Considering that we have already now, I mentioned, these 59 million. Maybe 30 to 40 million. are girls. We have 10 more million girls w ill n ot go to school because of that. And as you mentioned, these will have consequences in if they don't g o to school, the likelihood for them to be married, even if they are 13, 14 years old, even if it's illegal in their countries to get married, t hey w ill get married. They will get pregnant. They will be abused. So iit's a really a vicious circle and we need to break this vicious circle and education is a good w ay t o d o i t.

Kelley Lynch: 15:30On that note. How are countries generally at the moment thinking about this crisis?

Alberto Begue: 15:38So, we have here a geographical issue is that in Northern hemisphere countries, usually the school year is ending now. Meaning that these kids, they lost, let's say three months of school, four months of school in some cases. So, in some cases they are trying to catch up and they are saying, okay, sorry guys, the schools were closed because of the virus. In September, we'll resume and we will do our best to catch up or to start earlier. My child i s s tarting a m onth earlier than usual, for instance. The problem is in countries, like for instance, I was talking to a friend in Argentina where they s tarted the school year in February and they shut down the s chools in March. Meaning that they kind of say, Oh, forget about t he entire year, because it's nine months, 10 months ahead of them. O r t he s chools most likely w ill be closed. But they kind of just say, Oh, forget about this year. They need to do something because if not, they will not be able to catch up because they will lose an entire year. And this can be dramatic, especially for instance, with secondary education. These kids are planning already their future to find a job to go to university. So it's a really dramatic situation where it depends a lot on the preparation of ministries. Some countries, they had crisis regarding crisis in the past, and they are more prepared. It was not coronavirus because this is new, but it was earthquakes or other natural disasters or war conflicts, ethnic conflict. And so for instance, in Sierra Leone, before the Ebola, they didn't have any plan on how to support students, teachers, parents, in case of an emergency. I did a study there in 2016 and I was analyzing the response that they had to the Ebola crisis. And then in 2017, I came back to analyze the new education sector plan. And I was surprised to see that they had added a full section in terms of how to respond in case of emergency. That can be Ebola, can be a new conflict, can be a natural disaster. It is not exactly the same, the response, but at least you can prepare in case that you have a crisis. For instance, in Sierra Leone, they cannot count much on the internet because not many people have access, but they do own TV and radio. I would say, I don't know if most, but many people, they have TV and even more, they have radio. It's very common for them, even a smartphone. So you can adapt the contents of the curriculum for instance, to these different media. But you have to do it in advance. The problem now is that governments are running to respond with no time because kids are really at home. Teachers are already at home. You cannot put them together to train them. You need to train them online as well. Nobody was prepared for that. And they have paper. They have all t he m aterials, but you don't have this in digital format. So the teacher w ill need to scan. if they're lucky to have a scanner at home, they will need to scan what they have on paper to be able to send it by email, in case the family has an email. So it's really technologically feasible, but it's very difficult to do it. Sometimes teachers, also for economic reasons, if he's not paid, for instance, we have a lot of community t eachers, men and women that are from the village and my community, we pay an incentive. He or she will be teaching my kids. Probably my community will not be able to pay anymore during this crisis. The thing is that even when the school reopens, teachers will not be available because he or she has to go somewhere else to make a living. So there are economic implications of the crisis that are affecting also the availability of teachers. And we saw this with the Ebola crisis. We see these in South Sudan with a conflict with the war. In Haiti, I remember after the earthquake in 2010 , many teachers were not paid by the ministry. And they started working in agriculture in the North of the country, or they went back to the village to work at the farm of a relative and they will never come back to the school. In this case, private schools will suffer even more. And I remember after, for instance in Haiti, after the earthquake, many private schools did not survive. They were shutting down because they were sometimes affected directly. The school was down because of the earthquake and they didn't have the money to renovate it or rebuild it. And we're talking worldwide dozens of millions of kids that will not be able to come back. And the public schools will not be able to absorb many of these children. Or in the best situation where some schools can accommodate more kids, this will have consequences on quality because now we have already 50, 60, 70 kids with one teacher in the classroom. If you accommodate even more kids, let's say to a hundred kids. The quality will go down. A nd we have already the situation before COVID one teacher with a hundred students. And I mean, it's impossible.

Kelley Lynch: 21:10Or in Tanzania I saw 256 students in one classroom. I mean, there was no room for the teacher to even stand.

Alberto Begue: 21:23Yeah, they can go to school, but what are they learning? The good thing is that some countries will learn the hard way that they need to plan for the future and for future crises. This is very important. And I think it's a very strong message to governments. As they say sometimes, if you want peace, prepare for war. It is not when the war starts that you suddenly begin to think about what to do.

Kelley Lynch: 22:00I wondered it's kind of an unsavory question, but I think given what's kind of going on in America at this time and perhaps even for other donor countries as well. I can imagine that there are a lot of people who say, well, look, we've really got to take our own resources, focus on ourselves and you guys just need to figure it out and we've got to focus our resources over here, where we are. What are the consequences of that kind of thinking if you did act on that?

Alberto Begue: 22:46I think the situation where 40 million unemployed people here in the US, people would say, okay, let's shut down USAID and let's take all the resources for us - for the Americans. It's like, no, this is not the answer in the case of education. The main problem of thinking that, "Oh, who cares about the education of children in Afghanistan is that when the Taliban arrived in Afghanistan, for instance, one of the issues is that you had a big proportion of adults that were illiterate and didn't have the intellectual tools to fight against such a radical way of seeing life. That, for instance, were sending girls home, prohibiting women to be nurses, to be doctors, to drive. And we see the consequences that this had for the entire planet, not only for Afghanistan. And we had 9-11 and we had the war in Afghanistan, the war in Pakistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power. India, their neighbor is a nuclear power. This could be a very long conversation, but in the sense that we are all linked nowadays, and the fact of not educating people will have consequences, first for the country, but in the medium term, not even the long term, will have consequences for the neighbors and I would say for everybody. And I would say a very important point is economically even with a selfish position, we have interests for other countries to be more educated because they will be more developed. They will consume more. Even in this perspective that from I prefer, a human rights approach, of course. But for these kinds of people that maybe the human r ights approach is not good enough, let's use a more economic approach in the sense of saying, if t hese countries don't consume, they will not buy our products. And the US companies are selling a lot abroad and the more educated are people, the better economy they will have. The better they will be able to participate socially, politically, culturally. The more stable they will be. And t hese h ave consequences in terms of peace and peace is for everybody. So really education is the first stage for a b etter society everywhere and this is good for everybody.

Kelley Lynch: 25:42Are there new ideas and new possibilities that might come out of this pandemic? Is there kind of a, something like a new normal that we could be looking to find a new new means of educating people in the global South?

Alberto Begue: 26:03I don't like much this expression of back to normal because normal in many countries means suffering for many people. So we use an expression that is "Build back better" in the sense of, okay, we need to rebuild the educational systems. Let's do it better. Let's make sure, as I mentioned, for instance without repeating this idea of having better education sector plans, where crises are already considered in advance. Where for instance, we have teachers that are well trained in distance learning. Even when they reopened the schools, you can already at the same time train teachers for the scenario where you need to shut down schools again. That most likely is going to happen for different reasons. It can be a second outbreak of the coronavirus. Can be a new Ebola as we are having now in Congo, for instance, for several months already. Can be a new conflict. Can be an earthquake. There are many situations where it would be good to have many of your teachers trained to do distant learning. Also, schools can be a very good place to teach kids about things that are affecting the entire society, not only themselves, for instance, health issues, hygiene issues. They can be a very good way of passing messages to the community in terms of the importance of washing their hands. That is something core to reduce mortality, for instance, infant mortality, for instance. To talk about vaccines. To educate the community that vaccines are important, for instance. Nutrition issues, kids, they can learn about nutrition issues, and they will take these messages to the mother that is cooking at home. So we have different ways of working better when schools are reopening. One of the most important things is to make sure that outbreaks are not happening in schools. That was one of the issues with Ebola was to make sure that at least in the school case , we're safe. Maybe when they were going home, they were not so safe, but at least to make sure that hundred percent of kids are safe. And I know it's not easy with coronavirus because the social distancing with kids doesn't work. I mean, there is no way to have kids six, seven, eight years old to say, Oh, six feet apart. You cannot touch each other even if you didn't see your best friend in three months. I mean, that's impossible. But, here in the US as well, I see these CDC guidelines, school guidelines, w here experts, t hey are t hinking, y ou k now how to do this in a better way. The thing is that many of these countries in the global South, they will need technical support to be able to develop good strategies and to enforce them over time. Not only at the very beginning, when everybody's scared about the virus, but later when hopefully the virus is gone, or we have a vaccine, we need to keep these protocols in place for-ever, I would say.

Kelley Lynch: 29:23Forever?

Alberto Begue: 29:24Forever, because we'll have crises, different crises. Not forever for the coronavirus, but in many countries and even in a rich countries, we need to be prepared to have another different pandemic or to have a different conflict. I mean, we had the Katrina natural disaster in the South, in the US. I mean, it's not so far and we need to be prepared to respond.

Kelley Lynch: 29:59And with the changing climate, we have much more likelihood of these kinds of things happening.

Alberto Begue: 30:04Yeah. It's not if, it's when.

Kelley Lynch: 30:06Exactly. Exactly.

Alberto Begue: 30:10All of us, again, we cannot say climate change is only for Bangladesh. No, no, no, no. It's for us, it's for everybody.

Kelley Lynch: 30:29So I know the education in emergencies is one component of "Building back better." Is there anything else that you see in terms of maybe, maybe it's learning platforms, maybe it's using television radio smartphones, what are you guys looking at in terms of how to get kids learning again? I mean, if you can't be in school and particularly if you have 250 some odd children in your classroom, there's no way you can. I mean, these kids are already on shifts, so you've got a group in the morning. You've got a group in the afternoon and you have no space. Education budgets are stretched already. So what are people thinking in terms of practical ways over the next, even if it's just to say over the next year or 18 months, to educate these children, or to make sure that there are fewer impacted than the worst case scenarios?

Alberto Begue: 31:42There are different ways to approach that, but I'm going to mention one that I have been working a bit on it on how to try to plan that. It's to talk about distance learning, but considering that many kids cannot be online. Meaning that you need to have what we call offline distance learning. Meaning that we need to make sure that kids, especially youth, that don't have access to the internet, they can still download to the smart phones, for instance, that are really spread worldwide. And you can see that youth, for instance, i n Niger, they have a smartphone, even in rural areas. And so, I know some experiences for instance, some countries where they have been doing, places, sometimes t he school, but can be a center of the community for instance, where they have a device that you can use with Bluetooth to download content. And you take this content home and you can be working on that on your smartphone. If you have a tablet or computer, of course, but you don't need to be connected all the time in order to be able to access the content you need to learn. But you go, let's say once a week with Bluetooth, you download everything that your teacher sent to you. You can even communicate with your teacher remotely, then you go home and you can work. So of course, if it's a smart phone, it's not the same as having a bigger screen, obviously, but also the contents are being adapted. And so content to be taught by the teacher in the classroom, you have a way of writing a textbook. It's different when you have to do a online class and it's different when you need to use a smartphone. But I found in Burkina Faso last year, for instance, talking to our professor, that teacher, and she said that she had no idea how to use a computer. She never used a computer, but when I mentioned the smartphone, she said, Oh, yes, I'm on Facebook and I'm familiar with , with the smartphone. Okay, let's create content so this teacher can teach in the case that she cannot be in school, in the classroom that she can teach the students, can communicate with students using the smartphone. But with the smartphones, the possibilities are huge. The thing that you need, again, you need to be prepared in advance. You cannot now in the midst of the crisis , when everybody's at home to tell teachers to be trained online, to be able to teach online. There is no way. This cannot work. Some countries are trying , but this cannot work. We need to be prepared in advance and really consider that this is a priority. Even at the end of this crisis, to be prepared for the next crisis is a priority. This implies a lot of resources and sometimes the ministry of finance will say, Oh, sorry, I have no money for that. Well, the consequence of not having money now is that in two months, or in 10 years, you will have another crisis and you will suffer again. And the economic cost of that, it's billions. And so it's an economic calculation that they have to do as well. And it's a global way of thinking that must be there. It's not each ministry deciding individually. It's something that we do understand as humankind that we need to be prepared for these kinds of crises .

Kelley Lynch: 35:23Right? Right. And so, as a last question, if somebody kind of gave you the Magic wand and they said, right, okay, You can Set some things, right? You can put some things on a new trajectory. What would you do?

Alberto Begue: 35:51We need to make sure we have an education for the 21st century. We cannot continue, for instance , having education like you have the teacher and the students in front of him or her listening all the time. As in many countries by repetition, they are learning how to read and write by repetition in African countries. Really I've been there working for more than 20 years and it's painful to see teachers that they are repeating, repeating things, kids, they are repeating things. This is not a way of learning. And this should be like a lesson learned of saying, okay, we need to rethink the way we teach. We need to have a more participatory approach. And it's not just to have this rigid curriculum where the ministry is deciding that all kids have to learn exactly the same thing. And they need to learn exactly all the same at the same pace. We need to rethink this. And we have already s ent, I m ean, it's difficult to compare, of course, but we have good examples like Finland, for instance, or South Korea, where they h ave been rethinking education with amazing results. So we need to rethink, even in our rich countries, the way of educating, but also in the global South where they have t his 19th century education.

Kelley Lynch: 37:18What do you mean by a 19th century education?

Alberto Begue: 37:21Well, this image that we have of the classroom of having a teacher that knows everything, and we have the students that they are listening to the teacher as a God. They cannot contradict the teacher. They cannot interact with the teacher. They cannot say, Oh, I learned this somewhere else. No I didn't tell you to solve this mathematical problem like that. You have to solve it the way I taught you yesterday. Kids at home, they can learn more things than what the teacher can give in one hour, in two hours, in three hours, but you need an open mind of these teachers. Really it is this hierarchy that we need to break and digital platforms are a great thing for that. And a situation where the teacher is not in front of me is forcing me to look in different places for learning. It can be the family. It can be the internet. It can be communicating with friends. Even illiterate parents, they see the possibilities of having t heir kids educated. Opportunities that they didn't have and the only option they had was to stay in the village, b eing poor, working with a very minimal income. They see how education, not necessarily, but can be an option to break the circle of poverty and for kids to be able to have a better job, to participate more socially, culturally, politically. Not to be so much influenced by politicians, by dictators, in some countries. And so that there are health issues, for instance, they see that educated people have better health, less kids. They d ecide the kids they want. It's not that I 'm saying to have less k ids i s necessarily good, but at least you decide the kids you want. And if you are better educated, you can make these decisions.

Kelley Lynch: 39:25Indeed. Well, Alberto, thank you so much for your time and sharing what you have with us. Hi Cindy. Hi Tanvir. What did you think about what Alberto had to say?

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 39:56Basically, if you look at it, there are two kinds of scenarios in our country or in places like ours. It's the survival of the education system or the students themselves. Whether they go back to school or they completely drop out of school. Whereas in your country, you are actually looking at how to provide the service, like the education quality of education. My mom has run a school for the last 32 years. This is a private school. She started off as kind of a social service, I would say. She had about 200 to 300 students. Now with this corona situation has put her in a place where she is actually thinking whether she will be able to maintain the school or not. Her income is from the tuition from the students. So since students are not coming to the school, they are not paying the tuition. She has managed three months from her own personal fund. But if it looks like it is going to linger, she doesn't have the money to manage that. If she decides to close it down, then what happens to these students? This situation is not actually unique to her. We don't have an adequate number of public schools and also the quality of those public schools, 90% of them, those public schools are really miserable. They don't have infrastructure. They don't have proper teaching staff. To supplement that there are all these private schools. These are basic private schools, which actually manages to fill the gap. And if they are forced to shut down, what happens to those children who go to that school? Because the public system cannot absorb this huge number of students, they're already in a difficult situation with the existing number of students that they have. If they have to take this extra burden, it's going to collapse. So this is what I, when I say this is more of a survival mode, this is what I mean. We will have see a huge number of dropouts.

Kelley Lynch: 42:33What happens to girls? I mean, particularly because girls are much more disadvantaged in countries like Bangladesh.

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 42:43Girls are sort of the last to get in line. When it's a choice between sending your son and daughter to school, if you have a difficulty or economic hardship, it will always be the send the son to the school. Keep the girl at home. So because of this coronavirus situation, if we have dropouts, the majority would be the girls and that will have so many knock on effects. If girls are educated, you have a better country. And Alberto actually refer to that. Where we are as a country where we are now, the full credit goes to the girls who came out of the house, started learning, started educating and started earning and started contributing to the society and to the family and eventually to the country. That's the reality.

Cindy Sealls: 43:48How is your mom going to move forward with her school?

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 43:54She's actually thinking of two plans. One is short term. One is long term. For the longterm plan, we are supporting her with getting a loan or something like that, managing the funding. And as a short term solution to this problem, she is actually using WhatsApp as anx education platform.

Cindy Sealls: 44:21How does that work with WhatsApp?

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 44:24See, we don't have huge level of internet in the country , but we have a mobile network and smart phones are available in the remotest corner of the country. So that created this opportunity of connecting students who went back to the villages because the city is locked down, but they have a phone. So using the WhatsApp, the teachers can send class lessons and then have a group discussion. And that became a very good solution.

Kelley Lynch: 45:07How is that going to change then this, I mean, Alberto mentioned this 19th century education. He also mentioned that it was really difficult to train teachers to do this kind of very different teaching whenever they've never been doing this.

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 45:25Actually, that was like one of the biggest challenge. So what we did, we actually physically had to bring in some of them to the school to show them how to download the app and how to create groups and things like that and how to upload and download. I would consider my mom as very lucky because I have in house all the infrastructure, like the scanner, the proper software, the computer. So I'm the one who is actually converting the regular teaching materials for digital platform. But most don't have access to that.

Kelley Lynch: 46:07And are students responding or not so much?

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 46:12They're the ones who are actually not driving the whole thing. They call up the teachers to start the class, or they're the one who is pushing, you know, like, why are you late today?

Cindy Sealls: 46:26You know what I just thought of? You know , this whole move away from the 19th century teaching model, maybe. I mean, this is how you think of it. You know, here's a thing that we call a disaster there's COVID but look at all these possibilities. Cause I was just thinking, wow, okay. So, because the students know more about this digital learning than the teachers, then it's going to have to force some of the teachers to say, Hey kid, I want to set up this, but I don't know how to do it. Can you help me do it? And then that brings about a change of mindset.

Kelley Lynch: 47:00And so those are my stages, the power dynamic, maybe in the classroom as it were. It makes me think of the thing that you were describing about g irls education and the empowerment of women. It's a very similar dynamic, right? It has meant a lot more equality for women and men. And it's brought huge changes economically to Bangladesh. I wonder what this actually bring.

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 47:30It's exactly. That kind of parallel that is happening. Like when guards came out of the house, we had this economic boom. So now that students are changing the parameters of education or learning, I am hopeful that we really have a different kind of learning and better learning in future. Cindy, I know you work in schools . So how are you planning to manage the situation? When students start coming back to school,

Cindy Sealls: 48:12Our online learning seemed to go pretty smoothly in the spring. So it looks as though we're going to try to stay with that as well as hopefully on campus. So it's going to be a hybrid model, we hope, and we're gonna basically split the students. You know, all this is up in the air, of course, but because you can't according to DC, which is where our school is. You can't have more than 10 students in a classroom. So that's limiting everybody, private schools, public schools. So we're all going to have to go to this hybrid model.

Kelley Lynch: 48:59But one of the other things that I felt like surprised me was how many people you said were really interested in the school. I mean, I think originally you were really concerned that parents are , might not want to be putting my children into a private school, but in fact you've found it's the opposite.

Cindy Sealls: 49:19Yeah. We've been pleasantly surprised at how much interest we're getting from people who kids are in public schools right now, because for them, I guess the experience that they had, you know, after we all left school was not very positive. And so they are contacting us. They're not just coming to us and saying, just because we know you're a private school, we know you'll do a better job. They want to know, okay, are you guys going to be this, this online learning for your whole school year? And we have to be honest with them to say, Hey, we can only have 10 students in a class at a time. And so we're going to have to do some online learning. Where we live some of these smaller schools are going to have the problem of your mom's school, where maybe they don't have the kind of resources to be able to have half of their cohort coming in and then have a big cleaning because you got to hire the cleaning people to come. They'll probably going to be working overtime because you're going to have maybe two or three major cleanings a week. I used to work for a small school and we could have , we could only, if we couldn't afford any maintenance people, we could only afford the cleaning people. They only came in every day for a couple of hours a day. And you know, they like empty the trash, mop the floor, but they certainly couldn't do the major cleaning that you're going to need for this. There's just no way. We couldn't afford it as a school. We could not afford it. So I don't know what's going to happen to those schools. And then like you said, all those kids, they're not coming to us because the parents can't afford it. They're going to go into the public school .

Obaidul Fattah Tanvir: 51:04We have to come out with a creative solution to all these situations. And we are like pushed to the edge that we have to do. It it's either do or die kind of situation. That's the silver lining of this corona situation. And for the education, I think this is a great opportunity to break free of the things that did not work and to start fresh.

Kelley Lynch: 51:34Look at you adding all the positivity now? That's twice in a row. I love it. All right . Well on that note, thank you guys as always. Thank you. Bye . Bye.

Cindy Sealls: 51:53We know this was a really long episode and we're really glad that you listened to all the way to the end. We hope you found it interesting. And that you learned something.

Kelley Lynch: 52:08This is online learning.

Cindy Sealls: 52:08You're right. Oh my goodness. I didn't even think of that.

Kelley Lynch: 52:12And it's not boring. This is some pretty cool stuff. If we do say so ourselves.

Cindy Sealls: 52:19And we do say so ourselves and online learning is awesome. Not boring, online, learning for free. And remember you're saving the planet when you subscribe. Just want to throw that out there.

Kelley Lynch: 52:36The other thing is it, next week, I'm just taking a break. It's going to be one week. We're not going to be here, but you can go back and listen to all those other episodes that you missed. Then we'll be back the following week with the next step.

Speaker 5: 52:51Yeah. So you're getting homework. You're gonna listen to these other things and you're gonna say, okay, who would like this one? I think so. And so would like that one and you're going to share it with them and you're going to say, make sure you subscribe after you listen. So there you go. That's your homework. Bye.