It was a very sunny afternoon in Dawakin Tofa in Kano State. A Kano Literacy and Maths Accelerator (KaLMA) mentoring training was taking place and the KaLMA/Nigeria team was on the ground to support. At that moment, the information reached us—“schools are to be closed across the nation in two days due to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The ‘social distancing’ and ‘stay at home’ orders present the opportunity to involve parents in children’s continuous learning at home while schools are closed. The KaLMA team (a partnership between TaRL Africa and the British Council) began working on a Home-Based Learning (HBL) plan to support learning remotely, through carefully designed learning activities.
The first step was to make sure we could reach children and families at home: the team set out to get as many phone numbers of parents as possible, working closely with the school headteachers and teachers. Initially, we collected over 2,500 phone numbers and are working to collect 19,000 numbers over the next few months.
Developing engaging home-based activities
Working closely with the central content team from Pratham, we set out to design very engaging and action-driven content which does not rely on smartphones. Some examples of the activity instructions we send to parents:
Math Content: Ask children to count ten sticks. Tie the bundle of ten sticks up with rope. Count another ten and tie those up. Repeat the process until you have 4 bundles. How many sticks are there in 4 bundles? Call XXX if you have any questions.
Reaching all families
We provide a variety of HBL activities, focusing on foundational skills in Hausa, English, and Mathematics. We use three different methods to share. This is to ensure that the HBL activities and guidelines are accessible for families:
- Text messages (SMS) – content sent via SMS ensures that families without smartphones could access them.
- Automated calls – pre-recorded audio versions of the text messages are sent to parents’ phones, ensuring that parents who are not able to read receive the messages.
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR) – parents can call a toll-free line for a variety of pre-recorded audio instructions for activities. The interactive element allows parents to select different learning skills to address (for example, choosing activities appropriate for learners who are able to read 1-digit numbers but not 2-digit numbers). The interactive nature of this platform allows parents to navigate to appropriate activities and to revisit the same activity when needed.
In addition, we set up a toll-free line for parents and children to share their feedback or questions. We send sensitization messages to parents, highlighting their role in children’s continuous learning and how our HBL plan supports that role. We also encourage parents to set aside a dedicated time of the day to support children’s learning at home. Content is designed in the local language of the community to make it accessible to all parents.
To spread the message in communities, we reached out to a few active mentors to kickstart a chain of informal sensitisation in their communities. We encouraged them to tell as many people as possible about the HBL programme and ask community members to spread the word. Through this community action, we are reaching more parents.
We have also started receiving interesting feedback from parents and children. Recently, a little girl called in – she curiously asked, “are you sending us activities today?” She was eager to receive more activities. This shows us how engaging the activities are for this little girl and is a great encouragement for the team.
Lessons from implementing an HBL programme
Some of the lessons I have learned about home-based learning so far are:
- With the right support, parents/care givers are willing to support the continuous learning of their children at home.
- To successfully engage parents in learning activities with their children at home, the messages sent out should be clear, use simple language, and should suggest specific actions for parents as they support the children to learn.
- Widespread sensitisation is useful for parents’ full engagement in children’s learning at home, as some of the platforms used and the activities involved may be new to parents/caregivers.
- We’ve found that, when the community is well sensitized, it will make it possible to get community buy-in and the intervention will go smoothly.
- Periodic tracking of the nature of engagement with the learning content shared with parents will help the programme team understand how appropriate the content is and will help the content development team to modify the learning content to suit families.
- It is important to send messages to parents when they are most likely to be available to support children at home.