In July 2020, Windle International Uganda (WIU) with support from Education Cannot Wait (ECW) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) adopted the Small group learning initiative as one of the efforts to improve the effectiveness of home learning. This was after closure of all schools and other learning institutions on 20th March 2020 upon declaration of lockdown due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
Small group learning is a method of teaching were small groups of learners meet on a regular basis with their peers and teachers to engage in learning activities. Small group learning enabled learners to continue with their studies during the lock down. It promoted the socio-emotional well-being of learners while studying from home, enabled vulnerable learners e.g. Children with Special Needs to access learning opportunities and also reduced learning backlog.
To support this initiative, WIU procured and distributed home learning materials developed by Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) and National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC) to ensure continuity of learning amidst the closure of schools.
The teachers in the supported schools in refugee settlements were trained before the initiative was rolled out. This was done to ensure teachers are in position to conduct follow visits and support individual learners to utilise the materials provided while observing standard operating procedures to prevent spread of COVID-19. Teachers were allocated to different locations in the villages according to the mapping and zoning exercise conducted by different stakeholders. Subsequently, teachers formed small groups of learners in each village allocated and started conducting small group learning sessions.
Stakeholder engagement and buy in
A preparatory meeting was conducted with teachers and stakeholders to discuss a way forward on how they could support learners at household level, how to ensure child safeguarding, draw strategies on how the whole exercise would be monitored, supervised and actions to be taken for each of the schools to ensure continuity of learning. This was done through identification, mapping, and zoning of learners and provision of support by teachers through Small Group Learning at household level.
Community awareness and sensitization across the settlement on Small Group Learning was done to galvanize support for the program through community radios, road drives, sensitization of community structures, for example, Child Protection Committees, Refugees Welfare Councils (RWCs) among others.
Through this, 94,082 primary learners and 1,308 secondary learners were reached majority of whom were refugees. Learners from the host community (nationals) had limited access to the program because they come from outside the settlement. Tools for tracking and capturing data on small group learning were developed to support and provide evidence of the program. Daily records of learners were taken segregated by class, gender, sex, and nationality.
Benefits of Small Group Learning
Learners have continued to acquire new knowledge and skills despite Covid-19 outbreak in the learning hierarchies as they are being trained by interesting and friendly teachers.
The learners have developed, adopted and promoted a reasonable discipline at the learning centres and in the society. This is key in the learning processes and in the refugee environments since a disciplined society is a peaceful one.
Good practices like the keen adoption of Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) by the learners are helping a lot in the reduction and or prevention of the spread of the Covid-19 within the settlement and within the learning environment too. Washing of hands, use of sanitizers, keeping social distance of two meters from each learner and putting on face masks for the legible ones. These precaution follow-ups are NOT being implemented by their counterparts who have remained at homes and as such, are quite vulnerable in case of an attack.
Learners have continued to acquire, develop and promote mutual relationships through networking between themselves and the community around in the learning centres and in the neighbourhoods. This is a sign of building peace, tranquillity, and good governance among others. This has further created a positive mind set to learning in many young pupils by increasing their desire to be at school or the learning centres thereby promoting the realization of the objectives of the programs.
Teachers have also been provided with instructional materials such as textbooks, charts, rulers, papers, manila papers, markers among others. These promote visualization of learning in the learning centres.
Capacity building (trainings) for teachers on effective methodologies of handling small group learning are always conducted for perfecting the programme. Child protection and safeguarding principles, learners centred approaches, inclusive education, and education for all regardless of one’s ability or disability are all emphasized during the trainings to improve the efficiency of the home learning.
The community and other stakeholders have provided a good environment for supporting the small group learning within the different locations of the settlement. This has encouraged many learners to turn up in order to participate in the learning processes.
On the side of teachers handling the learners, it has provided a source of the employment during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and even during the partial lockdown that the upper primary and secondary schools are opened. Most of the teachers especially for lower primary in private schools all over the country are still temporarily off their services due to the effects of COVID 19.
Teachers have also adapted to interacting with learners in the villages using English and local languages spoken in the villages. This in turn, makes teachers and learners appreciative and very happy to teach/learn. For teachers, interacting with young children is so dynamic and needs all round approaches which are deeply rooted in a child’s mother tongue or a language spoken mostly at home and or in the community.
Unlike conventional schools, small group learning does not require a lot of things to be put in place in order to implement it. It can be managed under a tree, a veranda, in a temporary shelter amidst others. It does not necessarily require school uniforms or vast school requirements that are sometimes expensive to buy by parents. The programme only requires willingness of a learner and subsequent availability for lessons.
Most of the parents are appreciative and have welcomed the programme positively hence creating a mutual understanding and conducive relationship between teachers, learners and parents, promoting the project rapidly.