When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, many of the schools and vocational education centers that the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is partnering with were closed to prevent the spread of the virus. Opportunities for learning using a phone or a tablet, however, can’t be stopped by a pandemic.
Vocational training is an important part of ADRA’s education program in Myanmar. ADRA has been allowed to provide education through a new online portal operated by Zabai, a Norwegian-owned company. When schools were closed, ADRA quickly trained teachers in vocational subjects to enroll students in courses and follow them along the way.
Jonathan Telfer, who works with ADRA in Norway, said that although schools are closed, it is important not to give up on education for young people.
“In Myanmar, as in most countries, phones are almost everywhere. ADRA has worked with Zabai to develop e-learning to complement the teaching at the vocational schools we work with,” Telfer said. “When schools are closed, we would like to take advantage of the opportunities of e-learning and develop it further, so that as many of the students that should have been attending school are still offered relevant online subjects.”
Increased Interest in E-learning
Ivar Viktil, CEO and founder of Zabai, told ADRA that Zabai is seeing a significant increase in e-learning after the pandemic and mitigation measures were implemented.
Viktil said he has long been aware that digital learning solutions will make an important difference in young people’s education in developing countries in the future.
“Our task is to help make good quality educational material available. We do this by using e-learning and video lessons distributed on a digital platform specially developed for developing countries,” he said.
ADRA’s E-learning Portal
The first courses developed by Zabai were completed in the spring of 2020 and are posted on a separate page on Zabai’s ADRA web portal. In addition to these courses, it is also possible for ADRA to use other courses that Zabai has developed with other partners, including vocational courses in economics, hospitality, basic English, and life skills.
This work has the potential to strengthen educational opportunities for more than 226,000 students through courses for teachers and students. The approach has been piloted through ADRA’s education program in Myanmar and is being scaled up in 2020 to include Ethiopia and Somalia. Several courses can be freely shared, helping many more.
“For young people who can’t go to school and study, or travel to find work, the courses help make everyday life meaningful,” Telfer said.
It Didn't Happen Overnight
In 2018, Zabai invited ADRA to join an application aimed at Innovation Norway, a government institution dedicated to supporting companies in developing their competitive advantage and to enhance innovation. The aim of the project was to establish a web portal where e-learning courses could be stored and distributed, while providing the opportunity to follow up with users.
This project, approved by Innovation Norway in the fall of 2018, became an integral part of ADRA’s Strengthening Equity and Access in Education (SEAQE2) program, which began in March 2019. While Zabai developed and tested the portal, ADRA entered into new agreements for the development of three e-learning courses.
Two of the courses are designed for vocational students, namely Digital Skills and Entrepreneurship. The third course, called 21st Century Skills, is designed to strengthen teacher’s pedagogical skills with modern approaches to education. The course emphasizes skillsets like critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.