The United Nations issued a warning back in August that mass school closures due to COVID-19 could lead to a generational catastrophe, indicating that a return to classrooms should be prioritised.
The new school year is here and anxiety levels around education are high – but one exception to this rule can be found in Latvia, which employed several digital solutions to battle the challenges faced by the new remote reality.
Digital tools that eased the first burden of remote education
Like many countries in Europe, Latvia issued a stay-at-home policy in March which impacted non-essential institutions – including schools. But teachers continued to teach, while parents ensured their children were learning. Communication between parents, teachers and students was supported by already established homework and grade communication platforms that were developed locally.
While it was understood that this model of hands-on parental supervision is not sustainable, the Ministry of Education came to an agreement with telecommunications company Telia to develop two linear TV channels where the best teacher-recorded lessons would be delivered to students. Most households have a TV, so this was an accessible format. The project, known as TavaKlase, was built in three weeks and featured filmed classroom content for primary school-aged children. It was lauded by the OECD as one of the best educational projects in the world during the pandemic.
The digital solutions that were either already in place, or quickly implemented, allowed education to continue despite the abrupt interruption to normality.
Improved grades under lockdown
Interestingly, secondary school students demonstrated a marked improvement in centralised year-end exams. On the whole, students did better in most subjects compared to previous years – particularly in maths, physics, English and French.
This improvement, despite the remote learning environment, demonstrates that the educational system doesn’t necessarily have to rely on in-person classes, nor that the pandemic has negatively affected Latvian student grades.
“Interestingly, secondary school students demonstrated a marked improvement in centralised year-end exams”
The future is here – what’s next?
Latvian schools are now adapting to re-opening conditions. Eighty-two percent of schools in the country are organising classes in-person, while providing the precautionary measures demanded by the epidemiological situation. Most educational institutions have stated that some elements of remote learning will remain.
Besides that, classes are bundled in bigger blocks, so the variety of subjects taught in a day is smaller. Students are changing classrooms as little as possible and staggering start times to prevent hallway congestion.
Despite September feeling like a trial period for everyone involved in education, there are reasons to be confident for the future, such as:
● Previous successful lockdown experience: parents and teachers went through the worst-case remote education scenario this spring, so now they know what to expect should a similar situation occur down the line.
● Triple-layered contingency plan from the Ministry of Education: the ministry has developed three tiers of education; tier A foresees education as normal if infection rates in the country remain low; tier B offers a 50% attendance model, where classes alternate bi-weekly to reduce student density in school; tier C foresees full remote education should infection rates rise. We really are ready for anything.
● Added funding for new digital learning content: the government of Latvia recently granted additional funding to develop an integrated online learning platform, improve an existing digital learning resource storage folder, grant methodological support for teachers and more.
● Low local infection rates: Latvia has been fortunate in experiencing low infection and mortality rates.
Together, these factors contribute to an overall reduction in anxiety regarding the new school year. More importantly, these factors can be replicated in other countries and communities to achieve similar results. All it takes is dedication, perseverance and inter-industry collaboration.
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