Online Learning Works Great When There is Internet

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PGDE Primary Education graduate Justin Rankin shares some of his experiences. Justin, originally from Canada and who studied at University of the West of Scotland’s Ayr Campus, has worked in Myanmar, China, and most recently in Eritrea.

So, 2020 has been something so far, hasn’t it? When the pandemic struck, schools around the world were forced to come up with alternative methods of instruction and feedback to accommodate for the learning-at-home model that was the new reality. The vast majority of these schools, both public and private, looked to various online applications and digital learning platforms to facilitate this tremendous shift. Well, what happens when you work in a place where the majority of citizens do not have any reliable access to the Internet? You do what all Eritreans have done for many generations, you find a way to overcome the obstacle in front of you.

Eritrea is a small, relatively unknown nation which is located in East Africa. From its capital city, Asmara, the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, is a short flight westward, and the rapidly growing Addis Ababa, the hub city of Ethiopia, lies nearly an equal distance to the south. In an article published by the BBC in October 2019, they cited a report by the International Telecommunication Union which stated that internet penetration in Eritrea is just above 1%. I lived there. Can confirm. Despite the fact that I was teaching at a school that was comprised of the children of foreign diplomats, United Nations officials, and other prominent families in the community, only a handful of them had reliable access to the Internet when away from campus.

Once our Board of Directors at the school declared that regular classes had to cease, we (the foreign faculty) had less than a week before Eritrea’s border closed, and 12 weeks remaining in the school calendar to cover. With no guarantee that we would be even be able to email in our plans once our aircraft departed the runway, the foreign faculty banded together to churn out 12 weeks of work-from-home plans that could not rely on any technology being available in the household. We did the best that we all could, supported each other over a few bottles of overly-priced, imported Italian wine, and laughed about how we hadn’t worked that hard since our student teaching days! Eventually, we had pancake stacks of manilla envelopes, one for each of our students, that were picked up by families just prior to the gates being locked up. The city went into quarantine a few days after this, and the border remains closed to foreign nationals three months later.

Simply put, I miss my students. I miss seeing their work, hearing their stories, and I wonder what they have created at home for the various performance tasks that were planned out. I wonder about these things because I do not have regular contact with them. For the departing faculty like myself who will move on to another location at year’s end, we missed our chance to say goodbye to our students, and unfortunately, both parties need an IP address to stay in touch these days. If nothing else, at least I have a great excuse to travel back to Eritrea to once again enjoy the company of the extremely hospitable and welcoming people there. It is truly unlike anywhere else you have ever travelled, and that’s a good thing.

With gratitude,
Justin Rankin (PGDE Primary Education 2014)

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