For many people, education abruptly came to a halt due to COVID-19, causing a significant loss of learning around the world. A deployee with the Australia Assists program, Peter, supported strengthening the Pacific’s technological capability in the education sector and gave teachers the skills and ability to deliver learning online through the pandemic and beyond.
To date, the Pacific Islands have been largely untouched by the health impacts of COVID-19, but the economic impact to the region is set to be one of the most severe in the world. Closed borders have kept the virus largely out of the Pacific but it has also kept tourists out too. An estimated AUD5 billion in additional surplus is needed in the next few years to recover.
This means governments now have less financial capacity to invest in education and training. The education systems, which are already under-resourced, were exposed by the pandemic, with schools and higher education facilities closing their doors during lockdown periods. Without the right technology and digital infrastructure in place, such as broadband access and computers, there was no continuity to access education when a crisis or disaster hit.
In partnership with UNESCO and the Australian Government, Peter commenced work in June with UNESCO to ensure a longer-term vision for the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education.
After leading an education organisation in Hong Kong, Peter was en-route to Samoa via Australia when COVID-19 struck. As the borders closed, Peter based himself in Australia and began working remotely.
One of the biggest challenges has been enabling access for students and teachers to devices so teaching can take place, explains Peter.
"A digital learning environment, or face-to-face ICT curriculum that does not put technology in the hands of students, is doomed, as would be a music program that doesn’t allow students to play instruments or a sports programme without equipment."
"We found that many teachers have access to Facebook so we used this channel to deliver some learning resources for teachers."
"Unreliable internet connections have been a major barrier so working with internet service providers like Digicel, Vodafone and others has been essential to develop online solutions and put mobile networks in place to deliver online education."
As part of Peter’s role, he has also began initial work to set up a Lifelong Learning Lab in Samoa, where people can access training and education networks, making access to quality education more inclusive. The Lifelong Learning Lab is funded by the India-UN Development Partnership Fund through the UN Office for the South-South Cooperation as part of UNESCO’s Samoa Knowledge Society Initiative.
"This is a place where people can go for training, mentoring, creating and collaboration. Once opened, it will enable teachers, secondary students, health practitioners, ICT professionals, women, youth and entrepreneurs to innovate, learn, collaborate and be better prepared to maintain continuity of work, advance their careers and learn through pandemics, disasters or crises."
"There has being a special focus in developing the Learning Lab to be inclusive, ensuring women and people with disabilities have access to the centre where they can be mentored and trained, accessing distance learning online and experience some face-to-face learning."
"The Lab will be a centre for streaming and producing ICT in Education courses, micro- credentials and training for healthcare workers, farmers, youth and marginalised groups."
Peter’s deployment has begun the first important steps to advance the quality and accessibility of education to students in the Pacific, enabling learning to continue wherever students and teachers might find themselves, despite crises or disasters.