33. Peru: I Learn at Home

Alberto Munoz-Najar L
World Bank

Peru’s school year runs from mid-March to mid-December. Classes were ready to start on 16 March 2020, but instead, the president announced a strict lockdown. The country only had 86 cases of COVID-19 then, but the government worked quickly to close all 54 000 schools to try to prevent further spread of the virus. Peru’s Ministry of Education, with support from non-governmental organisations, technology companies, telecommunication operators and broadcasters launched a multichannel remote learning initiative to mitigate learning loss as a result of school closures: Aprendo en Casa (I Learn at Home).

The initiative is noteworthy because the Ministry of Education planned, developed and launched a comprehensive multimodal strategy to deliver remote learning at scale in just 12 days. The whole programme aligns to Peru’s national curriculum and has been designed to provide remote education through four channels: television, radio, web and printed material. Equally important, the Ministry of Education’s Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, with the support of Innovations for Poverty Action, began monitoring levels of adoption and satisfaction of the Aprendo en Casa strategy with principals, teachers and families through regular phone calls.

Results of the monitoring process are readily available for anyone to access through an interactive site (see the resources section), ensuring transparency. As of July 2020, data are available for April, May and June 2020.

Access to devices and connectivity needed for remote learning varies across the country. Approximately 85% of households own a TV, 84% a radio, 82% a mobile phone and only 24% have connection to the Internet at home (data from UNICEF and the World Bank). Therefore, Aprendo en Casa’s multimodal strategy was a viable approach to deliver remote learning solutions that could be scaled up rapidly to reach most if not all students while schools were closed.

As Peru’s school year starts in mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented approximately 8 million students (from pre-primary to secondary public and private schools) from starting the 2020 school year. The challenges were twofold: on the one hand, the Ministry of Education had to deliver quality educational resources to all students in a country where household access to resources required for remote learning is highly unequal. For example, while almost 99% of urban homes have access to electricity, only 69% of rural ones do (UNICEF data). On the other hand, although the Ministry of Education curated existing learning material, most of the content and platforms had to be developed from scratch. Ministry of Education officials needed to come up with innovative solutions for this challenge in a short time frame and in the middle of a strict nationwide lockdown.

The Ministry of Education leveraged existing resources and engaged various stakeholders to build a multimodal remote learning solution that could be rapidly scaled at a national level. The ministry officials mobilised and developed resources in three key components of the remote learning strategy: 1) infrastructure and connectivity; 2) content; and 3) delivery platforms.

Infrastructure and connectivity. With support from the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the four major private telecommunication operators in the country agreed to a zero rate for Aprendo en Casa’s digital site so that students and teachers could access all of the available educational resources through the website without paying for bandwidth. Moreover, the Ministry of Education leveraged an existing partnership with Microsoft and developed a new one with Amazon Web Services to host the ministry’s digital platforms.

Content. A large pedagogical team at the Ministry of Education curated already existing content, which consisted of mainly educational videos and digital workbooks. This team also curated external content that third-party organisations such as Plaza Sesamo (Mexico) and Paka Paka (Argentina) agreed to share for free with Aprendo en Casa. However, most content was created from scratch by a large team of pedagogical experts from the Ministry of Education’s Department of Basic Education. Since mid-March, this team has developed lesson plans and scripts and co-ordinated the production for Aprendo en Casa’s multimodal strategy.

Delivery platforms. To deliver the content, the Ministry of Education leveraged existing partnerships with TV Peru and Radio Nacional, the government’s television and radio platforms. The main private open signal TV channels have also joined this effort to transmit learning sessions for the last years of secondary education. With the support of regional directions of education and local education units, new partnerships have been developed with over 1 100 local radios to reach remote communities. Although the ministry already had PeruEduca, an online training and content repository platform, the Ministry of Education’s Department of Educational Technology decided to develop a mobile-responsive digital platform from scratch to deliver Aprendo en Casa content at scale. This new platform can support an unlimited number of simultaneous users and is “web-light” so that users can access its resources even in areas with low bandwidth (“web-light” is a lighter and faster web page technology for people searching on slow mobile connections). Ministry of Education officials also analysed and later partnered with more than 60 mobile applications to allow teachers and students access to free resources related to communication, class management, digital libraries, content management and online learning, among others.

To foster effective use of educational resources and ensure learning, the Ministry of Education focused on three key aspects: 1) align strategies with the national curriculum and education level; 2) select engaging learning facilitators and contextualise content; and 3) support and foster communication between teachers, parents and students.

Alignment with the national curriculum. The remote education strategies implemented are aligned with Peru’s national curriculum as well as with the curricular programmes of each education level: preschool, primary and secondary education. Equally important, Aprendo en Casa’s team has developed content for students with special needs and adult alternative education. As Peru has a competency-based curriculum, content can be flexible, as long as students acquire the competencies required for their education level. This flexibility was key because it allowed the ministry to both develop its own content and curate content that had already been developed by other producers.

Contextualised content. Curating and producing contextualised content and activities has been crucial to ensure effective learning. The pedagogical team of the Ministry of Education’s Department of Basic Education not only developed lesson plans and scripts for learning sessions according to each education level, but also co-ordinated with the Department of Intercultural Education to translate all content delivered through radio into nine native languages. Additionally, since May, all TV learning sessions are supported with sign language and the website has been adapted for children with disabilities.

Engaging learning facilitators. Equally important was to recruit engaging learning facilitators to introduce TV or radio learning sessions. For example, TV learning sessions for preschool are introduced by Fatima Saldonid, a journalist, and the ones for primary and secondary are presented by Patricia Barreto, an actress. After receiving feedback from the teacher community, learning facilitators are now joined by experienced teachers who explain the main concepts, and a student, who usually performs a learning activity. For example, in the Maths learning session for 26 May, Patricia Barreto, the learning facilitator, welcomes 5th and 6th grade students and presents the session objectives; Christian, the teacher, introduces the content for a probability class and guides the students through learning activities. A student, Mia, jumps in and participates. Patricia, Christian and Mia interact throughout the session, with the aim of making the class even more engaging.

The importance of interaction and feedback. Even when implementing a remote education programme, it is critical to maintain constant communication and teacher-student interaction. Thus, to complement the content delivered through Aprendo en Casa’s channels, the Ministry of Education developed learning activities that students can use to practice what they learn through TV, radio or the Internet. According to the ministry’s Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, 80% of students and parents had received support from teachers at least once in the prior week. According to information gathered in May 2020, 96% of teachers who contacted parents have requested their students complete and send their homework every other day. Students complete those activities and send them back to teachers mainly through WhatsApp. According to the survey, of those teachers who had contacted parents and requested students to complete the learning activities, 90% had graded students’ homework or provided detailed feedback, thus far.

When the Ministry of Education started implementing the remote learning solutions in mid-March, it had to face several implementation challenges. Among them were reaching students who live in rural areas in the middle of the pandemic, building a new platform, sustaining student engagement and providing guidance to teachers while avoiding burnout.

  • Reaching rural areas. For the Ministry of Education, it was key to ensure that remote learning resources reach all students. It was particularly challenging to reach students in rural areas – 30% of rural households lack access to electricity, almost 20% do not have a radio at home and 40% do not have a mobile phone. In fact, the Ministry of Education’s Department of Decentralised Education estimated that over 15% of students were not able to access any of Aprendo en Casa’s main remote learning channels – TV, radio and/or web. So how could they communicate with them? A first solution was to distribute printed materials. But Peru’s government imposed strict lockdown rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Thus, local education units, in co-ordination with local communities, have developed different initiatives, such as retransmitting radio content through powerful loudspeakers in community centres that children can attend while social distancing.

  • Technical strength. Another difficulty was that the Ministry of Education’s digital resources were not prepared to deliver remote education at scale. For example, PeruEduca’s platform could only support a few thousand users simultaneously; the web was neither mobile-responsive nor user-friendly. This challenge was addressed by building a web-light, mobile-responsive platform from scratch with the support of tech partners. According to Google Analytics, Aprendo en Casa’s platform has had a monthly average of 4.5 million unique users, thus far.

  • Sustaining student engagement. Aprendo en Casa’s multimodal strategy launched successfully on 6 April 2020 and was praised in the press and social media. The delivery through different platforms allowed the ministry to reach millions of students in the first week. But how could the Ministry of Education sustain this student engagement with content that was mainly delivered through modalities that did not allow for real-time interaction? One of Aprendo en Casa’s pillars to maintain engagement was to use actors and actresses as learning facilitators, but this approach began to be criticised by the teacher community. The ministry’s Department of Basic Education rapidly adapted the format to learning sessions that now have an expert teacher interacting with both the learning facilitator and a student.

  • Teacher support. When the Ministry of Education started implementing Aprendo en Casa, teachers received guidelines that stressed the importance of observing learning sessions through the channel of their preference, communicating with students and parents, subscribing to online learning courses through PeruEduca, among other activities (see the references section). In addition, regional directions of education elaborated complementary guidelines to accompany what the ministry had developed and local education units in turn designed complementary guidelines to accompany what the regional directions of education had produced. For example, the local education unit in Lambayeque, a region located in the north of Peru, requested teachers to submit daily reports of their remote work with students. Moreover, on 21 May 2020, the Ministry of Education published additional requirements: teachers needed to submit a monthly report with evidence of their remote work and had until the end of May to submit reports from March and April. This whole support system ended up generating teacher burnout and discontent. Peru’s National Teacher Union (SUTEP) submitted a formal complaint on 27 May 2020. After listening to teachers’ feedback, the ministry reacted quickly and adjusted the guidelines and requirements on 29 May 2020, to reduce the administrative workload.

The Ministry of Education’s Monitoring and Evaluation Unit has regularly monitored the adoption of Aprendo en Casa; the support given by teachers; and the satisfaction of principals, teachers and parents with the strategy through phone calls once a month (information from principals was only gathered during the first month). This effort started just one week after the strategy was launched. More than 37 000 members of the education system were surveyed between mid-April and early June 2020. Phone calls gathered data related to Aprendo en Casa’s reach, channels used by students to access remote learning and support from teachers to students, among other information. Results of the monitoring process are readily available for anyone to access through an interactive site. Information gathered is based on representative samples; results from April and May 2020 are described below.

  • Principals. In April 2020, 97% of principals surveyed said they were informed about the Ministry of Education’s guidance note for the COVID-19 response. Of those contacted, 98% had access to Aprendo en Casa’s resources from home, but only 59% had a computer with Internet and 51% a smartphone. Almost three-quarters (73%) received support from the regional directions of education and 78% were satisfied with it. A large majority of principals (84%) had communicated with all teachers from the school at least once.

  • Teachers. In April, 95% of teachers contacted knew about the remote learning guidance note developed by the Ministry of Education. Virtually all of them (99%) said they could access Aprendo en Casa resources from home, but only 53% had a computer with an Internet connection and 74% a smartphone. In May, 92% of teachers said they had communicated with the school principal and with other teachers in the past week. While in April 94% of teachers had communicated with parents and/or students in the past week, in May 98% indicated they had had communication with parents and 94% with students in the previous week.

  • Parents and students. In April, 91% of parents contacted knew about Aprendo en Casa, and of those, 95% said their children were using the resources provided. In May, 95% of those contacted knew about Aprendo en Casa. On average, in April, 74% of students had accessed remote learning through TV four days a week and 59% were satisfied with the strategy. In May, parents’ satisfaction with the TV strategy increased to 65% and that of children to 82%. In April, 17% of those contacted accessed learning through the radio three days a week on average and 44% were satisfied with this strategy. Parents’ satisfaction with the radio strategy also increased in May to 56%; 64% of children reported they liked it. Finally, in April, 19% of students used the Aprendo en Casa’s website four days a week and 68% were satisfied with it. Once again, parents’ satisfaction with the website increased in May to 81%; 87% of students reported they liked it.

Aprendo en Casa’s multimodal remote learning strategy has successfully managed to reach over 85% of the student population in Peru and aims to serve the remaining students through alternative methods (such as radio transmission through loudspeakers in community centres).

The programme was planned, designed and implemented nationally in 12 days; thus, it is easily scalable at a national level, even in countries with complex geographies and profound gaps in terms of households’ accessibility to devices needed for remote learning.

Aprendo en Casa’s multimodal remote learning programme has been designed to be sustainable over time as a complementary resource for on-site classroom-based education. To ensure a successful adaptation, ministry officials need to assess the student population they can reach through various channels and clearly identify those who are not able to access resources to provide alternative solutions for them.

Profound gratitude to the following people for their support with this case study.

From the Aprendo en Casa Team and/or Monitoring & Evaluation Unit: Cecilia Ramirez, Director of Basic Education; Jose Carlos Vera, Director of Decentralised Education; Ricardo Zapata, Director of Education Technology; and Alfonso Accinelli, Former Director of Education Technology.

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