How do we teach our children without internet during COVID-19?

When the pandemic forced schools to close in March, students from marginalized families struggled with online learning because they don’t own smart devices. A lack of technology can accelerate the drop-out rate, especially among low-performing students who may already feel behind.

Sokunthea Kong became deeply concerned knowing that most of her students don’t have access to the internet. Getting them to continue their studies at home was impossible. 

To solve this problem, Sokunthea and two Teach For Cambodia Fellows led a project called, “Promote learning during Coronavirus for students without internet access” in Kampong Chhnang province.

They created learning packages and provided educational materials for students to pick up for free. Three times a week, Sokunthea travels nine kilometers through muddy roads to deliver the printed packages and basic hygiene supplies. Sokunthea also formed a library-like model where students can borrow textbooks, articles, fiction and non-fiction books to read at home. Her main focus was to promote well-being and literacy and to keep her kids continue learning during this unprecedented time. 

This initiative was well-received by her school director, colleagues, and parents. It allowed Sokunthea and her team to collaborate with other school teachers to reach 100 children living in under-resourced communities. 

However, the learning packages alone are not sufficient. Sokunthea also goes from village to village to hold in-person tutoring. With the help of parents and village chiefs, she is able to support students from grades 7 to 9 with homework, lessons and small-group activities, all of which take place in a parent’s house or under the roof of a pagoda.

“I was worried about my students who were already behind in the classroom. Without a teacher and access to the internet, it is so easy for them to give up their study during this time,” she said. “I myself used to be a slow performer in the class, and I know how it felt being left behind with no help. That is the reason that pushes me to keep reaching out to my students and to help them the best way I can.”

Leveraging some technology support, if her students have questions, the one who can access the internet will collect their classmates’ questions and send them to her through texts or voice messages. During this time, Sokunthea has connected more closely with her students and they are now no longer afraid to ask for help. Sokunthea also has an opportunity to create personalized learning environments for her kids. This motivates them to do their own research and self-study more than ever before. 

She could say that about 20% of her students have remarkably improved their literacy skills and learning attitude. Even her low performers can now read and write on their own to a very appreciable extent. The results keeps her spirits high and committed to continue doing her work despite adversity.

Now, Sokunthea helps other teachers at her school navigate through technical challenges with their online teaching. She hopes to give proper training on basic ICT skills so that teachers at her school can reach their students more broadly and effectively in the future.