When the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in March, many of the schools and vocational education centers the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) is partnering with were closed in order to prevent further spread of the virus. But opportunities for learning using a phone or a tablet can't be stopped by a pandemic.
Vocational training is an important part of ADRA's education program in Myanmar, and ADRA has been given the opportunity to provide education through a completely new online portal operated by Zabai, a Norwegian-owned company. When schools were closed, ADRA quickly trained teachers in vocational subjects how to enroll students in courses, and to follow them up along the way.
Jonathan Telfer, who works with ADRA in Norway, says that although schools are closed, it is important not to give up on education for young people. “In Myanmar, as in most countries, phones are almost everywhere,” he said. “ADRA has worked with Zabai to develop e-learning to complement the teaching at the vocational schools we work with.”
“When schools are closed, we would like to take advantage of the opportunities of e-learning and develop it further, so that as many of the students that should have been attending school, are still offered relevant online subjects,” he continued.
Zabai: Increased Interest in E-learning
Ivar Viktil, CEO and founder of Zabai, tells ADRA that Zabai is seeing a significant increase in interest in e-learning after the pandemic and mitigation measures were implemented.
Viktil has long been aware that digital learning solutions will make an important difference in the education of young people in developing countries in the future. “Our task is to help make good quality educational material available,” said Viktil. “We do this by using e-learning and video lessons distributed on a digital platform specially developed for developing countries.”
ADRAs E-learning Portal
The first courses developed by Zabai were completed in the spring of 2020, and are posted on a separate page on Zabai's ADRA web portal. In addition to these courses, it is also possible for ADRA to use other courses that Zabai has developed with other partners, including vocational courses in economics, hospitality, basic English and life skills.
Through courses for teachers and students, this work has the potential to strengthen the education opportunities for more than 226,000 students. This approach has been piloted in ADRA's education program in Myanmar and is being scaled up in 2020 to include Ethiopia and Somalia. In addition, several courses can be freely shared, helping many more.
"For young people who can't go to school and study, or travel to find work, the courses help make everyday life meaningful," says Telfer.
The Story: It didn't Happen Overnight
ADRA Norway has been focusing on innovative solutions related to how we provide assistance in developing countries, since 2014.
ADRA followed Norad's new venture, which they called Innovation 2030, and won a grant in 2016 funds for a job-creation project together with a private company. However, the private-sector partner had to pull out as they were unable to continue their operations in Myanmar. This forced the project to end before it began. When a new opportunity to apply for similar funding arose in 2017, ADRA partnered with Zabai on an application aimed at providing e-learning services to vocational education students in Myanmar. Although the application was high-quality and scored well, it was not selected for funding.
At the same time, in 2018, Zabai invited ADRA to join a new application, this time aimed at Innovation Norway, a government institution dedicated to supporting companies in developing their competitive advantage and to enhance innovation. The aim of the project was to establish a web portal where e-learning courses could be stored and distributed, while providing the opportunity to follow up users.
This new project, approved by Innovation Norway in the fall of 2018, became an integral part of ADRA Norway’s SEAQE2 (Strengthening Equity and Access in Education) education program, which began in March 2019. While Zabai developed and tested the portal, ADRA Norway entered into new agreements for the development of three e-learning courses. Two of the courses are designed for vocational students, namely Digital Skills and Entrepreneurship.
The third course is called “21st Century Skills” and is designed to strengthen teacher’s pedagogical skills with modern approaches to education. The course emphasis skillsets like critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.