Summer School Goes Digital

After  a difficult year with schools closed to in-person learning, Forum Foundation was faced with a challenge. How could we continue to provide beneficiaries with assistance during the Pandemic?  We decided to shift our focus to creating and facilitating several summer workshops aimed at helping students strengthen core competencies and knowledge in Mathematics, Accounting, English, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. 

Over the summer  728 students in Cocle, Panama, Veraguas and Colon participated in these workshops offering help through digital communication platforms like Whatsapp, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. 

A tailored and flexible approach to the workshops meant that our Administrative team and workshop facilitators were able to provide participants with guidance via Whatsapp audio messages, handouts, and text. Lectures were also given by using Microsoft Teams and Zoom platforms. This allowed participants to listen to the lecture components of the workshops, similar to what they might be doing in school. Photos and helpful resources were also shared via chats. For example when participants were solving math problems they would send pictures of their work to be checked and reviewed by fellow participants and the facilitator. Most importantly though, the facilitators and admin team constantly adapted their approach and interactions so that everyone could participate within their means, i.e. digital resources and access.  

This support plan allowed facilitators to keep in touch with participants living in hard to reach communities. The audio messages were extremely useful because participants could share voice notes explaining something or asking a question, share links to additional documents, images or videos, even manuals or handouts.  This in turn motivates the learners to identify and use the resources that best suit their needs and learning styles. Learners can listen to audio recordings and watch videos several times to increase their understanding. What is more, according to our facilitators feedback,  interactive video sessions and digital exchanges help deepen learners’ understanding. Another advantage is that information can be delivered even when students aren’t connected, and when they are the interactions can be in real time. 

There were also some disadvantages for students  which were mostly surrounding connectivity due to poor signal strength in rural areas. An obstacle which impeded students from receiving some messages, audios videos, and assignments. Regular classroom challenges also come into play in the digital space as facilitators were often challenged by participants understanding some components quicker than others. Needless to say differentiation in instruction in a digital space is challenging. Facilitator feedback also found that It was hard to address troubleshooting with participants as many of them would ask for help at the same time. Nonetheless facilitators made valiant efforts to tend to students according to their needs and pace of learning.

Facilitators were responsible for organizing their workshops and developing the core competencies and contents that would be reviewed. Our Administrative team monitored the implementation of the workshops ensuring that the workshops were covering the necessary material and also giving students the opportunity to truly improve and strengthen skills. This was done by helping ensure that each of the workshop facilitators gave out assignments and provided students with feedback. 

“We are confident that covering these topics will prove beneficial to learners because they will now have a better understanding of the challenges they face with digital learning, and the responsibilities they have as digital students. As always our profound gratitude for Mr. John Keffer and Mrs. Juanita’s generosity. Their dedication to sustainable change through education in the mountains of Cocle and Panama continues to have a lifelong impact on our beneficiaries. I also want to thank the workshop facilitators for their magnificent work. They never gave up, especially when things got difficult with setbacks, technological issues, and this extraordinary pandemic.” says Elvia Martinez, Head of Programs for Forum Foundation. 

Forum Foundation is committed to supporting learners through quality learning resources. Our workshops have helped students ranging from sixth grade to twelfth grade get ready for the challenges ahead.  According to Elvia, a key takeaway from implementing these workshops is that participants seek quality of quantity. It seems that providing these tailored opportunities has already had a positive impact on learners.  As we continue to refine these and other learning resources, our strategies will continue focusing on helping ensure we are providing the support needed to help learners to accomplish their goals. 

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