Çiğdem Tuncel, Güldarpı Primary and Secondary School, Ankara, Turkey
Çiğdem Tuncel has been working in Güldarpı Primary and Secondary School in Çubuk district in Ankara for two years. She has been an English teacher for 13 years and is also a master mentor trainer on a national Council Continuing Professional Development Programme in Turkey. In the school she works in, most of her students are from low income families and many students do not have an internet connection at home or laptops for online communication.
The challenge and response
Çiğdem’s immediate challenge during this time was the lack of digital literacy which is necessary for distance learning. The Ministry of National Education had acted quickly to switch to distance education during the Covid lockdown, however, most of the teachers were not familiar with digital tools and distant teaching. As Çiğdem says, ‘The school I work in lacks digital capabilities. Learners and teachers had a low-tech environment at my school, so they were used to not having technology’.
She decided to come together with the Professional Learning Community that she had established as part of the Continuing Professional Development Programme jointly offered by the Ministry of National Education and the British Council in Turkey, to think about how to adapt their teaching methods and materials to distance teaching.
The biggest challenge was that most students did not have the opportunity to access digital learning: “All I care about was equality and I wanted to keep all my students in the learning process and wanted them to understand this is not a holiday, teaching is still going on”
To overcome this challenge, Çiğdem created a system based on EBA TV, a formal education platform managed by the Ministry where learners can watch lesson recordings both on TV and via the internet. Since the EBA TV platform is free and open to everyone, the platform became her main teaching tool. Nevertheless, there were still issues in maintaining the students' motivation. “Because of this sudden change, learners were physically away from the school environment, they were relaxed in a negative way and became unmotivated." As a result, she worked with parents to help them create a suitable learning environment for their children, such as putting a desk in front of the TV or providing a quiet place where learners can concentrate on watching their lessons.
Although re-designing the learning environment brought success, EBA TV could not provide direct teacher-student interaction, which is a crucial element of teaching. To tackle that, Çiğdem formed a WhatsApp group with her students to monitor their progress. Through the WhatsApp group, she kept in touch by posting daily reminders of the schedule of EBA TV, checked their activities, homework and teaching activities that she had assigned to her students.
Çiğdem defines her key to success as, “All the English language teachers in my neighborhood took this inequality problem very seriously, so we collaborated in my Professional Learning Community. We regularly held online meetings, exchanged ideas, and shared materials and teaching tools with each other. And, yes... that knowledge and experience sharing was the key to our success, bringing students’ motivation back and dealing with the inequality of opportunity in education.”
“With Covid-19, we just had to adapt, learn, make use of digital tools and re-adjust the way we did distance teaching immediately”.