Distance learning has brought us closer to our goals | Aga Khan Academies

Distance learning has brought us closer to our goals

04 June 2021

His Highness the Aga Khan once said, “an education must equip students with the tools that enable them to adapt and thrive in a world characterised by change.” The Aga Khan Academies implemented this lesson by introducing a distance learning programme, which would ensure that learning never stopped during the pandemic. This was the reaction of our Senior School principal, Ms. Koel Ray, as she recalls wanting “to keep teaching and learning going.”

Challenges bring growth

No one could have predicted for the year to unfold as it did, but the schools’ staff and management had to be equipped to face any curveball the pandemic threw at them. Ms. Koel is both a member of the staff, teaching History and Theory of Knowledge (TOK) to students pursuing their diplomas, and a member of the Senior Leadership Team. As a teacher, she “focused on individualising the learning experience and focusing more on the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ and not simply the ‘What’ of learning.” She highlighted “humility, transparency and urgency” to be vital qualities of leadership, as Amy C. Edmondson outlined in her, Ted Talk ‘How to Lead in a Crisis’, and also credited “Dr Long’s (Head of Academy) visionary leadership that is all inclusive and non-hierarchical with a relentless focus on the vision and mission (that is to create lifelong, fearless, ethical and internationally-minded leaders and learners who will positively contribute to their communities and the world),” to have influenced her leadership style as a principal.

Achieving the mission and aligning with the vision meant “bridging the gap and ensuring equity of access to the distance learning programme.” This was one of the greatest challenges of online schooling, and the Learning Enrichment department worked towards overcoming it: “the key factors that were taken into consideration was planning that is authentic and learner centered with a focus on equity & accessibility of learning opportunities & engagements.”

A LEAP in the right direction.

Striking a balance between students’ mental health, social and emotional well-being and academic standards was also prioritized. “The Student Welfare Site, Wellness Hub were started by Ms Isabelle. The LEAP integrated leadership and social-emotional learning into a curriculum. Developmentally appropriate and culturally relevant themes are integrated into the scope of the curriculum.

Some of the key themes focus on:

• Bullying, harassment, inclusion, belonging & empathy;
• Diversity, multiculturalism, identity & stereotypes;
• Relationships, teamwork, collaboration & communication;
• Growth mindset, resilience, stress management, staying calm, thoughts & emotions;
• Character traits, values; self-perception & efficacy;
• Study skills, organisation, time-management, goal setting & making choices;
• Social engagement & ethical responsibility;
• Puberty & adolescence;

The Learning Enrichment Programme has also been a strength. This is a team of highly specialist teachers who ensure that students are able to participate fully in their online academic courses. This team especially supports those students who may need additional help with:

• general academic skills
• developing English language skills
• mild to moderate specific learning difficulties
• making a smooth transition to the IB
• boosting language skills for advanced English learners
• Individual care

The advisory system is working well. The Adviser is responsible for monitoring the individual wellbeing of their mentees.”
The Leadership Ethics Awareness Programme (LEAP) has been successful and efficient, with sessions being dedicated to stress management, self-management and organization and emphasis on investing time away from gadgets and regulating screen time. “Pastoral care through our Leadership Ethics Awareness Programme and collaboration and fostering community bonds through our Enrichment Programme” have helped safeguard the social well-being of students. An island of rest was also rewarded on the Friday of every third week to provide some much-needed rest and distance from technology.

One on one

Ms. Koel disconnected from technology with some help from her family sharing, “we have assigned ourselves a reading time when all of us sit together and read. The senior most member of the club is my Mom-in-law 70+.” She (Ms.Koel) has chosen to be optimistic, hopeful and resilient in taking the obstacles of distance learning head-on. Recalling hoping for better times, she would tell her March 2020 self “what Edith Eger says in her book, ‘The Gift’- If we survive today tomorrow will I be free. But now I would add that I want to live with perseverance over adversities and I want to come out of it stronger and changed.”
She concluded by describing 2020 as “a year that made us understand what it means to be human.” “Let us all stand up for human goodness instead of cynism for history has proved time and again that being resilient is universally human”, she continued. Afterall, it is experiences like these that shape our world and the people in it.

Soha Jiwani, DP1