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Rafael Pontuschka

Education Researcher (Innovations)

Rafael joined the UNICEF - Innocenti Research Office in November 2020. He focuses primarily on supporting its research work on COVID and Education with the aim of providing relevant political evidence that is useful to governments during the closing and reopening of schools and beyond, with emphasis on the most vulnerable children. Prior to this current position, he worked at UNICEF Mozambique as the research coordinator consultant for the Longitudinal Assessment of School Dropout in Mozambique. Before UNICEF, he also worked in Mozambique for the London School of Economics with the implementation and impact evaluation of a national program to reduce waiting time in health centers in Mozambique, in partnership with the country's Ministry of Health. He also worked at the Brazilian Ministry of Social Development as the General Evaluation Coordinator, coordinating the team responsible for the analysis and evaluation of the public social policies of the ministry, for example, to evaluate a large-scale government program for early childhood development in Brazil. Rafael has an M.S. in Applied Economics from the University of São Paulo, and a B.A. in Economics from the University of Campinas.

Publications

Reopening with Resilience: Lessons from remote learning during COVID-19 – Eastern and Southern Africa
Publication

Reopening with Resilience: Lessons from remote learning during COVID-19 – Eastern and Southern Africa

The widespread school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the learning crisis for children living in Eastern and Southern Africa. The crisis has also shown the great need to develop resilient education systems that can provide learning when schools are forced to close. Understanding how to provide remote learning equitably utilizing multiple modalities and emphasizing low-tech solutions in Eastern and Southern Africa is critical given the great challenges facing the region in terms of electricity and connectivity access. This report provides a summary of lessons learned in the East and Southern Africa region from remote learning during COVID-19 and provides concrete recommendations on how to increase the resilience of education systems.
 What's next? Lessons on education recovery: Findings from a survey of Ministries of Education amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Publication

What's next? Lessons on education recovery: Findings from a survey of Ministries of Education amid the COVID-19 pandemic

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have collaborated in the third round of the Survey on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures, administered by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and OECD to Ministry of Education officials. The questions covered four levels of education: preprimary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary. While the first two rounds of the survey were implemented during the periods May–June and July–October 2020, respectively, the third round was implemented during the period February–June 2021. In total, 143 countries responded to the questionnaire. Thirty-one countries submitted responses to the OECD (“OECD survey”) and 112 countries responded to the UIS (“UIS survey”). Seven countries responded to both surveys. In these instances, the more complete set responses were used in analysis.

Articles

Girls from Santo Antônio II school in the Autonomous Region of Príncipe experimenting with the use of laptops.
Blog

Listening to Children and Young People to Transform Education Through Digital Learning in São Tomé and Príncipe

Blogs

Students studying in a school in Roça Diogo Vaz, São Tomé and Príncipe
Blog

Reimagining education through digital learning in São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe, an island country off the west coast of Africa, is facing a learning crisis.Already before the pandemic, two out of three students at the end of grade 2 were unable to read. With support from UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education has stepped up to the task: The small nation is now becoming a trailblazer for digital learning. Thanks to large investments from the World Bank, the Millennium Foundation, the Akelius foundation and the Learning Passport fund, access to digital learning technologies and platforms is being expanded. The Millennium Foundation and jp.ik have already provided enough laptops to reach every child and adolescent in the Autonomous Region of Príncipe.   A student in the Autonomous Region of Príncipe working on a learning laptop. Understanding that technology by itself does not ensure learning outcomes, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and UNICEF have teamed up to develop a systems approach to digital learning. This approach includes improving electricity and connectivity, training and upskilling teachers, developing digital learning solutions and content, maintaining and managing devices – and lastly, engaging young people, communities and educators around the topic.  The nation’s ambitious project and learnings from its implementation could benefit not only the country, but children everywhere. Generating evidence, especially for offline digital learning is crucial in a country where 70 per cent of the population does not use the internet and 25 per cent do not have access to electricity.   That is why the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, UNICEF São Tomé and Príncipe, the University of São Tomé and Príncipe, and UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti are working together to embed mixed-methods research into the deployment of the enhanced digital learning system. Using human-centered design, the team aims to learn from students and teachers about how to improve the learning experience, to then share the findings among users, partners, developers and colleagues facing similar challenges across the globe. The research will answer the following questions: Which skills and support do teachers need in order to use technology effectively in their teaching practices?  What are the best ways for teachers to manage technology in the classroom with their students? How can digital learning solutions like the Learning Passport and the Akelius digital course be used to improve learning?   Young students in São Tomé, São Tomé and Príncipe on their way back from school. The journey to reimagine education in São Tomé and Príncipe has just begun. Follow along the progress of this research as we test, iterate, learn and document a path to deliver digital learning at scale in West and Central Africa. When implemented well, digital learning has the power to transform education systems worldwide, mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on learning and improve learning outcomes for all children. Helena Botelho, PhD, is the Director of Basic Education at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in São Tomé and Príncipe. Mirabel Costa Ribeiro is the Chief of Education at UNICEF São Tomé and Príncipe. Rafael Pontuschka is an Education Researcher at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. Nujoma Quaresma is the Coordinator of the Technology Studies in the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of São Tomé and Príncipe. 
Reimagining Digital Learning: Lessons from the Learning Passport in Timor-Leste
Blog

Reimagining Digital Learning: Lessons from the Learning Passport in Timor-Leste

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools worldwide governments rapidly worked to deploy remote learning to continue education. 9 in 10 countries around the world used online learning platforms to support children’s learning in 2020. However, understanding of how students, especially those from marginalized households in remote areas, can access, use, and learn from digital platforms is limited. As schools reopen, digital learning is here to stay, both as a tool to support teaching and learning in the classroom and outside of it. Thus, it is imperative that we continue to learn more about what makes digital platforms work to improve learning and how they can be delivered to effectively support children and teachers, especially in vulnerable situations.Throughout 2020, the Learning Passport programme expanded in 8 countries as a remote learning response to COVID-19 school closures. Timor-Leste was the first country to implement Learning Passport in their digital learning platform called ‘Eskola Ba Uma’ (or ‘School Goes Home’). Now, as schools reopen in Timor-Leste, the Ministry of Education aims to build on the digital learning expertise built during school closures to support teachers and students within classrooms. To achieve this, UNICEF is working with the Ministry to develop the use of Eskola Ba Uma for blended teaching and learning in classrooms. As a first step, user experience testing and focus group discussions were held with teachers and students from grades 2,3,7, and 9 in four schools to understand the needs, perceptions, and constraints they face using digital learning. This rapid exercise allowed the Ministry and UNICEF to learn directly from users, informing upcoming teacher training and the wider implementation of the Eskola Ba Uma programme in schools.Children from Caitehu School learning with the ”‘Eskola ba Uma” app. This blog outlines three key findings from these user experience tests:Teachers are very excited about digital learning and supporting students to learn digital skills. All teachers agreed that digital instruction is an important way to impart digital skills to students. They felt that using digital learning tools allows students to learn from anywhere, especially during emergencies. They found that it makes learning fun (for example using YouTube videos) and gives students more opportunities to practice with interactive content. Teachers also said that they are keen to expand their own technological and pedagogical skills. However, they expressed concerns regarding a lack of access to electricity and connectivity when using the app both at school and at home.Benefits listed by teachers for students:Training and continuous support are key to enable digital learning. While all teachers in the focus groups had access to and could use mobile phones, less than half are comfortable using other devices, such as computers or tablets. Most students use smartphones owned by family members but primarily for watching videos and playing games. They still use books and other printed materials for learning at home. Many students rely on older siblings for support while using digital devices, highlighting the importance of assistance to feel comfortable when faced with challenges. Almost all teachers perceived the app to be helpful for teaching but expressed the need for training on how to use it. A few teachers and students from rural areas also felt less comfortable using the platform because they “do not know much about it”. Given the lack of previous experience with digital learning, regular training and support can make teachers feel more comfortable and improve the use of devices and the learning platform for classroom teaching. Students learn to navigate the app quickly and are intrigued by its features. After using the app for the first time, students were happy and enjoyed the opportunity to engage and learn through digital content. Students found the short training and induction on the use and navigation of the app very helpful.“This app is easy and I can use it alone, but if there are some difficulties, then we don’t know. If you Mister didn’t walk us through it, then we wouldn’t know where to press. But now we know that already. If in the future we use tablets to access this app, we will still remember. We can teach the other kids about this app.”  - A 7th-grade girl from AileuAlmost all older students were able to navigate between different sections on the app and search for relevant content. Many students mentioned they like the potential of using the app at their own pace, using it by themselves, listening to audiobooks, and watching videos. More to come. In Timor-Leste, research with teachers and students will continue as teacher training is scaled and the implementation of the Learning Passport in classrooms begins. This is part of a global initiative to build rapid action research into the deployment of the Learning Passport to learn and improve the programme as it scales across contexts. This programme, research and blog was made possible with support from GPE. This is part of a global initiative to build rapid action research into the deployment of the Learning Passport to learn and improve the programme as it scales across contexts.