Creativity transforms our literacy spaces

10th August 2022

Author: Janet Ho, Lingnan University

Janet Ho photo

Disasters have a serious impact on vulnerable populations lacking proper education access [1]. Case in point: the COVID-19 pandemic – school closures worldwide at the pandemic’s peak disrupted millions of children’s education, resulting in tremendous learning losses. For instance, Unicef [2] has reported that primary school children in Ethiopia have fallen behind in their math education, learning only 30-40% of what they would have had it been a normal school year.

In Brazil, around three in four grade 2 students have been unable to catch up on reading, while one in 10 aged between 10 and 15 said they would drop out after classes resumed. Learning losses have also been observed in other countries such as South Africa [3] and Kenya [4]. This certainly makes for grim reading, considering how crucial a well-rounded education is

To mitigate the pandemic’s impact on students’ face-to-face learning, governments have shifted to remote teaching, introducing various learning resources on TV, radio, and the Internet. Unesco [5] has compiled a list of national learning platforms and tools. For instance, the Ministry of Education in Congo, Ghana, and Madagascar broadcasts educational programmes on TV and radio channels, while the Algerian and Egyptian governments have created online learning platforms, allowing students access to diverse video content.

In Asia, the Ministry of Human Resource Development in India has created an online library with academic content suitable for learners of different ages, encouraging lifelong learning, and Iran’s Ministry of Education has developed a mobile app to build a social network for students, enabling them to learn together in a virtual classroom. Such efforts are praiseworthy, definitely, but remote learning may not be as effective as traditional learning, especially for younger children.

A study [6] involving 3,275 Chinese parents reported that most of them found their children (aged 3–5)’s online learning ineffective because of the short learning time (less than 30 minutes/session) and said they lacked self-regulation. I can relate to that—I had a similar experience when my daughter had to attend online classes due to the pandemic; she lost interest in learning because of the limited interactions with her teachers and peers, and so would spend a long time having breakfast, refusing to sit before the computer. COVID-era parenting certainly needs a strong stomach and out-of-the-box thinking!

Such experiences made us ponder over how we could ensure that students, especially the vulnerable groups, receive adequate learning opportunities when schools are closed, or classes are delivered on TV or radio or online.

In one of my studies [7], I have shared the benefits of bringing creativity to learning, for instance, through games. Teaching through games can motivate English language learners to learn and reduce their anxiety about practising the language [8]. ‘Gamification’ refers to the application of game design elements in non-game settings [9]. It engages the participants and enables them to reach established goals through game mechanisms and dynamics [10]. I have taught young children, teenagers, and young adults in Beijing, Inner Mongolia, and Krakow and I too have observed that learners of different ages enjoy games.

My suggestion for parents of young children is write down a set of words, one each on a piece of paper and have your children see them one by one; then, ask them to list the words they remember – this will strengthen their memorisation skills; you could also imitate the sounds different animals make and ask your children to recognise the animals. Game mechanisms (e.g., rules and valued outcomes, [11]) can be further designed to increase the attractiveness of games. Giving stickers to children always works, trust me!

By comparison, teenagers usually have their favourite singers and are better at learning independently; so, giving them incomplete music lyrics to fill in the blanks while listening to their favourite songs could help, improving their listening skills and vocabulary.

Next in line are young adults – they like challenges. During my teaching stint, narrative development was a topic I covered – students had to form groups of four to five and then draw whatever each of them liked; then, the group as a whole had to weave together a story based on the drawings and present it in class. I know this is not easy to replicate currently as many students still cannot attend face-to-face classes; so, teachers can conduct this activity online using Sketchbook and MyPaint. 

The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted public health, markets, and society and changed students’ learning-scape. However, we must use this adversity to think creatively about how we can help learners to improve their literacy outside the classroom. This will stimulate their creativity and problem-solving skills, creating more opportunities for them in life.



[1] Hemingway, L., & Priestley, M. (2006). Natural hazards, human vulnerability and disabling societies: A disaster for disabled people? Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal 2(3).

[2] [3] COVID:19 Scale of education loss ‘nearly insurmountable’, warns UNICEF. Press release. Unicef. (accessed 30 July 2022).

[4] Ngwacho, A. G. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic impact on Kenyan education sector: Learner challenges and mitigations. Journal of Research Innovation and Implications in Education 4(2), 128–139.

[5] National learning platforms and tools. Unesco. (accessed 30 July 2022).

[6] Dong, C., Cao, S., & Li, H. (2020). Young children’s online learning during COVID-19 pandemic: Chinese parents’ beliefs and attitudes. Children and Youth Services Review 118, 105440.

 [7] Ho, J. (2020). Gamifying the flipped classroom: How to motivate Chinese ESL learners. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 14(5), 421–435.

[8] Hung, H. T. (2018). Gamifying the flipped classroom using game-based learning materials. ELT Journal 72(3), 296–308.

[9] Deterding, S., Sicart, M., Nacke, L., O’Hara, K., & Dixon, D. (2011). ‘Gamification: using game-design elements in non-gaming contexts’. In Proceedings of the 2011 Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2425–2428).

 [10] Lee, J. J., & Hammer, J. (2011). Gamification in education: What, how, why bother?. Academic Exchange Quarterly 15(2), 146–151.

[11] Miller, C. (2013). ‘The gamification of education’. In Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning: Proceedings of the Annual ABSEL conference (Vol. 40), 196–200.

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