Its been just over a year since the world began shutting down. Around March 2020, Classroom learning was suspended, parents became teachers overnight and the screen (laptop, phone, tablet) became the mode of communication and delivery. Teachers became IT professionals, while “the cloud” (just like Apple & Amazon) had more than one meaning. Teams and Zoom effectively became bywords for communication tools.

As the pandemic developed, first came the panic as cities hollowed out (for the lucky few), followed by determination that we will defeat this, accompanied by the positive spin that our new lives were better, more calmer and family time was precious.

12 months on and reality is sinking in, if not sunk in. Parents can never replace teachers (the sigh of relief, jumps of joy, etc, in the UK on Monday as schools reopened was telling!), and zoom can never replace schools and classroom. However, many are also realising that technology does have an important role to play, and education is a collaborative approach between teacher, parents and the community. Many kids appreciate their teachers and parents more and are perhaps even more grateful for their friends. If having exams caused anxiety for children, the cancellation of exams in the UK seemed to have caused even more anxiety and panic for both parents and children.

All of this seems to suggest that while change is required, the approach needs to be considered, calculated and outcome driven. Companies of all shapes and sizes have rushed out solutions (some brand new, some modified), without as much as a second thought around outcomes and the long term implications. EdTech has become the new arena for commercialisation, but with a significant part of the world still trying to work out what Ed(ucation) it needs, incorporating Tech(nology) into the equation is not the do all, solve all solutions.

Digital skills are important, but it is even more important to develop broader skillset – interpersonal skills, non-digital communication skills, teamwork among others – and create an environment outside the screen. Culture, Dance, Music, Sport is just as, if not more important for our mental and physical wellbeing.

The mental effects are only just beginning to show, with phenomena like “Zoomed out”, “Teams Fatigue” are now a regular occurrence. Children who are introverted, or from areas with poor connectivity, or simply resource poor (not everyone has the latest device), often struggle to engage and beginning to suffer from low morale and self-worth.

Therefore, schools are now even more important, and it is critical that resources need to be focused on the right areas to improve the schools and the education system as a whole for the future, making it more resilient, more adaptable and more accessible.

As the past 12 months how shown us, technology can help fill the gaps, but it can never replace our need for social human interaction and 12 months on, it is clear that the schools of the future will need to have an element of blended learning to make it inclusive, accessible and resilient to whatever the future may hold.

How to use the lockdown to boost your grades

Over the past few months there has been an exceptional amount focus on education technology and home learning, and while that is a good thing for the long term, the reality for many students in the UK and possibly around the world is that their academic success will be measured by grades achieved in exams and assessments. We were kindly provided access to this amazing webinar by the amazing folks at Cat8, a voluntary organisation setup to provide support during these Covid times, with useful information, thoughts and resources shared in a number of subjects including health, education and finance. To see more of these webinars, you can visit their Youtube Channel

As many students in the UK find out their grades in this fortnight, there are undoubtedly going to be a lot of challenges as many students may find themselves receiving lower grades than expected and therefore will no doubt request to sit exams in the autumn. Globally, similar scenes are playing out as exams are postponed and/or cancelled for the year. Therefore, we felt that this very interesting webinar by Cat8 could be very useful for anxious parents and students who intend to sit for exams in the coming months, who can use this holiday/lockdown time to improve their grades.

 

Learning for the New Normal Skills for the Digital World

Would you trust a surgeon who has never worked with another human being, only practiced on artificial and mechanical bodies, and never treated another human, but has an encyclopaedic theoretical knowledge (acquired digitally through a distance learning course no less) to operate on your heart, or your eyes, in the full knowledge that any incorrect decision would kill you or render you blind?

Classrooms, schools and universities are here to stay, as the most critical skills, knowledge and experience cannot be passed on and taught digitally (atleast not yet).

However, the shift to digital technology and resources is here to stay as well. Therefore, it is critical, that the future of learning is designed, ameliorated and amended with this in mind.

Parents who believed that devices were not good for their kids, and blamed their offspring’s addiction to the screen for their lack of social interest in the real world, are suddenly faced with a reality of having to encourage and teach their young ones using the very same technology.

Therefore, it is morally and critically important that we all share, learn and absorb skills for the digital and technology driven world.

Digital skills are mentioned often and are a focus of many a platform, but before Digital Skills we all need to learn Skills for the Digital world.

From the experience of the last 4 months, and having previously been a teacher my 5 top skills to master are:

  1. Security: This is not just the Pin number you enter to unlock your phone, but understanding:
    1. Where your Data and Personal Information resides – Where is your Digital home?
    2. Who has access to all the information: Yes someone knows what websites you visited and what documents you have saved – the question is WHO?
    3. Who controls your data: Your data is not your data. When you accept “cookies” or “accept Terms & condition”, many times you are willingly giving your data away. Sometimes it is for the free use of a platform, and sometimes it is just for the pleasure of watching something or reading something online.
  2. Connectivity: The assumption that the “internet” is always available is dangerous. Knowing the limitations of connectivity is critical, and ensuring you have your most critical information securely stored “offline” on your device or on a separate easily accessible Hard Drive is important
  3. Data Storage: Linked to connectivity, many people have become dependent on online storage, with many companies offering free online storage for its “CUSTOMERS”. This ties the customer or the learner into their ecosystem. If you stop being customers, the ecosystem is no longer accessible to you. Recognising the limits and knowing how to “untie” yourself from the ecosystem means you have choice of systems.
  4. Systems: With the fast evolving world, it is critical for the learner to have knowledge and skills not just for a particular system like Apple, Android (Google), Microsoft, or Linux but be familiar with as many as possible. Different industries and companies work on different systems and software and ensuring you have the right technology foundation is important.
  5. Understand the Technology: An “old school” trick, understanding the basics of how an ecosystem works means that you will be able to seamlessly shift from different operating systems and different devices as newer companies come to the fore and older ones disappear. Erm, so how do I use this Gateway computer with MS-DOS? (anyone remember this!)

Once you understand the basic Skills for the Digital World, you are now ready to pick up some Digital Skills!

In my next blog, I shall talk about my top 5 Digital Skills for the new normal. Until then, go out, breathe the fresh air and switch off your screen!

Virtual Schooling

It’s only been a week since my last blog and the BBC have reported that children in 10,000 homes in the UK will be provided with vouchers for internet, highlighting the disparity and inequality of technology access for learners.

Another article pointed to lack of engagement amongst students, due to a number of reasons including lack of technology and study space. Learners from poorer backgrounds were less engaged than those from wealthier backgrounds according to the referenced NFER study.

With reality setting in, these limitations and inequalities are becoming prominent, and with limited signs of any vaccine against the virus, the focus must shift to implementing sustainable solutions for the new normal. On a positive note, we are beginning to see education departments in governments starting to ask questions around sustainable and easy to implement solutions with more focus on the solution rather than the product.

What is becoming clearer by the day is that the world is not yet ready for a digital only solution, while the current situation cannot accommodate the old mode of classroom only learning. Therefore, an innovative integrated blended solution is critical for the new normal. Having spoken to education departments across a dozen countries, I am seeing trends for the following solutions or combination of solutions as a priority:

  1. Scalable, Flexible and Secure Learning System that;
    1. Engages the learner and is Easy to use for teacher
    2. Has been deployed and delivered outcomes at a national level
    3. Can be used in the classroom to ameliorate onsite teaching as well as for home learning
  2. Connectivity Solution: In partnership with telecom providers and NGOs, a unique model is developing to provide subsidised or free access to government approved learning apps. In return, the providers are able to use school grounds to put up secure satellite hubs and local WiFi hotspots, bringing benefits of internet access to the wider community.
  3. Digitalising Assessments: With paper handling being linked to virus transmission, governments are seeking solutions to digitalise exams and assessments, as well as deploy devices (personal and government owned) in the classroom. If implemented, this would amount to a significant overhaul of decades old testing system, as well as environmental and financial benefits of saving paper.
  4. Administration tools: In the Western world, a large part of school administration, identity management and reporting is already digital. This is now being sourced and implemented in the developing world, to help manage and monitor onsite and offsite learning outcomes and engagement.

Alongside this, various governments are beginning to look at content and curricula. However, given the complexity and political nature of this area, the focus for most civil servants has been to simply digitalise their existing resources and make it available through their learning and/or resource management systems.

I am encouraged by the speed and intensity with which governments are engaging, collaborating and communicating with each other and the wider education community.

The shift in focus from crisis management using free software solutions, to a more realistic and sustainable long-term learning solutions is not only a necessity but critical for the future of education. Decisions made now will shape the future of generations to come.

Virtual_Schools

In my last blog, I introduced the concept of Integrated Learning.

Visionary leadership and aspirational teaching can only go so far in pushing the merits of integrating technology into education. Following the initial panic where schools, teachers, students & parents started using anything, everything available to them, after 2 months, reality is now setting in with questions asked around sustainability of these solutions and the future of technology in education.

Limitations of technology and the online only model are becoming more apparent by the day. Understanding these limitations is critical to integrating technology into learning. For the majority of the population education technology is a careful price conscious combination of software, hardware, telecom network & data package. Add to this the unreliable electricity in many rural areas of developing countries (where Per Capita Income is US$ 2000 to US$ 10,000 p.a.), and you have a really limited choice of options, if any. Therefore, the simple choice of Microsoft Teams Vs Zoom Vs Google Meet, doesn’t cut it.

Even in the UK, the government announcement to provide free devices to the underserved just highlights the scale of the problem globally. More than half the world population live in countries with a varying number of infrastructure limitations, and in many cases limited to a smartphone for a device. Delivering virtual schooling for all, while a noble dream, is still just a dream.

Therefore, Integrated Learning can only be successful if you have a program and structure that:

  1. Works online and offline,
  2. Is accessible in a low and high bandwidth environment,
  3. Can be accessed through multiple devices from the basic smartphone to the high-powered computer.
  4. Is based on a credible platform – most governments tend to limit their selection to either Google or Microsoft,
  5. Is easy to use for teachers (technical capabilities vary widely in different regions)
  6. Is available in multiple languages & dialects to reduce barriers to learning
  7. Is secure and affordable

Given the wide variety of challenges and the disparity of IT standards, integrating technology into the core of classroom teaching, is the only way to level and standardise access in the medium term.

Presently, the pandemic has focused learning from home, but with schools already partially reopening and learning likely to remain disrupted for an extended period, a lot of thought and planning needs to be given to sustainable solutions that support both onsite and home learning.

In my next blog, I shall cover the process of creating a sustainable solution for the new normal. Until then, stay safe, keep reading and keep learning!

Virtual Schooling

It’s 2 months since the British economy and schooling system went into shutdown and longer for other countries in Europe and Asia. There has been uncountable number of articles, video, TV documentaries and analysis carried out on this new trend of “home schooling”, “virtual learning” or “digital transformation”. This is all to say that in a matter of months, the education system has transformed from being an onsite, face to face, classroom-based system to one that is carried at home, virtually over the internet.

While it may seem like this right now, to say that education has become virtual overnight is an insult to all those wonderful teachers and transformational leaders who had the vision over the past 10 – 15 years to create a more resilient system that strives to become ever more inclusive, and ever more accommodating for learners of different standards, abilities and interests.

What today looks like virtual learning and virtual schooling is actually one element of an integrated learning program coming to the fore and becoming visible to all (and for the first time to some). The advances in technology infrastructure has definitely helped in some countries, but in other countries despite the lack of good technology infrastructure, the vision, foresight and perseverance of countless number of teachers and education ministers to integrate technology, however basic, is bearing fruit today.

Some governments like the visionary government of Wales in 2010 created a vision for digital wales, creating a world class technology platform called Hwb that for the first time across the four British nations, and worldwide, created a national education system that integrated digital (online) and physical (offline) education delivery. Considered a world leading initiative by many education experts, the main outcome following almost a decade of use, from today’s perspective is that students & teachers across Wales are far more comfortable and at ease using technology to enhance delivery.

Other governments like the ones of Asia Pacific, Africa and Latin America, owing to the limitations of infrastructure have initially embraced digital resources such as Wikipedia, Khan Academy and others. In addition, billions of dollars have been invested or earmarked to upgrade their telecoms infrastructure and to support teachers with an integrated set of digital tools into their onsite delivery of curricula.

So perhaps, instead of calling this the Virtual revolution or digital transformation, it is time to perhaps think of this as an integrated learning system, that works both online and offline.

In my next blog, I shall cover What Integrated Learning could look like for the economies of tomorrow. Until then, stay safe, keep reading and keep learning!

Learning Possibilities is pleased confirm the launch of its first office in Asia, in Singapore, to manage its growing portfolio of opportunities in the region. Over the past 3 years, the young population and government focus on education, has resulted in the region becoming a key part of the Company’s growth strategy. Learning Possibilities will establish an operations centre in the region to provide a launchpad for the business to make a significant social impact and accomplish its goal of bettering the lives of 100 million learners by 2022. The office will serve as the London based group’s regional headquarters for its activities in the Asian and Asia Pacific regions.