ADVERTORIAL | Education sector must digitally transform to address challenges
The COVID-19 pandemic revised the reopening date of the September school term to early October, as the country continues to battle to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which is in the community transmission phase.
The pandemic has forced many institutions to offer teaching virtually, which has left many children behind, due to the disparity in Internet connectivity and the lack of preparedness in the education sector to the paradigm shift.
However, technology experts see the pandemic as an opportunity for the sector to pivot and be digitally transformed.
Kathryn Chin See, lead research analyst in innovation at MC Systems, said that digital transformation is about creating value in an experience using innovation, which happens at the junction of desirability, feasibility and viability.
“For the education sector to continue successfully the shift to digital, the experience must be as frictionless as possible and sustainable. As with any sort of change, a comprehensive plan that considers all affected parties and the resources needed for success should be crafted to empower the students, teachers, and parents, as well as guide digital content creation, updating policies, and infrastructure upgrades, among other things,” she pointed out.
Ms Chin See noted that online, distance learning is nothing like traditional classrooms. Therefore, a comprehensive training programme is needed to convey the importance and value in the shift to digital.
“The training should prepare teachers for the successful management of online classes, including lesson plan preparation, digital facilitation tools, and remote team activities, to help students understand expectations, greater responsibility and accountability in their assignments; and to equip parents with the tools needed to support their children to make the transition, “ she posited.
Professor Sean Thorpe, head of the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Technology, Jamaica, and immediate past president of the Jamaica Computer Society, stated that the pandemic has forced many educational and training institutions to move quickly to apply digital transformation.
“This is a set of processes, where they can automate several of their manual tasks to now make them available online; and to fully automate some of their semi-digitised processes,” he informed.
“The automation may include, for example, activities from student enrolment and admissions to graduation. Hence, what we see is that COVID-19 is serving as a big enabler to digital transformation in education as a part of several institutions' survival strategy in this pandemic, and even beyond the pandemic,” he informed.
However, he noted that “the digital transformation in education, although a teething pain today, must be embraced”.
“It is absolutely necessary to bring about this radical change, which is urgently needed to reform the global education system. Anecdotally, I would say that COVID-19 has become a source to drive the rapid digital transformation test, which many schools globally must now embrace, as a need for their own medium- to long-term survival,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that the effects of digital transformation in developing countries versus developed ones is separated by the reality of the digital divide; but this, he stated, cannot be an excuse not to find innovative ways to encourage the digital transformation agenda.
Digital transformation requires adjustments in methodology/pedagogy
Henry Osborne, former educator at the Northern Caribbean University, said that the modernisation and digital transformation of the education sector will require adjustments in the areas of methodology/pedagogy, technology and support team.
Expounding on methodology/pedagogy, Mr Osborne pointed out that the way instruction takes place now needs to evolve, to take full advantage of the digital medium.
“Teachers need to become digital natives in order to take full advantage of the tools available. Being just familiar with digital tools is not enough. They must also be comfortable with the use of these tools,” he advised.
As it relates to technology, he stated that the most appropriate tools have to be utilised to meet the objectives of the course. He pointed out that just having a requirement for tablets/laptops does not mean much if the curriculum has not been modified to take full advantage of the tool. Other considerations include network connectivity and the relevance of the applications that should support the lesson.
“Online learning faces many practical issues, such as Internet problems, background sound, and difficulty with focus, at a scale that traditional learning does not. All this could easily impede a student's or teacher’s ability to get the most out of the education experience,” he said.
Mr Osborne noted that schools will need to upgrade their infrastructure to support digital education; in addition, the network should also be robust enough to support the demand.
He advised that depending on the class being taught, the appropriate digital tools will have to be identified and integrated. He also observed that cost may be a prohibitive factor; however, there are many open source options that are more than capable to meet educational needs.
He advised that there should be a competent support team in place, to ensure that the systems work and are available when needed.
Professor Hopeton Dunn, technology analyst and Professor of Media and Communication, University of Botswana, said a pre-requisite for effective national implementation of an integrated system of remote and virtual digital education is a policy commitment by government to ensure that the system is well resourced, sustained and adaptable to varied educational levels, locations and learner needs.
“It is not one system fits all. Teachers will need to interact with parents and students to adapt the system to their needs and to the curricular requirements of the educational authorities,” he said.
“As learners become increasingly reliant on distance and virtually delivery systems at the start of a new school year or academic semester, the watchwords will always be effective training of teachers and learners, adequate broadband access, and availability of computers, tablets and other digital resources,” he added.
Professor Dunn said that public education and awareness of how the education sector are being affected and the changes being implemented are essential to assist parents and families in understanding the educational reform initiatives aimed at preparing learners and the country for a new educational dispensation.
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