The digital future of education
The future of education will never be quite the same. While school infrastructures will remain, the path forward is digital. Thanks to COVID-19, over a billion students, or 80% of the world's learners, were kept out of educational institutions in March by countrywide closures, and this number increased in April as more countries stepped up their efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
While technology has been part of classroom teaching for some time now, the need for home education has never been more pressing as teachers and parents try to prevent students from falling behind in their syllabus.
There are a multitude of online learning platforms available to help with home-schooling. The problem in South Africa – and other developing countries – is that too few people have access to the devices they need to enable e-learning. According to a recent UNESCO report, 43% of young people across the globe have no access to Internet at home. These students face the prospect of wasting a year, be it in school or university.
There are companies stepping in and trying to fill the gap in South Africa. According to Magatho Mello, GM: Public Sector Sales, MTN Business, telecoms companies are doing what they can to support as many educational institutions as possible, including learner management systems providers.
“Telecoms providers need to be enablers, working with clients in the education space to provide the technology they need, ranging from simple connectivity to a full e-learning solution.
“Educational initiatives are not merely the result of the coronavirus outbreak. Investment into an e-learning system started a few years ago,” explains Mello. “Today, this ecosystem consists of a white-labelled e-learning platform as well as connectivity solutions, the most recent of which is the zero rating by providers of certain educational Web sites and applications.”
The platform is customisable to allow lecturers to create and post their own content, access to digital libraries for students, as well as built-in security. Available as a service, the platform enables educational institutions of all types to offer e-learning options to registered students.
Mello points out that an e-learning platform both helps solve the immediate challenges brought on by the lockdown, and offers educational institutions a way to broaden their reach and overcome infrastructure limitations.
“Universities, for example, have challenges around admission numbers, because these are limited by the volume of learners the infrastructure can accommodate,” says Mello. “An e-learning platform will allow them to accommodate far more people by offering courses and lectures remotely.
“Similarly, much has been written about universities’ challenges around pass rates for first-year students. By taking online courses, students can pace themselves, and by the time they set foot on campus, they have a much higher level of readiness – and much better results.”
He adds that the solution can be tailored according to specific needs and requirements. For example, schools will need far more security measures in place compared to universities, which require that students access a much wider range of media.
“When it comes to schools, the primary concern must be to protect the learner. This means that the content and the device must be fully secured to ensure that learners cannot exit the periphery that has been defined for their safety,” explains Mello.
“Device management has to be part of the solution, as well as enforcement of security policies. This secure approach also allows creating an environment where learners are able to have digital school and health records, making it easier to transfer records from one school to another.
“Even when lockdown is lifted, the game has changed, and, going forward, we will see far more online educational activities augmenting physical ones. An e-learning platform will become essential and it will create a unique environment for different interactions between study groups, lecturers and within the classes themselves,” concludes Mello.