2020 witnessed educational institutions shutting down across the world. According to estimates by UNESCO, over 60% of the world’s student population was kept out of classrooms during the lockdown imposed by different countries. Governments and organizations were compelled to adapt and improvise at breakneck speed to ensure continuity in healthcare, education, and businesses of all sizes. For education, while the traditional modus operandi of knowledge dissemination was interrupted, the widely held belief that learning is limited to a classroom also was shattered.
Embracing the New Digital Classroom
For many, the learning didn’t stop. Accelerated adoption of digital tools helped sustain the engagement between students and teachers in a simulated classroom-like experience. While there were problems, and many of us with children became de facto IT support, the role of technology in the education ecosystem has never been clearer.
But while on the one hand we saw technology enabling remote and innovative learning, on the other we also saw fault lines emerge by way of inequitable access to quality education in various countries and regions. These challenges were not limited to low- or medium-income countries. Limited access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) hardware, connectivity, and/or electricity pushed many students into forced sabbatical from education. Teachers braced up for the challenge, but many struggled with embracing the new digital classroom. The rift between relevance of existing curriculum and preparing a student for the Future of Work became amply clear.
We, at Dell Technologies, have been passionate advocates for education as a central pillar to empower and transform lives. From creating solar-powered classrooms in Africa and Latin America to supporting digital literacy among students in India, positively impacting education has been important to us – our Public Policy advocacy reflects this as well. To help create a collaborative understanding of challenges nations face and the role a diverse stakeholder ecosystem can play in addressing these, we conceived Dell Technologies PolicyHack.
Investing in Digital Education Training
In promoting inclusivity and accessibility of quality STEM education, we grasped that a key gap in embracing digital learning has been the absence of systemic investments into training and development of teachers. We believe that technology will not replace teachers but will help them create a transformational learning environment.
To better understand challenges faced by teachers, we launched Dell Technologies PolicyHack for Teachers in India in 2019. Over 700 teachers hacked how they can adapt in a rapidly transformative digital world, and what support they need from policy makers, think tanks, industry, NGOs, and experts. We partnered with the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development to conduct these sessions across four cities in India.
The “Empowering Teachers in the Digital Education Ecosystem” whitepaper carries insights from these PolicyHacks, which are relevant not just in the Indian context but also for other comparable regions. Indeed, the insights developed in India are more salient in a post COVID-19 world than they were the year before.
- With the pace of change in technological interventions, training teachers needs to be a priority agenda item for governments and schools. For teachers to be effective in leveraging technology in a classroom, trainings have to continue and not be a one-time intervention. Pre-service trainings must be supplemented with annual refreshers and should be reflected in annual appraisals.
- Technology is an enabler, and not a replacement for teachers. The capacity building measures should focus on prepping teachers to become better facilitators and drive socio-emotional learning and critical thinking.
- Access to education is a sum of many factors, namely device, connectivity, electricity, gender, special learning needs, among others. Education has be inclusive, and the governments need to step in to create an equalized learning opportunity roadmap. Availability of locally relevant vernacular content is a key to strengthen early childhood education.
- Peer connection among teachers can help create resonance and sense of belonging. Teachers and school administrators should be paired with other accomplished teachers and schools in a mentor-mentee framework that fosters sharing of global and local best practices.
As we reimagine this new world, we have an opportunity to redefine the way we learn and educate. These findings bring light to what may lie ahead for teacher capacity building and how policymakers, educators and citizens can influence the way we educate.