Thanks to the investment made in advanced ICT infrastructure in some parts of the region, technology has provided a lifeline to help keep students learning in the past two years, and this has brought many benefits. It also raises the question: How do you find the right balance of digital and in-classroom learning to ensure education is effective and sustainable moving forward?
This new shared experience of edtech (education technology) has generated some interesting feedback from the education community, and from parents who have undergone the shared challenges in terms of their children’s education. Parents typically believe that technology needs to be used to a certain extent in learning, but not too much – perhaps meaning not an over-reliance on technology.
Balance is something that has to be considered when discussing the evolution of e-learning, because (to use a technology industry expression) children are the end-users. So, while it’s true to say that video tools enabled remote learning and continuity of education during the recent crisis, it’s critical to get children back into classrooms and interacting with their peers and teachers.
According to Microsoft, one in five students in the Middle East & Africa region did not have access to the internet or a device to support them during lockdowns.
Pros and cons of remote learning
When online schooling became mandatory practice, education establishments and parents had no alternative but to adapt quickly and make the best of a difficult situation. Technology enabled online learning, much as it did for remote working. It’s something that simply wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago, as the technologies and tools just did not exist then to make large-scale online learning a reality.
However, after several months of home-schooling and online learning, some parents began to find their patience tested, reporting that
children were becoming more distant, with the lack of social interaction with friends and other students in class becoming a major issue.
Peer-to-peer interaction has positive effects and can help pupils be more stimulated and engaged in classes, and it can help them establish emotional bonds with teachers and other children. Without these interactions, some students began to feel isolated.
Hybrid work, hybrid learning?
There are commonalities between remote working and remote learning, and the impacts of both practices on adults and children are similar. So perhaps one of the ways forward those enterprises have embraced could also apply to education, too: a hybrid model.
Recent times have seen many children engage in hybrid learning models without even knowing the term. Hybrid classes can be a mix of online exercises, pre-recorded videos, and other educational materials that support in-person classes.
When done with the right balance and tools, this approach offers the combination of the best aspects of in-person and online learning and gives students and parents the choice of what learning format suits them best at different times. Hybrid learning might fit very well but is indeed a challenge as it will not always be the perfect solution for some children.
Many of the same technologies apply in hybrid education as in hybrid working. Cloud-based infrastructure and use of managed mobile and video communication and collaboration systems can help education establishments keep students connected, engaged and participating.
According to Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education, “Hybrid learning is here to stay. The challenge will be the art of combining technology and the human factor to make hybrid learning a tool to expand access to quality education for all.”
Indeed, the hybrid model appears as a positive way forward, but education establishments will need the expertise and experience of technology providers to help guide them along that journey and to strike the right balance.
Sahem Azzam is Vice President for the Middle East, Africa & Turkey, at Orange Business Services.