The Im­por­tance of a Bot­tom-up Ap­proach

Arabnet - The Quarterly - - Business -

In the tran­si­tion to dig­i­ti­za­tion, pri­vately owned schools have an im­por­tant role to play since they have suf­fi­cient re­sources to de­sign their own cur­ricu­lum, and more con­trol over its up­dat­ing. This gives them an edge in the dig­i­ti­za­tion race and guar­an­tees bet­ter im­ple­men­ta­tion and re­sults – if done right. In pub­lic education, gov­ern­ments have also started dig­i­ti­za­tion ini­tia­tives. In Le­banon, for ex­am­ple, the Min­istry of Education had pro­vided 15,000 low-cost tablets to stu­dents in pub­lic schools in 2012. More re­cently, in July 2015, the US govern­ment also an­nounced it would sup­port Le­banese pub­lic schools to in­cor­po­rate tech­nol­ogy into the teach­ing and learn­ing pro­cesses un­der the D-RASATI 2 pro­ject. The first steps in this ini­tia­tive have in­cluded the pur­chase and dis­tri­bu­tion of lap­tops, tablets, and mo­bile carts. An­other ini­tia­tive, the CoderMaker pro­gram, is seek­ing to equip pub­lic schools with pro­gram­ming tools to en­cour­age in­no­va­tion (see page 37). “Stu­dents’ learn­ing is the most im­por­tant el­e­ment of dig­i­ti­za­tion. How­ever, it needs to be part of a com­pre­hen­sive plan that en­sures an over­all im­pact on their per­for­mance,” said Bakhos. “Top-down strate­gies sim­ply aren’t sus­tain­able in education,” said Red­head, ex­plain­ing that the prob­lem with th­ese so­lu­tions is that they are in­stantly scaled and non- ne­go­tiable. More­over, there is no real global con­sen­sus in the aca­demic field when it comes to best prac­tices. Dif­fer­ent ped­a­gogic ap­proaches and teach­ing styles – even on the level of in­di­vid­ual teach­ers – ac­count for a dif­fer­ent dy­namic in the dig­i­tal evo­lu­tion of schools than in other in­dus­tries. “We are al­ready see­ing el­e­ments of the GEMS Dig­i­tal Strat­egy, writ­ten pri­mar­ily for our UAE schools, be­ing adopted by our global net­work,” said Red­head, il­lus­trat­ing the or­ganic bot­tom-up path that dig­i­ti­za­tion is tak­ing within the in­sti­tu­tion.

Coin­ci­den­tally, GEMS cur­rently has a 5-year Dig­i­tal Strat­egy in place, which he said is closely aligned to the aims of the UAE’S Vi­sion 2021 and the new Na­tional In­spec­tion Frame­work. This does not con­tra­dict the bot­tom-up ap­proach; in fact, the Smart Dubai roadmap is largely de­pen­dent on pri­vate sec­tor ini­tia­tives, as the main play­ers in the smart govern­ment strat­egy reaf­firmed last May at the Arab­net Dig­i­tal Sum­mit. Strate­gies to Achieve a Suc­cess­ful Trans­for­ma­tion Dig­i­ti­za­tion car­ries with it many ben­e­fits for schools. In ad­di­tion to en­hanc­ing their rep­u­ta­tion as cen­ters for in­no­va­tion and ex­cel­lence, it can be a great as­set when it comes to scal­a­bil­ity and stan­dard­iza­tion. Bakhos ex­plained that it was tech­nol­ogy that en­abled SABIS to man­age and mon­i­tor the per­for­mance of over 60

schools in 17 coun­tries.

The dig­i­ti­za­tion of education in­volves the trans­for­ma­tion of an en­tire in­dus­try and pro­fes­sion on a global scale. The dis­rup­tive im­pact of tech­nol­ogy in this sec­tor is felt in very much the same way as in bank­ing, me­dia, and other in­dus­tries. This can be chal­leng­ing, es­pe­cially in “legacy” in­sti­tu­tions – both pri­vate and pub­lic. “There is no ed­u­ca­tional ‘ATM’ as we saw in the retail bank­ing in­dus­try,” said Red­head.

Here are a few learn­ings from SABIS and GEMS for schools to keep in mind on their path to dig­i­ti­za­tion:

1. Make sure all stake­hold­ers are aligned: In education, as in other sec­tors, the key to suc­cess lies in en­sur­ing that any ini­tia­tive is part of a com­pre­hen­sive plan, and that all users (stu­dents, teach­ers, par­ents, school staff) are aligned with the ob­jec­tives and prop­erly trained to adapt to the new dig­i­tized en­vi­ron­ment. “The mind­set of all stake­hold­ers must be dig­i­tal if a school is said to have be­come dig­i­tally nor­mal. This is re­ally about at­ti­tudes to learn­ing, cul­ture and the ac­cep­tance by all staff, stu­dents and par­ents that the change is nec­es­sary, wel­come and ben­e­fi­cial to chil­dren’s life chances,” said Red­head. The GEMS Dig­i­tal Strat­egy team’s role is to sup­port the group’s schools on their jour­neys to dig­i­tal nor­mal­iza­tion. This task is made eas­ier thanks to the pres­ence of the flex­i­ble and cus­tom­iz­a­ble GEMS On­line Learn­ing Ecosys­tem, as well as a re­li­able in­fra­struc­ture, pro­fes­sional learn­ing pro­grams and net­works for school lead­ers and ed­u­ca­tors, and a com­pre­hen­sive pro­gram of par­ent education and en­gage­ment, among other fac­tors.

2. Fo­cus on the prize of learn­ing: “Of course, we need co­he­sion and di­rec­tion, and it is in­cum­bent on school prin­ci­pals to cre­ate, com­mu­ni­cate and con­sis­tently model an in­clu­sive, shared vi­sion for their school com­mu­ni­ties, al­ways start­ing with the de­sired learn­ing out­comes,” said Red­head. For­tu­nately, he said par­ents are now ac­tu­ally shift­ing to a “Fear Of Miss­ing Out” (FOMO) mind­set and ac­cept­ing that dig­i­ti­za­tion is nec­es­sary to pro­vide stu­dents with the knowl­edge and skills they will need

for their fu­ture life in the dig­i­tal world. “Meet­ing all stake­hold­ers at the level of what they re­ally care about is crit­i­cal and the more we fo­cus on learn­ing, the less re­sis­tance we see when dig­i­tal so­lu­tions are floated,” he said. He cited the ex­am­ple of the Com­mon Sense Me­dia’s K-12 Dig­i­tal Cit­i­zen­ship cur­ricu­lum im­ple­mented in GEMS schools, which has en­gaged whole fam­i­lies and con­trib­uted to re­in­forc­ing the mes­sage that dig­i­ti­za­tion im­proves learn­ing.

3. Fu­ture-proof your in­sti­tu­tion: As al­ways, when tech­nol­ogy is in­volved, adopters have to con­tend with the short life­time of soft­ware and devices. New tech­nolo­gies run the risk of be­com­ing ob­so­lete very quickly, which could drain a school’s fi­nan­cial re­sources with­out proper plan­ning. “Fu­ture-proof­ing” an in­sti­tu­tion against this re­quires rapid adapt­abil­ity to new tech­nolo­gies and new en­vi­ron­ment. In SABIS’S case, the school dig­i­tized its cur­ricu­lum and ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­cesses in-house, which made it eas­ier to man­age and up­date. “It should be stressed that dig­i­tal nor­mal­iza­tion is not about do­ing ev­ery­thing dig­i­tally,” said Red­head, “We are now see­ing a far more prag­matic vi­sion of ef­fec­tive tech­nol­ogy in­te­gra­tion, fo­cused on sit­u­a­tional fit­ness-for-pur­pose in terms of learn­ing out­comes.” GEMS schools also launched Bring Your Own Tech­nol­ogy (BYOT) schemes as part of its strat­egy to fu­ture-proof stu­dents’ ac­cess to learn­ing. “Con­sumers are far more ag­ile in adapt­ing to chang­ing trends than large or­ga­ni­za­tions, where pro­cure­ment cy­cles can see tech­nol­ogy ren­dered ob­so­lete be­fore it has been em­bed­ded,” said Red­head.

4. Make smart in­vest­ments: The size of in­vest­ment de­pends on the scope of each pro­ject or phase. “The best ap­proach is to iden­tify the over­all dig­i­ti­za­tion scope and then de­fine smaller projects to im­ple­ment with their re­spec­tive im­pact, bud­get and key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors,” said Bakhos. Be­fore adopt­ing any new tech­nol­ogy, the flex­i­bil­ity and adapt­abil­ity of the pro­posed so­lu­tion should be care­fully eval­u­ated to jus­tify the cost. For ex­am­ple, Red­head men­tioned they adopted the My Learn­ing cloud-based vis­ual learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment ( VLE) and es­tab­lished a part­ner­ship with the provider: “This is very much a ‘pin­cush­ion’ so­lu­tion, rather than the tra­di­tional ‘ bub­ble’ VLE and we are con­stantly adapt­ing the sys­tem to meet the chang­ing needs of our schools.”

Red­head stressed that it is vi­tal not to cut cor­ners on im­ple­men­ta­tion costs. BYOT schemes have been grow­ing or­gan­i­cally in GEMS schools but are not meant as a cost-cut­ting tac­tic. Lever­ag­ing th­ese ex­ist­ing re­sources makes sense both ped­a­gog­i­cally and fi­nan­cially, he said: “There are sound, ed­u­ca­tional rea­sons for stu­dents own­ing and man­ag­ing their own devices and hav­ing th­ese avail­able in and out of school.” pres­sure that is re­flected in ris­ing tu­ition fees (which could even­tu­ally re­duce the num­ber of en­rolled stu­dents and the school’s mar­ket and in­come). In ad­di­tion to re­ly­ing on per­ma­nent on-site IT en­gi­neers and the sup­port of a cen­tral IT func­tion, the GEMS net­work found it fi­nan­cially and lo­gis­ti­cally vi­able to build strong part­ner­ships with trusted part­ners such as Mi­crosoft, Lego (At­lab), and the My Learn­ing UK team, among oth­ers. “The key fac­tor is al­ways the po­ten­tial ben­e­fit for our stu­dents. One of the rea­sons we se­lected My Learn­ing UK as the spine of our On­line Learn­ing Ecosys­tem was that they were rel­a­tively small and could pro­vide a level of cus­tomer re­spon­sive­ness, be­spoke de­vel­op­ment and adapt­abil­ity that was sim­ply un­avail­able with the larger, more es­tab­lished com­pa­nies in the field,” ex­plained Red­head.

This is where ed­u­ca­tional star­tups from the MENA can play a more ef­fec­tive role. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Arab­net Busi­ness In­tel­li­gence, education has among the high­est op­por­tu­ni­ties for app de­vel­op­ers in the re­gion. A num­ber of star­tups al­ready pro­pose ed­u­ca­tional prod­ucts, but those are mostly de­signed for home use or ex­tracur­ric­u­lar learn­ing. But some of th­ese star­tups are start­ing to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of part­ner­ing with aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions and are shift­ing to a B2C model. This is the case of the Al­wasaet e-learn­ing plat­form in Saudi Ara­bia which is part­ner­ing with schools in the King­dom and the GCC, with an eye on global ex­pan­sion. An­other ex­am­ple from Saudi Ara­bia is the Aca­dox course­work man­age­ment so­lu­tion. One thing is clear, in or­der to make their way into schools, th­ese star­tups need to be more than just sup­pli­ers. The Le­banese startup Kamkalima has de­signed a flex­i­ble plat­form with self-paced learn­ing mod­ules and teacher tools to pro­mote Ara­bic lit­er­acy among its part­ner schools. “One of the key con­sid­er­a­tions is con­tin­u­ous sup­port from our part­ners – and not just tech­ni­cal sup­port. We ex­pect tech­nol­ogy providers to demon­strate that they truly un­der­stand and care about learn­ing and our stu­dents,” said Red­head.

“The education sec­tor presents huge op­por­tu­ni­ties for app de­vel­op­ment star­tups.”

Phil Red­head, Se­nior Man­ager - Dig­i­tal Strat­egy at GEMS Education Serge Bakhos, Board Mem­ber and Group Vice Pres­i­dent, In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy, Cre­ative De­signs and Book Pub­lish­ing at SABIS

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lebanon

© PressReader. All rights reserved.