EdTech during global crises: What can we learn from the past year - what’s next?

The effects of the COVID-19 crisis for schools and teachers
 
It is evident that the ripple effect of the global crisis has left a mark on traditional schooling as we know it. Teachers and students have had to adapt in order to maintain and improve education, but have been faced with some difficulties. “Traditional brick-and-mortar schools have seen a noted decrease in enrollments and online schools have grown rapidly, with more students opting to work in a distance learning environment. Lower enrollments in many instances have meant smaller budgets and less expendable budgets for supplementary tools.” Said Sharon Lock, Sales Manager at Snapplify.
 
“In some cases, parents have become more demanding of schools, wanting to see how their fees are spent and what the return on their fees is – they want schools to demonstrate their students' academic improvements. As a result, analytics into learning and reading behaviour has become more crucial for schools than ever.”
 
Despite the costs involved, there has been an urgent need for global education systems to adjust to the digital age for the benefit of learners. Lock continues, “Schools that have been cautious about incorporating digital tools have had to introduce these tools very rapidly. Schools with higher fees and students from more affluent backgrounds have been able to make the switch quite quickly and efficiently due to the speed with which they were able to invest in this area. Other schools have had varying degrees of success.”
 
“Unfortunately, many schools have had real difficulties and have since gone back to no digital tools whatsoever. The biggest shift has been in the middle-income bracket (the fee-paying semi-private schools), a large percentage of these schools successfully adopted digital tools, such as devices in the classroom and digital content, and have amended school policy to allow a hybrid approach going forward, allowing students the option to choose digital or traditional pen and paper.“
 
Key EdTech trends emerged as a result of this, allowing for online education to make some major developments. Wesley Lynch, CEO of Snapplify added, “Previously, many online schools had been seen as alternative and similar to home schools. Online schools have become more mainstream. Many models that we normally see in higher-ed are being applied to K-12.” Online learning has proven successful for children of all age ranges hence its booming popularity.
 
Upcoming changes to the 2022 educational landscape
 
There will be some noticeable changes to education in 2022 based on some educational strategies that did not work as well as intended during 2021. One of those changes includes committing to a single platform/strategy. “Schools that allowed their teachers to find their own solutions for continuing their teaching in a distanced environment had lower success rates.” Lock said, “Often using multiple tools, and duplicating work. Schools reliant on tools that were not specifically built for education, like WhatsApp, Facebook, or Email, really struggled as there was no way of managing student submissions or ensuring students received the required work.” Despite that fact, there will be a greater push to incorporate blended learning which can encourage students to incorporate more self-study, allowing them to retain more information.
 
In order for educational transformation to be more accessible and successful for both teachers and their students in 2022, there are some key focus areas. Lock stated, “With the amendments to the term timetables and the resultant gaps in students' knowledge before moving from one grade to the next, many students are not ready to tackle the subjects at the level that is required. They do not have the depth of understanding in a subject such as Science for example which is built on throughout the grade 10-12 phases. A lack of literacy, the ability to read and understand, is a growing concern amongst younger learners, without the constant oversight of the teachers on a daily basis - many learners who struggle were not identified early on or given the proper support - leading to large learning gaps. Much of the foundational work required in junior school to prepare learners for high school was missed.”
 
However, Lynch observed that, “It’s not clear what the impact will be on learners and teachers of this integration of technology. Collaborative tools and the now 24/7 connected nature, means that both learners and teachers don’t get unplugged as much as before. The impact of this is not known and the processes to manage this risk aren’t clear.” 
 
The role of digital transformation in the future of education
 
The digital transformation of education plays a pivotal role in the future of society as a whole, as well as the further development of the education system itself. Lock explains, “Digital transformation plays a huge part in collaborative learning. It allows students to learn through self-study, take ownership of their own educational journey and outcomes. It also allows students to develop critical thinking as they interact more widely with differing opinions through online platforms, accessing a wider net of resources digitally.” Lock added that, “Accessing student analytics within schools gives a new insight into learning and reading behaviour, tracking of performance and outcomes - there is more immediate feedback and less administration.”
 
Agreeing with Lock, Lynch comments, “Digital has transformed all aspects of our lives and the impact on education is already felt. The education sector has lagged behind other industries but the challenges facing education especially in high population countries make leveraging technology essential. Our lives are more digital than ever and certainly, the workplace of the future is digital, so in order to prepare learners for the careers of the future we must ensure that digital skills are integrated into the education system itself.”
 
Financing and accessing online education globally
 
Access to the internet can be costly, which may hinder global access to online learning resources. This can create difficulties amongst students who rely on these tools for their primary education. Lock believes that, ”Provided the correct infrastructure is in place, online education can be more cost-effective for parents financially but also more time-effective for learners. However, as all online education is private, the societal divide between students from disenfranchised backgrounds and more financially stable backgrounds will widen. There are no successful strategies currently whereby the government is able to provide online education to students in government schools.”
 
“Access to digital, like connectivity of devices, is in some way driving an even bigger divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ and even the urban and rural communities.” Lynch observed, “Access to connectivity and the internet is a game-changer in how we are able to deliver a digital education. Although these are barriers to wide school adoption, it is also true that devices and bandwidth are cheaper than it's ever been, so things are moving in the right direction.”
 
In order for the EdTech industry to respond to the need of more digitally active workers, and propel itself into innovative technology to aid with learning, solution providers have been continually developing effective services for education. Much has been done for the integration of EdTech software allowing ease of navigation, and heavy focus is being placed on developing this further into a single integrated solution that is localised and much easier to administer and manage.
 
Lynch said, “There are huge benefits to analysing user behaviour and big data. Data empowers educators to identify learning gaps and track academic progress, allowing them to adapt their pedagogical approach strategically. Big data can also help to solve big problems (e.g. identifying social issues). We have the technology to both ask and answer deeper questions surrounding the effectiveness of the education we are offering this next generation and this can be hugely beneficial.”
 
The global crisis taught much about the education system: it highlighted what worked, and what didn’t work so well. The setbacks that arose, however, brought forth solutions that propelled education into a digitalised world where both educators and learners have more access to information. It’s safe to say the 2022 landscape for EdTech has a lot more in store to create a better future for all.

By Wesley Lynch, CEO and Sharon Lock, Sales Manager, Snapplify  

 
12/03/2022