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Digitization in Education
Dec 04, 2020
Digitization in education - An Introduction
The breakneck speed of technology is transforming the way that we work, live and learn.
We now have the ability to access an absolutely massive amount of information on the palm of our hands, and the amount of people with this digital access is increasing faster every day.
Consequently, digital technology has been adopted with open arms in all sectors of society. Nothing is untouched by it - the media we consume now is massively digital in nature, many businesses now rely exclusively on digital infrastructure and tools to function, and even our social lives need digital technology to run normally.
The field of education is not agnostic to this. Formal education all over the world is aware of the technological revolution, and it is clear that the impact of digital technology in education will be extremely transformative. However, the change in education is massively lagging behind other sectors.
Here’s a statistic that illustrates the education sector’s slowness clearly Compared to the 35% digitization of the entertainment and content industries and 29% for the business industry, it is projected that only 5% of the education market is currently digital. [Source: McKinsey Global Institute]
The numbers speak. With almost all other sectors undergoing massive digitization, and life itself going digital, it is obvious that preparing students for the future means taking formal education into the digital sphere, too.
What does it do?
Yes, but what does digitization do exactly? How does it help?
Digitization aims to integrate digital technologies and devices into the education system, making them go hand in hand with the curriculum, the teaching process and the overall schooling system.
It creates higher educational engagement outside classes - students are incentivized to learn more about things they are interested in through the power of the internet.
It enables distance education - taking interactive classes from anywhere you want, at any time you want.
Digital infrastructure is advancing faster than physical infrastructure - digitization ensures that those who lack physical means to get good education will nonetheless get it.
Is economic, once the infrastructure is in place.
Automates the evaluation processes - objective tests can be evaluated instantly and instant feedback can be given.
It reduces paperwork - replacing physical books, reports and ledgers with files and databases on laptop or phones, where all information is available easily.
Enables better and efficient interaction between guardians/parents and educators, and also allows for results and evaluations to reach them quickly, reliably and efficiently.
Enables efficient analysis of data and data driven decision making in education, through the use of software like Veda.
In a nutshell, digitization in education is a combination of Learning Management and School Management.
Learning management includes putting educational materials in digital format and developing strategies to present this material in a way that benefits the learner.
School management includes the optimization of administrative tasks to run digitally or virtually - this includes handling fees, communication between the school and the guardian, and similar things that don’t pertain directly to the teaching learning process.
What it does specifically
For primary and secondary school students
Digital tools enable visualization and realistic view of objects and topics that children learn about. Countless studies show that interactive audiovisual medium is the best way to educate students. The aid of video, games and puzzles provides children with a clearer understanding of things they learn about, and also improves their creativity.
In Higher Education
The points above apply for higher education too. The interactive audiovisual method of teaching helps explain many topics that cannot be explained adequately through only the verbal or written medium.In addition, distance learning enables learners to learn without space and time constraints.Going from formal education to the professional field is a struggle even now, as it requires the knowledge of the latest developments in the field. Digitization incorporates the vast and up to date knowledge base of the internet to be incorporated into the curriculum, which helps bridge this gap.
The current Scenario
Although digitization has not realized its full potential everywhere yet, many attempts have been made at augmenting the learning process with technology, and many of these attempts have also been widely successful.
In the European Union (EU) Digital Competency is included as a separate, specialised subject, like informatics or computer science, in almost half the countries [Source: European Commission Report]. In many of the other countries, this education is integrated into other compulsory subjects or taught in all subjects (cross-curricular).
An excellent example of the cross curricular approach of digitization is Finland.
Schools enjoy a great degree of autonomy in Finland, and most follow a municipal ICT plan or digital strategy.
According to an Education ministry report, some schools also create competence levels or skills paths to support teachers’ and students’ ICT skills. Online learning materials, digital learning environments and mobile applications are widely used to complement traditional class and book based learning.
In addition, some schools even use common online environments to connect teachers and students - they share tasks and information through the online environment, functioning a lot like social networks.
Digital approaches are used widely in the USA, in conjunction with traditional teaching methods. This is especially utilized by universities - the tasks of assignments and objective examination are greatly automated.
According to a government report 48 states of the US provide state approved online education opportunities, with some even being full time online schools. In addition, blended learning (learning both online and in class) and utilization of digital resources within class is also rapidly rising.
South Korea is a model nation when it comes to using modern technology. Throughout the country, classrooms have been equipped with Wireless internet, and all of the curriculum’s subjects are fully made available online.
A vast majority of classrooms are a blend of traditional lecture based learning and digital learning.
These are few representative examples. Many other countries have programs that aim to digitize the education system, including developing countries like Chile and Uruguay - who aim to provide all students with digital devices to complement their education, currently with a student - computer ratio of 10:1.
Nepal, too, has not been unaware of the shift in the educational landscape that technology has brought. There have been many attempts at implementing effective digital learning strategies in Nepal, from both the private and the government sector.
The Ministry of Education started pilot projects regarding ‘One child one laptop’; and the ICT in Education Master Plan has increased the access to internet and digital access in schools, yet it has been widely reported that this digital access has been utilized mostly in administrative work rather than to aid the education process itself.
Open Learning Exchange Nepal, a non profit organization has started many initiatives to ensure wide availability of interactive, curriculum based content digitally, and also help schools set up school wide digital networks in remote places of Nepal, aiding them in their path towards digital learning.
Interactive digital content for schools have been created by the government’s side, too. The COVID pandemic has led to a large number of school lectures for all subjects being made publicly available online and through other media.
School management systems like Veda have helped many schools in their day to day tasks.
Veda in particular, has had tremendous success with introducing technology to the process of teaching and learning, with over 400 top schools using the product. Easy online classes, online assignment submission, online interaction with the school administration through feedback and appreciation, and the availability of almost all school related information on the Veda School App and online platform has aided a lot of students and schools, especially in these tumultuous times.
It has proved the ideal solution for School Management, and even for a lot of learning management tasks like taking classes and exams remotely, assignment submission, and a lot more.
Again, we’re a long way away, and face a plethora of challenges. Some of them aren’t unique to Nepal, while some are a direct result of us being a developing country.
Infrastructure: The most significant challenge that we face is that of infrastructure. The digital infrastructure that we have in public schools is woefully inadequate to transition into digital learning. The ICT in Education Master Plan has increased the access to internet and digital access in schools, yet it has been widely reported that this digital access has been utilized mostly in administrative work rather than to aid the education process itself.
The Resistance to Change: This is another significant barrier, and is not unique to Nepal. We are always apprehensive to any change, and the reason for this is partly a fear of upheaval. We assume that all facets of education must change for digital learning, and so we don’t trust its effectiveness when the existing system seems to be doing an okay job. But when there has been such a drastic shift in the global landscape, with technology being at the centre of it, effective education will certainly require a similar change on our part.
The Digital Divide: Even though internet penetration in Nepal sits extremely high, the digital divide is still massive. The present use of the internet has been exclusively for social media and entertainment for the vast majority of the population. As more sectors like finance and business become digitized, this divide will gradually reduce. Digitization and digital literacy must go hand in hand for education to benefit. As for now, though, the digital divide is still massive.
What after digitization?
Digitization cannot happen alone. At the onset, rampant digitization of education may seem a good thing - but if the teachers and learners do not know how to properly utilize the digital medium, it will instead stifle the educational standard.
Something that must go hand in hand with digitization is the promotion of digital literacy. Teaching digital competences as a separate discrete subject area similar to other traditional subject-based competences might help reduce this divide.
Digitization is simply making learning materials available digitally and openly. For digitization to aid the overall teaching learning process, how this information is conveyed and handled by the teachers and the institution also plays a huge part.
Besides, digitization will eventually mean generation of data. As digitization focuses heavily on personalization of education and feedback, data driven insights and Artificial Intelligence can be used to optimize the process of education even further to cater to students on an individual basis.
The teaching process - the pedagogy, must also change with the times.
“Teachers may use an interactive white board to teach, but they are often still ‘delivering’ content to students in much the same way as they did with an old blackboard.
While teachers are able to write over and annotate texts and web pages, this is not fundamentally different to what was done in the past using overhead projector transparencies or photocopies.” - A study by University of Wollongong, Australia
Professional learning opportunities are needed for teachers too.
The only constant in technology is change. Technology is advancing at a breakneck pace - only digitizing and leaving it as it is is not the solution. Technology will change - and the system must change accordingly too.
Teachers should learn to adapt as the digital landscape changes - they should get opportunities to learn how to implement relevant, new technologies in the classroom.
The Digitization strategy for Nepal
So how do we go about this then? The challenges are daunting, but hope of a dramatic turnaround is still there.
With the COVID pandemic disrupting the traditional flow of education, many schools and colleges have implemented distant learning, which has certainly helped stifle some resistance against digital education.
But many others still remain. The majority of schools in Nepal have not done this, and they deserve more focus if we are to truly digitize education.
The issue of digital infrastructure and the digital divide must be addressed hand in hand with the digitization of the curriculum.
Digital literacy, not only for students but also for teachers and educators is also necessary.
Of the facets of digitization (Learning Management and School Management), starting off with School Management lays the perfect ground for rapid digitization in the future. School Management Systems like Veda help optimize administrative tasks and introduce digital technology to the educational process seamlessly. Additionally, they also boost digital literacy, with administrators and teachers getting used to them.
Then, learning management can come, with distance learning methods being implemented rapidly as educational content is made digitally available, and changes in the curriculum to aid the digital presence in teaching and learning methods.
However, this cannot happen alone. Promotion of digital literacy and adaptation to new technology must continue.
Only implementing digitization is not a full stop. The educational strategy must change as technology changes, and only the principle of constant adaptation to changes can make the teaching-learning process effective, robust and resilient.