Vodafone Group Director,
SDGs, Sustainable Business and Foundations
How do you prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow and transform the traditional classroom concept into an environment where they also learn digital skills?
When creating Vodafone Business Ventures our mission was to realise new opportunities through technology, helping educators and learners reimagine the way they consume education.
We began exploring how we could turn the Instant Classroom solution, designed by Vodafone’s charitable arm, Vodafone Foundation, into something that could help educators make the most of new digital learning tools and reduce the use of outdated methods.
The ‘school in a box’
Since 2013, Vodafone Foundation have worked in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to deliver Instant Network Schools - enhancing the quality of education for children growing up in refugee camps where as many as 3.7 million are out of school.
As part of this programme, in 2015 the Foundation developed the simple and quickly deployable Instant Classroom to overcome the connectivity, configuration and supply chain issues faced when deploying mobile device-based education programmes.
The ‘school in a box’ provided an all-in-one mobile solution, ideal for locations where power and connectivity are unreliable or not available. The kit includes a laptop for teachers, 25 student pre-loaded tablets, a projector, a speaker and a hotspot that can provide connectivity in as little as 20 minutes.
Over 86,500 refugee students and 1,000 teachers have now benefitted from this technology across eight refugee camps in Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Based on this success the Foundation and UNHCR are now expanding Instant Network Schools to reach half a million refugee students and their communities by 2025.
From a social enterprise perspective, we began to explore whether we could offer a similar solution to the market that could improve the education experience for more students worldwide. Any profits made would be fully reinvested into our Ventures and Foundation programs to fund further innovation and long-term results.
In theory, we thought this could work in broadly the same way – portable hardware loaded with country-specific education content to augment the traditional classroom.
Then, COVID-19 happened.
From digital learning in schools to remote learning from home
Almost overnight the challenge shifted from upgrading the traditional setting to creating a remote, distance-based learning approach that could be accessed anywhere. It was the same shift we saw in our own offices, and those of our customers, as sites emptied and employees moved the workplace into the living room.
While working from home themselves the Ventures team enhanced the solution, together with our global partner Microsoft, to create a cloud-based suite of tools that could adapt to life under lockdown, called Connected Education.
The result is that all learning devices such as tablets and laptops are now equipped with Office 365, including essential tools like Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, Word and Teams for collaboration. Every device is fully secured, with safe search and cloud based web filtering.
As well as being fully connected, each device is equipped with learning content and classroom management tools so that educators can push out lessons to students, wherever they are. Educators also receive training to understand how best to use these new tools.
School’s out for… Ever?
The Connected Education proposition has become a digital platform, customisable by local needs. It enables educators to host lessons in or outside of the classroom and use interactive tools within classes.
The platform potential also extends far beyond the school; colleges, universities and part-time courses could all continue to run remotely using this technology.
Looking ahead, the flexibility of the platform and the expertise of our partners has allowed us to tailor the solution across several Vodafone Business markets. Connected Education is already being used by students in Tanzania and Portugal, with Ireland and the UK set to begin customer pilots later in 2020.
The pandemic aside, successful adoption could mean that students who can’t make it to school due to limited mobility, geography or other factors can continue to learn from home. And for those who can, digital tools will transform the in-class experience.
This is especially important for those children across the world who’s parents cannot afford expensive hardware and who’s network at home is limited.
It will also mean that the structure of education will adapt to new technologies, just as the working environment has for many of us with flexible working.
Though crucial to society, education lags behind many other industries in its digital journey – solutions like Connected Education could be the key to unlocking a new way of learning.