The COVID-19 crisis has catapulted us into becoming a digital society; how we work, learn and interact moved online in a matter of days.
It also caused the largest disruption of the global education system in decades, with nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries affected, and school closures impacting 94 per cent of students around the globe. Never in living memory have so many children been without basic structured education.
This disruption also meant teachers had to work and teach remotely, many for the first time. It highlighted the urgent need for more resilient, digital-first technologies that enable students to learn from home and give teachers the tools such as connectivity and devices that are required for high quality, future-focused, education.
Innovation in Education
This crisis has also stimulated innovation within the education sector, unearthing new possibilities to how we teach, and how students learn. Technology played a vital role, enabling teachers to access the tools, like Microsoft Teams that helps teachers share their screens and see students over video, and the resources and support they needed for their new remote reality.
However, according to the EU, 42% of Europeans lack the basics such as connectivity and devices to access remote learning and research has suggested that in Europe 70% of teachers were experiencing online teaching for the first time during the pandemic, and only 6% had extensive prior experience in this area.
As remote learning and virtual classrooms became the norm, online learning tools and systems developed at pace. As a result, we have seen new approaches to learning, education and training. Digital devices and applications for the classroom are here to stay, so educators must be equipped to use them. That means supporting them as they build confidence using digital tools, like Microsoft Office 365, and encouraging them to explore new uses of technology to suit their lesson plans.
New ways of teaching & learning
We believe that by leveraging the power of connectivity and technology young people can benefit from new and broader ways of learning.
For one, by building a digital learning environment through the use online collaboration tools and laptops/devices, information is shared easily and securely helping pupils, teachers and schools collaborate in ways never seen before. This embedding of technology into the teaching and learning experience also helps develop vital skills in our young people; skills such as, communication and collaboration, critical thinking and analytic reasoning, research capabilities, creativity, problem solving and teamwork.
For teachers, digital tools, like Microsoft Teams, enable them to plan and deliver lessons via technology so they can better track the efforts of the students and quickly spot if someone needs further assistance. By using instant messaging, they can check in with students in real-time and personalise lesson plans. They can also save time and present exciting and engaging lesson formats, like showing virtual museum tours.
As our schools, colleges and universities digitalise, concerns around equal access to resources and the lack of digital skills to operate distance/virtual learning tools have been at the centre of the conversation. Connectivity and technology tools alone do not guarantee improved learning outcomes. Providing access to online educational resources is only part of the solution; students and teachers need to have the digital skills to use them, so they are not left behind.
Vodafone is working closely with governments across the EU to address these challenges, making sure no student, teacher and future worker is left behind.
Our Connected Education offering– an integrated solution that brings access to technology for students, teachers and schools – aims to help students and educators thrive in the virtual learning world. It includes connectivity, tablets and laptops for the classroom, inbuilt filtering for secure browsing and collaboration software that helps students work with their peers virtually and gain access to an infinite amount of learning resources. It also eases the burden on teachers, by giving them all the technology they need, without the stress of setting up and operating complicated IT systems.
Through Connected Education, we have already been able to connect 800,000 students in 2,900 schools in 11 countries across Europe and Africa. Our ambition is to connect 5 million students by 2025 - we want to ensure that every child is equipped for a better future.
In Germany, we provided the Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family in Berlin with 5,000 4G routers that will give around 360,000 students across 640 schools access to a better internet connection.
In Hungary, Vodafone Hungary Foundation created an e-learning-based advanced training course aimed at boosting the digital competencies of teachers, called ICT Tools in the Classroom, which is 30-hour accredited advanced teacher training programme.
We also need clear and transparent accountability to monitor the progress in digitising education across Europe through an EU-wide education strategy that promotes the embedding of digital technologies in all classroom and school activities. We must give our teachers the right skills so that the use of digital technology becomes a seamless part of the whole education experience. The Digital Education Action Plan (DEAP) provides us with a blueprint along to which we can all contribute our strengths.
The spotlight needs to be on improving digital skills for young learners and their teachers, as well as overcoming the various barriers to accessing education, such as resilient networks and affordability of tech devices. To help teachers upskill, it is important we recognise digital or ICT training as essential for them and as an enabler of other teaching and learning practices.
We welcome the recommendation by the European Parliament that at least 10% of Recovery & Resilience funding is spent on education, including Digital Skills, as a first step. But we also need to reinforce the way progress is benchmarked and monitored via national digital education plans and Recovery & Resilience funding spending on education.
It is time to reimagine education for students and educators across Europe by leveraging the power of digital to build back better. Access to inclusive, quality education enables people, especially the next generation, to thrive and contribute to the economic recovery of our society.
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