straight to the point – from different points of view

Our digital transformation – Education

Our digital transformation – Education

In the grand plan towards our digital transformation, most would agree that digital and remote education delivery will play a significant part. The restrictions arising out of COVID-19 have forced us to implement a more rapid move to remote delivery than would otherwise have been the case. I am of the view that we should approach it as more of an opportunity than a burden. We should embrace remote learning via the Internet, cognizant of its shortcomings but determined to use it to improve the delivery of education to all.

I feel a duty to share my expertise and experiences in this regard with the nation. First though, it is necessary for me to briefly describe that expertise and experience with you so that you may better evaluate the worth of my contribution. I will keep it short, just a few paragraphs that give a limited glimpse into a much longer tale.

It started in 1987 when I was an adviser to a new project in Leeds, England. In the predominantly ethnic minority area of Chapeltown and Harehills there were many youngsters being expelled from school due to errant behaviur. These children were then left on the streets where they often fell prey to miscreants who lured them into criminal behaviour. The contours of the rest of their lives were set in place.

A group of forward thinking parents/teachers came up with the idea of trying to use modern technology (desktop IBM compatible computers, no Internet yet) to motivate the youngsters to continue their education in a more relaxed environment. We had to scour the world for educational software and even developed some of our own. The project only catered for children from the deprived areas identified above.

One measure of its success was that by the third year, parents from more affluent areas were trying to claim that their children resided at a cousin in the area. Postcode discrimination was turned on its head. The other major event that confirmed our success was the graduation of one of our students with a Masters degree from Leeds University a few years later. By that time we had arranged a formal association with Leeds University. Many of the lessons we learned over the years I was advising that project are equally relevant to us here. Having agreed to assist in its creation, I stepped aside in 1993, satisfied with what had been achieved.

By the 1990s the Internet was becoming more popular with usage picking up rapidly. Along with a professional colleague, I launched an online education service called LISANET. It was an acronym for London International School of Accountancy on the Internet. We offered one on one tutoring to students around the world who were pursuing accountancy qualifications. It was a success and we quickly received a buyout offer which we accepted.

The buyout was from a US company that was seeking to expand its global footprint. That company was called Tutornet and I was invited to be the Managing Director of its operations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). In that role I did numerous interviews with the media houses and you can find one with the BBC in 1999 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/486461.stm. I relinquished that role around the middle of 2000.

I must describe one further experience I had that guides my thinking on how we should develop remote education in T&T. As a consultant to major UK firms, I was frequently invited by our High Commission in London to social events when dignitaries visited. On one such occasion, I met with the then Minister of Education, Hazel Manning. During a conversation she asked that I lend my expertise to T&T, and that on any visit home I should visit the Ministry.

On my next such visit I duly did that and Mrs Manning did take me to a few meetings with her staff and outside consultants who were at various stages with three IT projects. They were IFMIS (Integrated Financial Management Information System), IHRIS (Integrated Human Resource Management System) and an online education platform from a Canadian company whose name I do not recall. I was privileged to gain a great understanding of the workings of the Ministry of Education, warts and all. I thank Mrs. Manning for that opportunity, and this and future columns will draw on that experience, hopefully to the benefit of the Ministry and its clients going forward.

We need to learn from past experience if we are to have a reasonable chance of success. We should take note of the reality that each of the three projects that I looked most closely at would be described as failures in the environment that I operated in. Neither IFMIS nor IHRIS has been successfully implemented after a decade and a half. I still hear Ministers saying that we will soon have proper financial reporting and accountability because IFMIS is coming. We must get real with both of these projects and conduct a critical review. Education needs that to happen if it is to be successful.

The education portal that was being sourced from the Canadians suggests to me that even then we had an understanding of the benefits to be derived from online technology. Our urgent priorities must include:

  • Universal and uniform accessibility
  • Selection and implementation of online delivery platforms
  • Content creation, both local and foreign
  • Automated Administration (for both in person and online learning)

I don’t have the space to address each of these today so I may have to return to them later. I shall be guided by your comments to me at d.walker@alcindorwalker.com as to which of these areas you would most like me to address.

Universal and uniform accessibility

ALL students must have the means to access services via the Internet. That implies both computers and Internet access. The least costly option has been for the authorities to negotiate bulk access to the Internet that is made available to all students via a unique identifier and password. This has the added advantage of traceability and access control.

The delivery must also be uniform i.e. every participant must have access to the same materials via the same methods of delivery. This is a subject deserving of a complete article

Selection and implementation of online delivery platforms

There are several platforms either on the market of offered free of charge. Each has its pros and cons. We should evaluate the choices carefully with both present and future needs being considered. We should also strive for the greatest flexibility so that our specific needs can be accommodated and that future requirements can be met with minimum difficulty and cost.

Content creation, both local and foreign

Are we seeking to use content produced elsewhere? Will teachers simply present their lessons in the traditional manner but placed in front of a camera? Will the platform support tutoring, either as part of the standard package, and will private tutoring use the same platform?

I suggest that it could be all of the above, and more. To get the best of these platforms we have to make critical decisions up front so as to acquire or create the content to match our expectations.

Automated Administration (for both in person and online learning)

Finally, every aspect of digitization affords an opportunity to facilitate the administration of education delivery in ways probably unimaginable to many practitioners. Let us not miss those opportunities for lack of foresight. The benefits are real and far reaching.

I hope that you now agree that this moment heralds a step change in the delivery of education to the nation, rather than an obstacle to be overcome. I feel frustrated that I have to condense all my thoughts into a short article but I am ready to delve deeper if you should make a request by contacting me.

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