Our lives have changed. Each generation has a chance in their lives to witness some historical changes.
The world wars, the Vietnam War and the fall of the Berlin Wall each indicated the onset of a new era. Those who lived through these life-changing moments are all aware that something significant is happening. They are also worried about the novelty.
Current generations, especially post-secondary and university students have just experienced a drastic and almost completely unforeseen cataclysm signalling the coming of a changing world.
We who work in education could not foresee the drastic impacts this world epidemic would have had on our lives, our profession and our students. There was one thing we certainly knew, however: that the digital world was coming and it was going to transform our lives more and more.
Today’s students do not study the way their peers did just as recently as 20 to 25 years ago. The all-encompassing use of the internet and, mainly, that of mobile phones, triggered these changes. It began to transform our schools even in the early 2000s. The process was quite slow. We have been addressing the issue in dozens of conferences where we talked about how vital digitalisation was and how online education was going to have an increasing role. Some heard the message and tried to keep up with the demands of our age.
Although they were interesting and useful attempts, the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) movement, founded in 2012, appeared to have lost its momentum by 2019. Schools did not seriously subscribe to the idea it would pay to integrate technological innovations in their education models. Many failed to fully understand that the integration of novelties would make them more attractive and more successful. For instance, they would be able to transfer knowledge to more young people who could study more inexpensively and economically.
At the same time, universities and colleges could also financially benefit from this process if they acted wisely. Nevertheless, the world has just realised, specifically in the past two months, how it could urgently, in fact immediately, utilise the opportunities provided by the internet.
Distance learning or ‘blended learning’ is not a new thing. Back when radio and then television first appeared, the state already attributed great importance to using those technological innovations for education purposes. For example, Indira Gandhi National Open University already had over a million students in India in the late 1980s. They broadcasted education programmes via public radio at the time.
The increased penetration of the internet has accelerated this existing process. Today, we can do nearly everything online just as much as face to face. Slowly but surely, online education institutions can equal the level of well-known universities and colleges.
Slowly but surely, online education institutions can equal the level of well-known universities and colleges
The COVID-19 pandemic forced universities and teaching institutions to develop a sustainable and safe system of distance learning too. This adaptation may sound like an unexpected effect of the pandemic, but education will never be the same as before.
What have we experienced in the last two months?
In the pre-pandemic times, we have read that teachers were against online teaching. Suddenly, confronted with this emergency, teachers had to improvise. Regardless if you look at your children or students, they tried to make the best and most out of this situation. They attempted to find the most successful methods through online programmes, social platforms and educational systems.
Educational institutions were also not equally prepared for this situation. Some had already developed distance learning systems, while others had a hard time to suddenly find the right software solutions. Zoom, Moodle, Skype, MS Teams, Google Classroom and even Facebook can meet the needs of individual educational segments. This variety of software may be confusing to those who want to use them without a learning management system (LMS) engine.
According to a recent World Bank report, the variety of applications of digital technologies is astounding. But it is certainly not easy to look at and use multiple platforms and software solutions while performing all your academic administration tasks.
If you think teachers have a significantly smaller workload now, you are wrong. The concurrent use of this software is not easy at all. Furthermore, many teachers did not have the professional experience to construct a course or an applicable online educational model ‘out of the blue’. This is not to mention the difficulties of evaluation that is very hard to operate via the ‘older’ or non-learning-management-systems-specific systems.
Looking at the abovementioned software solutions, one can see that Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Zoom and Skype are all American companies or registered in the US. Similarly, the popular LMS providers such as Blackboard, Canvas and Moodle are also American owned. The US educational system was the fastest to use the opportunities of online education. Of course, most of Silicon Valley’s tech companies were also instrumental in that process. Europe is lagging in this race.
However, Europe has a value not found in America: the millennia-long experience and knowledge gathered in public education.
Malta is in a unique position. As far as EU member states are concerned, Malta has an outstanding role in the educational sector in terms of the economy. Malta is famous for its language schools as well as its post-secondary and higher education institutions. Under the Maltese presidency in 2017, the EU launched The State of Digital Education programme, which reflects the direction Malta wants to move.
Malta must become the centre of European educational digitalisation because the country has the foundations for such a project in terms of professional experience as well as technological knowledge. We believe Malta can set such standards for the world when its teaching institutions adopt proper LMSes.
The IJF Academy and GC Academy, which are both Maltese registered higher education institutions, have developed their own educational system and LMS software solution.
We operate one of the most sophisticated distance learning systems in education and sport. The IJF Academy has just under 4,000 registered students from over 160 countries using this platform. The IJF Academy is unique in the world of sport in this regard.
The LMS software solution that we have developed, the GCengine, can carry out administration and knowledge transfer functions, either offline or live in 10 languages. On this platform, we provide access to 40 million books and magazines. We help students form their communities on our forum and, last but not least, solve the problems of evaluation, as the platform easily handles multiple-choice tests. As far as evaluation is concerned, we are the first in the world to have an artificial intelligence-based face recognition module, for security purposes. We integrated all these functions within the same software solution.
So we believe Malta and Maltese education will have an outstanding role in the post-COVID-19 world. All the opportunities are at hand. Education is changing. The role of schools will never be the same as before. Compared to the pre-pandemic times, students and teachers both have different expectations from educational institutions.
As the American industrialist Henry J. Kaiser once said, all the problems, (this pandemic has caused) are only solutions in work clothes. And as Nigel Smith, Future Learn head of content, says: “Students just expect digital… digital is not the future; it’s the present.”
Envic Galea is chairman of IJF Academy. Levente Nagy-Pal is CEO of GC Academy.