By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran, Special Features Assistant Editor
The world was turned upside down when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. But months into the crisis and no end in sight, leaders and policy makers have to figure out how to keep society moving along without exposing any more people to the risk of contracting the virus.
This has resulted in an impossibly difficult dilemma in the education sector. While remote learning through digital teaching platforms has been championed by experts as the solution, the challenges of making the transition from physical classrooms to virtual ones are extensive.
The third and final session of BusinessWorld Insights’ Connectivity Series aimed to highlight and dissect these challenges, focusing on the topic, “Internet, Technology and Education: Connecting Schools and Students in the New Normal”, with speakers Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) President Emmanuel Leyco, IBM Philippines President and Country General Manager Aileen Judan-Jiao, PLDT Enterprise First Vice-President and Enterprise Revenue Group Head Victor Tria, and Tata Consultancy Services TCS iON Sales Director Shashwat Rai.
“What did the pandemic do to our education? It caused us to disperse, threaten our organization. It threw our structures into shambles. No more meetings, no more face to face. In organizations that are so used to conducting their business through face to face environments, I think this is really pulling the rug under their feet,” PLM President Emmanuel Leyco said in his opening remarks.
Mr. Leyco noted that public organizations experienced the consequences of the pandemic more severely, with additional hurdles in their processes such as procurement and their decision-making. However, the biggest impact of the pandemic, according to him, was the damage to their ability to communicate.
“For teaching, the learning environment must include engagement with the students. You have to look at them. They have to look at you, you have to read their body movements. If they are listening, if they are learning, if they are interested. You have to adjust. This is very different in an online environment,” he said.
“Teaching is not just talking. Teaching is communicating with students, and the students communicating back.”
The significance of the problem, that of shifting from an established method of teaching into a new one, is far greater than meets the eye. The education sector is at the crux of a grander, more ubiquitous change: a paradigm shift that integrates the digital world with everyday life.
IBM Philippines President and Country General Manager Aileen Judan-Jiao said that educational institutions today need to equip students with new skills that are more suited to a digital economy.
“We have a strong point of view that the future of jobs is really in the digital economy, which now all of us are exposed to,” she said.
“The digital economy will beg different sets of skills. We are talking about cloud computing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, among a good number of things. In fact, it is on us to look at a new set of soft skills, around creative problem solving, critical thinking, design thinking for methodologies, even mindfulness.”
Recognizing this need, IBM collaborated with educators, policy makers, and elected officials around the world to develop Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH), a global education model that offers students all over the world the opportunity to develop skills and competencies that will translate directly to competitive careers.
Telecommunication companies like PLDT-Smart are also doing what they can to alleviate the pressure on education facilities making the transition.
PLDT Enterprise First Vice-President and Enterprise Revenue Group Head Victor Tria had this to say, “E-learning has been one of PLDT’s main areas of focus during this pandemic. We’ve taken on the mantra, ‘No learner left behind.’ It serves as a challenge to us in the PLDT Group, and a promise to our customers.”
He added that the company is choosing to remain optimistic amidst the current situation’s many challenges, seeing the changes a path towards equitable education for all Filipinos.
PLDT is collaborating with local government units and public schools to provide free access to learning tools to teachers and students, such as DepEd’s learning management system, a system which benefits over eight million users today. The company is also in partnership with organizations like the Catholic Education Association of the Philippines and the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities.
Tata Consultancy Services TCS iON Sales Director Shashwat Rai in his talk discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the four key stakeholders in the education problem: Students, teachers, parents, and institutions.
“This pandemic has brought a lot of opportunities in terms of how institutions are adopting or how the stakeholders are responding,” he said.
He proposed reimagined classrooms that use technology to augment the educational foundation of schools, colleges, and universities; such as in using remotely proctored and secured assessments for students; using click stream analysis to measure engagement from both teachers and students; and using sophisticated communication to keep all stakeholders connected.
#BUSINESSWORLDINSIGHTS Connectivity Series is made possible by Tata Consultancy Services, Globe, AMTI, Dell Technologies, PLDT, Smart The Philippine STAR, and Olern; with the support of the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators, Management Association of the Philippines, Bank Marketing Association of the Philippines, British Chamber of Commerce Philippines, Financial Executives of the Philippines, Philippine Association of National Advertisers, and Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.