From Debate to Facts: What to Do With Digital Education?By Santiago Gutiérrez | Wed, 10/27/2021 - 15:00
As a regional executive for Pearson, the world's leading learning company, I regularly attend conferences, congresses and interviews in which the future of education is discussed in the uncertain and dramatic context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most proposals made during these encounters, although always interesting and successful, often fail to materialize since they take a long time to become concrete changes.
My main conclusion from the numerous debates on the new educational models is that any significant advance will depend on a cooperation between public and private entities. The stakes are high when it comes to the future of our students, the economy and the historical transition with environmental sustainability as the exclusive premise.
When we talk about digital education and blended learning, the pandemic is a watershed. Changes to teaching and learning were already happening before March 2020 through some disruptive experiences; however, the health crisis and lockdowns demanded an urgent solution.
The potential of digital and blended education is exceptional, as it offers the possibility of maximizing the use of the available infrastructure, a broader reach to impact millions of students and the possibility for students to choose options that are tailored to their needs and interests. Nowadays, we face the need for available innovative hardware and software, digital convergence, self-learning applications, synchronized communication and assessment with diverse groups, automated management and increased teleworking and outsourcing, among other topics.
The obstacle to digitization as a universal resource for education is expressed in numbers. According to UNESCO, in Mexico, almost 25 percent of students between 7 and 17 years old do not have access to the internet, despite coexistent educational formats: face-to-face, TV school (known as Telesecundaria) and online classes.
With the health emergency, the remote model was imposed and now the debate surrounds a hybrid option in which there must be an integration between the activities carried out online and face-to-face, so that the teaching/learning process is beneficial. The landscape, however, has not been positive so far: according to a study by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, based on figures from the World Bank, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a two-year delay in education for almost 10 million Mexican students.
At Pearson, we believe that education changes lives and for that to happen there must be a context of inclusion. A good example is the phenomenon of edutubers, or teachers who post their classes on the internet for global consumption. One of the most famous is José Alejandro Andalón, a math teacher who went from giving face-to-face classes to sharing them on social networks, where he explains everything from Baldor's Algebra to usage of scientific calculators. Today, his YouTube channel, “Math2Me,” has 2.25 million followers.
For learning to be accessible, infrastructure, hardware and software is required. In Mexico, the right to access the internet and ICT is preserved at a constitutional level and that is so because the internet allows access to fundamental rights, such as education, work, health and freedom of expression. The inequalities, however, persist.
According to official data, 71 percent of the population in Mexico has internet access; nevertheless, while in some regions access is almost universal, in others, such as Chiapas, it barely exceeds 20 percent penetration. According to INEGI, only 44 percent of Mexican homes have a computer, and only 56 percent use the internet and have continuous access to an internet connection.
In conclusion, the most pressing subject is securing digital literacy and measures like connectivity for schools and homes of all population and income segments. It is imperative to train teachers and students in digital skills and to develop projects based on current topics of interest to society, so that knowledge can be put into practice. In short, it is about empowering students to take ownership of their learning processes because the trend toward digital and blended learning is irreversible.