The COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges to the education and training industry, a sector which has valued face-to-face interactions and, as such, has tended to resist digitalisation. With rules and restrictions aimed at reducing social contact implemented as a response to the pandemic, the sector has been impacted at all levels, from infant and childcare services to corporate training for adults.
SMEhorizon speaks to Wendy Tan, Director and Owner of Josiah Montessori, a preschool that offers infant care and childcare services, on the challenges her school faced when the pandemic began, the shift to incorporating technology in her company’s processes, and the possibilities it has opened up for them.
Rayvan Ho, Co-founder and CEO of ACKTEC, a Singapore based edtech startup also shares his insights on digitalisation in the education and training sector, how technology can increase the scale and cost-effectiveness of training, and how his company has helped schools like Josiah Montessori weather the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and gear up for further expansion.
Overcoming the resistance to uptake
Josiah Montessori – or Josiah for short – is a premium preschool that offers infant care and childcare services. According to Tan, the company has been in the market for 23 years and currently has five centres all located in prime offices or business parks such as Suntec City Mall and Changi Business Park.
Shares Tan, “Josiah was not big on using technology to support learning before COVID-19 and it was in 2019 that we saw that the gap was obvious and we needed to catch up on engaging our children using Ed-Tech otherwise our services may lag behind other service providers.”
This attitude is one shared by many in the sector. According to Ho, many corporations and overseas partners they worked with did not view digitising content for training as necessary, as they felt that the traditional methods of learning such as classroom learning worked well.
Meanwhile, even in companies whose management pushed for digital transformation, Ho notes that “there was resistance from the educators and trainers definitely at first.”
“Although it was their management who decided, the implementation was difficult, and it took a while before the trainers and educators bought in. COVID-19 did cause trainers to be aware of the need for change — on top of restrictions on face-to-face interactions forcing them to adopt digital delivery, having adopted mobile learning with smartphones, they noted that it is easier now to administer the learning, and tracking learner progress.”
COVID-19 spurring change
Reflecting on how the pandemic has affected her company’s outlook, Tan shares that COVID-19 has had both negative and positive impacts. On one she says, it was “negative because our cash flow was affected and that operating child care with home-based learning, safe distancing measures and frequent hand washing was something very inconvenient and challenging for us.”
Yet from the challenges came some positive impact: “It has changed our mindset towards Ed-Tech as we were pushed to adapt quickly and up-skill ourselves to cope with the dramatic change in the learning climate without going to school,” she continues.
“We also saw a huge potential of how it can add value to our business and our clients as our contents now can be digitalised and achieve greater reach.”
Technological transformations bridging gaps
Ho’s comments concur with her observations about adding value and extending reach. “Learning needs to be more tethered and more in the flow of work, and doing this requires leveraging on technology,” he says. “We believe that mobile technology can be used to increase the scale and cost-effectiveness of training.
“The smartphone is transforming lives, from the way we communicate to the way we learn. With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping people out of their workplaces and institutions, mobile technologies have been indispensable in facilitating work and learning outside of the traditional face-to-face settings. With mobile learning, businesses can administer learning anytime, anywhere, which means learners can pick up knowledge when they need it, where they need it. “
This shift away from the old paradigm where staff attend occasional face-to-face courses, towards digital, mobile platforms will support learning that is virtual, global and more scalable, says Ho. “Employees can work anywhere, be it at home or outside, at different places and time zones, and still be connected to the heart of the business, where constant learning and development can take place on a daily basis.”
“The rise of artificial intelligence has also enabled personalized solutions and content, making it easier for businesses to deliver learner-centred training.” At the same time, improved technology does not just increase the physical reach, it can also bridge the gaps to the older generation. Says Ho, “ With the advent of the mobile app and mobile system, people from older generations are also able to login and use our platform easily, without the need for advanced tools or powerful computers. We have streamlined the design of the platform to minimise the number of steps needed to use it, making sure it is intuitive for all ages.”
Working with ACKTEC, Josiah has managed to improve many of its processes. Our onboarding training and continuous staff training are on the Learning Management System set up by ACKTEC,” shares Tan.
“ACKTEC helped us set up a structure to operate our training in an effective and efficient way whereby the cost of training has been cut down substantially, and progress and quality of training is improved as it can now be done simultaneously across different locations. Our training now is a blend of online training as well as physical and online observation and audit, which is way more efficient than before. Training up a teacher now takes 50% less time than before.”
Increasing reach overseas
Working together, ACKTEC and Josiah have collaborated to produce a new range of digital learning resources that they have successfully piloted and exported to the China market. “This new range of digital learning resources are very well received by teachers and children in China. It has become a great go-to tool for China teachers when they need to teach English,” shares Tan.
“As for Teachers Onboarding training, the new platform helps greatly as we now have greater consistency and new staff are more confident in navigating through their class. The trainers are very pleased with the result and our teachers feel that there is more accuracy in the way they run their classes.”
Ho asserts that education and the training sector has to move on online. “With the new norm, it is now important to make sure that technology is able to support learning to make trainer’s work easier and to keep learners engaged.”
“We will see A.I and analytics technology become more prevalent. Technology will facilitate better learning in the flow-of-work, and push course materials and learning content to learners based on their learning gaps, goals and training objectives. Moving forward, we might see A.I. technology alleviating trainers’ workloads, with more A.I. taking over parts of training delivery.”
Tan herself feels that her company will continue to rely on technology in the future. “I don’t think we will ever go back to doing things without technology. It will be here to stay post-pandemic and it will become more and more a part of our business.” Moving forward, Josiah Montessori is hoping to develop more digital learning and teachers training resources suited for overseas markets, especially ASEAN countries, and they hope to continue to work with ACKTEC to create such content.