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Education in times of crisis

(Insight from Webinar http://www.ort.mx organised by ORT University Mexico)

One of the things that Covid19 brought with (together with worldwide chaos and uncertainty) is the understanding, that this is a crisis, in its full definition; the virus targets human lives, is unexpected, it creates uncertainties and poses a threat to human existence.

Another interesting phenomena is happening, almost parallel to the spread of the virus; the break through of usage of virtual platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams, Google Hangouts and YouTube streaming. Many of the online webinars and forums are dealing with the crisis in various ways, from the psychological to professional and economic impacts.

One of the most interesting virtual webinar I attended, recently, was organised by the University of ORT Mexico and World ORT, discussing ‘education in times of crisis’. What I found enlightening in the discussion by top professors in the field of education, is the forward thinking and ‘out of the box’ ideas that were shared with almost 500 participants from all over the world.

Ms. Mariana Ludmila Cortés who is the former Vice-president for development of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), where she traveled to over 40 countries developing and implementing large scale education projects for disadvantaged children, claimed that there is a crisis in education worldwide, regardless of Covid19. According to World Bank (2018), globally, 6 out of 10 children and youth are not meeting proficiency levels in reading and mathematics despite of completing years of schooling in the developing world. The Learning crisis calls us to be specific with the terms we are using while trying to tackle the problem. Learning vs Teaching ; Education vs Schooling. She suggested that we need to change HOW we deliver education and urged people to take charge of their own learning.

Prof. Sidney Strauss Director of Research at Ammachilabs, professor at Amrita University and former Professor of Education has vast years of research in education. He shared the finding, that children are able to teach each other (from as early as one year old). Teaching is natural to human beings. He claims that evidence in caves of our ancestors shows that, already at the times when human were making stone tools, they had managed to transfer the knowledge.
If this is the case, what are the implications on education? we need to rethink of schools and the roles they play. We need to find ways to harness this natural ability of people to teach and for children to teach each other.

Prof. Moisés Salinas Fleitman Rector of the ORT University Mexico, examined the roles of education in times of crisis. In addition to the obvious roles of being a source of reassurance , reducing stress and ensuring delivery of practical and psychological tools to confront the crisis, he added that the crisis could be seen as an opportunity for innovation. Crisis has a disruptive manner and it could be a tool for us to switch from threat to opportunity for innovation in education.

I do believe that, we now have an opportunity to analyse the disruption in a creative and collaborative manner. We could learn from different industries and how they have been adjusting to the changes (such as communicating and expanding stakeholders networks through virtual platforms). We also have to be mindful about those communities that do not have the privilege of technology and accessibility to connectivity.

Screenshot of the ORT.MX Webcast April 2020

Women’s achievements

My thinking about women’s achievements  in society…

Considering the advancement of human being on this earth, one is in awe of what we have achieved. We have found ways to defeat hunger, disease and pandemics and even strive for immortality. According to Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, in his book Homo Deus, the source of human power is continued growth and subsequent technological improvements.

When thinking of innovators who have contributed to technological advancement and innovations, who comes to mind first? Thomas Edison, Bill Gates? How about Marie Curie who won the Noble Prize twice for the work she did on radioactivity? How about our own Joan Joffe, known as the first lady of ICT in South Africa?

For decades, women were denied education and opportunities to be able to achieve as much as their male counterparts and in some countries we still need to fight for the rights of women to education and employment.

Over the past years, more and more women are contributing massively to economic and entrepreneurship innovation. But do we hear about them?

The book Innovating Women by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya, asks this question and provides examples of tech women we rarely hear about. Such is the case with Kay Koplowitz who founded the USA Network. She developed the novel idea of using satellite for commercial use and brought sport to cable television; she is also the first woman to serve as a network president in television history.

The book also makes references to research which shows that businesses run by women tend to be highly successful and consistently out-perform their male-owned counterparts. A study by American Express found that among businesses with revenue greater than $10 million, women-owned business experienced a 47% higher rate of growth. Between 2002 and 2012 female-owned business grew 28.6% compared to 24.4% owned by men, putting women-led companies in the lead.

The book notes that despite the success shown above, businesses led by women often struggle to get funding. The Centre for Business Women Research discovered that a significant reason for this can be directly tied to gender bias.

Social change enables more women to innovate, make a difference and impact our environment. More work is needed to be done if we, as a society, are to maintain our power and continue growing to ensure women have their rightful place to contribute but also to be acknowledged.

And this has to start early, by promoting STEM education for girls from an early age as well as ensuring that the workplace gets rid of gender discrepancies and adopts policies that empower women.

Just as we managed to defeat some biases and diseases and dominate earth with our advancement, so it is our obligation to fight gender biases and discrepancies and create space for women in STEM careers, innovation and entrepreneurship.

 

Growing a generation of innovators


‘South Africa belongs to all its people

We, the people, belong to one another

Our homes, neighborhoods, villages, towns, and cities are safe and filled with laughter

The faces of our children tell of the future we have crafted’ … South Africa’s national development plan 2030;  

The National Development Plan aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. According to the plan, South Africa can accomplish these goals by drawing on the energies of its people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society.

The ORT end – year event which was held in November 2017, was inspired by the theme of “ growing a generation of innovators”. The event showed the faces of our children,the stories they tell, the challenges they face in their communities, their incredible energy  and the solutions they have come up with. And the future does seem brighter.

The showcase of the children presenting their completed coding projects is an example of how we, as a society can make a difference through education. The late Nelson Mandela, who was CRT’s first keynote speaker in the first ORT inauguration of technology teachers in 1994, is known for his passion for education and how he saw it as a powerful tool that can change the world.

ORT SA, is affiliated to World ORT with operations in over 40 countries spearheading cutting edge education.  ORT’s vision of educating for life and mission of making people employable and creating employment opportunities is the core of its work in the outreach communities. ORT  SA works very closely in partnerships with the corporates, government and stakeholders to combat poverty and unemployment through education and skills development.

Delegates, attending the event, have observed the capabilities of children once the tools and knowledge-transfer are provided to them and have also witnessed capacity building at schools through equipping the teachers  to teach Math and run the coding clubs  

The coding projects presented by the children have shown more than just programming and computational skills. The projects presented, revealed curiosity and imagination which drives innovation, analytical thinking and problem solving as the children ask the right questions and get to the bottom of the problem. Working in collaboration and team work,  as well as communication and presentation skills. All this skills gained is to ensure that we grow generation of innovators that will craft our future. 

 

Innovation in schools

This article was published in The Jewish Life Magazine August 2015

In the past few months worldwide, the broadcast and print media have covered taxi driver protests objecting to the operations of Uber. Uber is an online taxi application which allows one to order a taxi using a mobile device. You are given the name of the driver who is collecting you, the registration number and type of car, the time you will be picked up and all this is done at a very competitive rate. This innovation has created huge resistance from taxi drivers in countries where Uber operates, as their livelihood is threatened by this system.
However, Uber may not be the ultimate disruption in public/ private transportation. We may find that another innovation such as the driver-less car will soon take precedence over both Uber and Taxis. Fantasy? Google, Volvo and other well-known car brands have already produced the first prototype of cars that cruise the road without a driver! One can only imagine the implications of such innovation, not only on our own lives, but also on the lives of the future workforce.
Globalization, skills shortage, escalation in the unemployment rate, leadership crisis, the need for a sustained plan to look after our natural resources and the climate crisis are all challenges that motivate us to transform education. The perception is that any future growth and prosperity will depend upon the education system -systems that theoretically are meant to provide our students with 21st century skills that will equip them to adapt to an uncertain future.
This requires schools to become leaders in innovation and to embrace and adapt it as part of their values and culture. I believe the three main components to drive innovative leadership in education are curriculum, pedagogy and leadership. What we teach, how we teach it and the leadership to do so in an innovative manner.

“If you are not changing your curriculum, you are saying that nothing is changing” Heidi Hayes Jacobs.
ORT Argentina realised the importance of entrepreneurship for the future of the economy and incorporated it as a part of their school curriculum. They have adopted the approach that although entrepreneurship can be taught, they do not guarantee to produce a Bill Gates or a Donna Karan, any more than a physic professor can guarantee to produce an Albert Einstein, or a tennis coach to produce a Venus Williams. However, by getting students with a suitable aptitude to start a business, ORT Argentina guaranteed to make them better entrepreneurs.

“If we teach today’s students, as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” – John Dewey
How we teach must echo how our students learn and it must also prepare them for the future. Education systems are more and more adopting an approach to teaching that takes into consideration the learning and teaching that will be required in the 21st Century.
In Israel, Kadima Mada has implemented Smart Classrooms in schools at the periphery of the country, simultaneously training the teachers on the new pedagogy. The Smart Classrooms are technology enhanced classrooms that foster opportunities for teaching and learning by integrating learning technology, such as computers, specialized software and audio/visual resources.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and follower” Steve Jobs
Becoming innovative schools leaders, who promote innovative teaching and stimulates innovation amongst students and teachers, requires a proactive approach from school principals and school management teams. Innovation cannot be delegated and has to be modeled by the leaders of the schools. This can be done, by embedding it into schools’ values, promoting programmes such as exchanges students/ teachers with other schools to learn and explore other successful models, by continuous learning of future trends and by modelling creative thinking and communicating.
The World ORT ICT Seminars are held globally. In South Africa it is hosted by the South African Board of Jewish Education (SABJE) and driven by ORT SA. They assist Jewish Schools to learn about cutting edge technologies and trends and to actively learn about new pedagogies which support 21st century learning.

We all need to be able to learn to operate in a challenging, unpredictable environment. Change cannot be avoided and unfortunately cannot be predicted either. We therefore need to adopt an approach of innovation and leadership that will assist us with adopting change and gaining skills to help us cope effectively in unfamiliar and complex situations.