Address ‘Resistance to Change’ for a Digitised Education

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Change is a part and parcel of life. However, human beings tend to resist change. It becomes more evident, when there is a perception that digital transformation makes one’s already acquired skills outdated, warned a Government publication recently.

The report dated 7 April 2022, titled ‘Policy for Digital Transformation of Education’ which is a joint publication of the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), Ministry of Education, Sri Lanka Association for Software Services Companies (SLASSCOM), Federation of Information Technology Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS), The Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL), further warned that though there is the need for learning new skills for career growth, many will see it as a challenge they are not ready to undertake.

The policy document found on the ICTA website which proposed 19 ‘key focus’ areas to take ‘digital education’ forward, further expanded as policy proposals, where it advised that resistance to digital transformation by different stakeholders must be addressed tactfully, rather than by strict rules and regulations, understanding their true issues and providing practical solutions to them.

Those 19 key focus areas in short are Digital Transformation in Education including Disrupting Traditional Norms, Preparing for Future Challenges, ‘Hands-on’ Digital Education for All, Keeping Pace with Industry, Digital Environment for Students, Resources for Digital Education, Learning Management Systems, Self-Learning, Soft-Skills Development, Management of Information Systems, Digital Administration Skills, Facilitating Online Learning, Teachers’ Skills, Students’ Skills, Security in Digital Space, ‘Informed Parents’, Sustainable Digitalisation, Software Use and ‘Priority for the Transformation Effort’, respectively.

Resistance to digital transformation by academics, officers and parents should be addressed by; 1. Conducting annual assessments focusing on academic and administrative digital skills; 2. Encouraging the use of digital solutions and providing opportunities (promotions, training, etc.) for teachers and 3. Launching awareness campaigns and change management programmes focusing on students, parents and the public, the document recommended.

Among the other policy recommendations are for students to receive an updated and advanced education that trains them to take the challenges of the contemporary job market; locally and internationally. They should always possess the necessary digital skills better than or on par with students from any part of the world.

Demands of the local and international job markets undergo frequent and continuous transformation, as a result of substantial changes in the industries. Therefore, the training provided for students should keep abreast with industry demand, or else, they would find it difficult to draw the attention of prospective employers.

Market demand is for both soft and hard skills, hands-on experience in a gamut of technologies and attributes like willingness to continuously learn and positive attitude towards work. Therefore, ‘Digital Education’ should always keep pace with current and future industry ‘desired skills’ in the local and international job markets.

In the process of designing new courses, modules, etc., all educational institutions should make every effort to ensure advancement, up-to-date and stay abreast with the industry challenges.  They should; constantly review their syllabuses to keep pace with industry; constantly research on the module development by international universities and all other international educational institutions to replicate/follow the same locally.

Industry trends

Universities and higher educational institutions should take necessary steps to hold regular discussions with industry partners to learn about industry trends. They should send their staff on industry training, both local and international, to provide the necessary industry exposure.

The syllabuses should be frequently and regularly updated to keep in pace with the latest digital advancements. It is also recommended to conduct at least 30- 40 per cent of the evaluation of ICT subjects practically, not just in paper-based examinations, as is the case at present.

Other policy recommendations as outlined by the proposed document are; recognition of the need for compulsory career guidance for all students before they enter tertiary education as well as the industry after the completion of vocational training courses; digital education not to be taken as complete, without the practical component; the digital skills training part not to be an additional or supplementary part to the curricula.

It further recommended: 1. Make steps to include practical ‘hands on’ training as a key component of all study courses of digital education at the primary, secondary or tertiary levels. 2. Review and when necessary, update the course contents, at least once in every three years to ensure this requirement is fulfilled. 3. Let students provide their feedback on student evaluations on the adequacy of the practical training they have received during the courses and act on any concerns or complaints and 4. Education authorities should provide the necessary resources for students at every level for practical digital skills developments.

“Every student, irrespective of the study stream he/she follows, should have the opportunity to develop digital skills within the curricula, as a core part of it, with adequate time allocation,” the ICTA added in this report. “No student should be deprived of this facility”.

All relevant lecturers and trainers at every university and vocational training institute should maintain close relationships with the industry and be always updated with industry developments. “Organise special allowance for lecturers/trainers to encourage them to undergo industrial training,” it further stated.  Provide the necessary devices for the staff members at a ‘fair and easy’ monthly instalment repayment plan and also reconsider the existing salary schemes (other allowances too).

The report also suggested to: “Continuously discuss with industry organisations (and if necessary individual firms) to setup flexible mechanisms/processes of updating digital education curricula frequently and regularly.”

All educational institutions must possess the resources (equipment) necessary to create the ‘ideal’ environment for digital education: 1. Annually conduct surveys and find the right user requirements. 2. Maintain well-equipped computer labs relevant to the curricula. 3. Provide equipment and required space or alternatively, funds to procure the same. 4. Protect the equipment provided so that multiple batches may use the same equipment/facilities for substantially longer periods without looking for replacements. 5. Monitor and maintain the facilities/equipment so that they would be in sound condition for use by the students. 6. Regularly/frequently check the condition of the equipment and suggest replacements for the ones that are malfunctioning and/or are out of order. Constantly check whether the equipment/facilities are adequate/advanced enough for the courses to be carried out and 8. In addition to the main source of funds, (if possible) endeavour to find ways and means to procure equipment/facilities.

“All schools, universities, higher educational and vocational training institutes must make necessary learning resources (books, journals, videos etc.) available to their students,” it stated.  Introduce Learning Management System (LMS) solutions for all courses that require them for educational activities.  Conduct training for both the teaching staff as well as students for the use of LMSs.

Introduce self-learning components in all relevant courses when the curricula are revisited and revised. Monitor and ensure students complete the necessary self-studying components.  Make sure that resources and assessment methodologies available with all curricula are guided by learner-centred education theories. Introduce a grading system for self-learning activities while giving priority to self-learning in subjects. Introduce online ‘self-evaluation examination methods’ and explore the possibilities of re-vitalising the ‘Nenasala’ programme in a scale up to a self-sustainability model.

Provide all educational institutions with comprehensive management systems for their education, administration and management purposes. Have mechanisms for administrators to improve digital skills in their day-to-day administrative operations. All academic staff should be able to utilise available digital technologies in their respective work areas. Conduct annual assessments focusing the digital skills of Principals, Teachers and Officers with an ‘earning points’ mechanism for their annual targets in the utilisation of digital technologies. Attach compulsory digital skills assessing components to their work areas (Learning outcome, etc.). Teachers, Principals and Officers should be made responsible and accountable for completing a set of modules prepared for each level to ensure digital literacy and identify the range of digital devices which could be used in teaching-learning process. (Next Week: English, Soft Skills, Needed to Make Sense of Digital Education)

By Paneetha Ameresekere