Challenges to the international education sector have been unprecedented, with travel bans and school and university closures.
And in Estonia – already a digital-embracing nation where e-residency is available – the Ministry of Education & Research announced the country is “humbled to share all of its digital education tools to support other countries’ education systems during the COVID-19 crisis”.
“This is waking people up and making them modernise their approach to instruction”
Remote learning has been adopted as a strategy by institutions as they cope with sweeping restrictions put in place by governments who are trying to tackle the virus.
“We’re here to help in any way we can,” said Jean-Pierre Guittard, CEO and founder of iTeach.world, an ed tech company that offers a modern virtual learning environment (VLE) and LMS to students and teachers.
“During this transition we’ll be doing our best to support teachers and schools and to continue to support them with a free online tool.
“I know a lot of other ed tech companies are opening their tools, whether it is curriculum books or online tools that students can use. Everybody’s trying to do their best to pitch in and help out as best they can,” he told The PIE News.
The demand for the company’s virtual classroom is high and according to Guittard, iTeach.world has had a 4000% increase in usage over the past two weeks.
Demand is also being satisfied by companies like Silicon Valley-based higher ed tech company Raftr which is offering its messaging and notifications platform to colleges and universities free of charge through the end of the academic year.
Raftr’s app is designed to facilitate instant and direct communication between college administrations and their students in a mobile-first platform, including the ability to send direct messages instantly to students’ mobile devices.
“Raftr can provide universities immediate access to communicate with their students, faculty, staff, and even parents, anywhere in the world,” said Raftr founder and CEO Sue Decker.
“It is very fast to implement and designed for interactive, flexible and coordinated communication on a stand-alone basis or to supplement email communication.”
This push of philanthropic activity is a global phenomenon. InterGreat Education Group, a UK-based education agent, is providing free online lessons to Chinese families that want their children taught in English, with an international style of curriculum.
Yinghui Gilbert, director of international partnerships at IEG, told The PIE that the company had developed a free online program which is currently only available in China.
The program is aimed at providing home-based learning (HBL) for school-aged children between 6 and 16 year of age.
“When we heard the announcement from the Ministry of Education (MoE) in China, IEG realised that the knock-on effects for this would be huge if no thought-through alternative provision was available for the students in the vacuum,” she said.
“IEG realised that the knock-on effects would be huge if no thought-through alternative provision was available”
The challenges of shifting from a face-to-face model to teaching online have been noted by some organisations.
In fact, Aula’s CEO noted, “We have prepared a (very brief!) quick-start guide to get started with teaching remotely on Aula” as he announced the social learning platform would offer free unlimited licences.
The Republic of Estonia’s Ministry of Education and Research is offering a range of digital education solutions for free to help educators make the jump into remote teaching.
Guittard explained that as more people move online, there may also be difficulties with internet access given volume demands.
“The biggest challenge I’m seeing for some students is internet bandwidth. So everybody is being put online but in some countries and some areas the internet just isn’t what it should be for this type of thing. This is affecting some students and teacher’s experience,” he told The PIE.
Despite these issues, Guittard said he believes the coronavirus outbreak will show people the importance and value of remote learning.
“I think what is going to change here is that schools are being forced to make the change that they need to make, because in the background there’s been this huge market shift where people have realised that we have these communication tools… This is waking people up and making them modernise their approach to instruction.”