In this article for Development Asia, Asian Development Bank’s knowledge sharing portal, we draw on experience in Scotland, Latin America and Asia to demonstrate ways in which partnerships between the public, private and third sectors are helping minimise the disruption to education caused by Covid-19. We go on to identify four key lessons.
Education in the age of Covid-19 – A case study in coping with the disruption
Before Covid-19 struck, and despite the need to prepare young people to live and work in an increasingly digital world, some, perhaps too many, education stakeholders were ambivalent and even dubious about the value of remote and digital learning. Some saw it as the thin end of a wedge in which computers replace teachers and educators; young people spending evermore time in front of screens for study as well as play.
However, the pandemic has demonstrated that the ability to educate remotely adds resilience and minimises the social costs of interrupted education. It has provided examples of good practice and positive impacts in general education, Technical Vocational Education and Training (TEVT) and Higher Education, from many countries including Uruguay, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, pupils, even in well developed countries, tell us that the experience has been mixed.
The value of blended learning is demonstrated amply by e-Sgoil, the remote teaching ecosystem which grew from a desire to provide equality of access and participation for pupils in rural communities scattered across Scotland’s wild Western Isles. E-Sgoil uses the national digital education platform GLOW, and commercial education collaboration software Vscene. Partnerships with public and third sector developers of curricular resources as Scotland’s National Centre for Languages (SCILT) the Confucius Institute (CISS) both based at the University of Strathclyde, Keep Scotland Beautiful, and SCHOLAR, have enabled it to launch a wide range of language, environmental, and cultural content to pupils in Scotland and beyond. Uptake by pupils – often without prompting from their own teachers – has been remarkable.
E-Sgoil’s most recent initiative is fully subscribed, so too is a parallel program of professional development for teachers. While parents were being bombarded with websites that could help, these partners in e-Sgoil recognised the need for learner structure, within a timetabled real time teaching experience. From a standing start and at very little additional costs, a new school was created for Scotland; oversubscribed in some classes within a week. By the 6th of May, 15,364 young learners aged 5-18 from all 32 Local Authorities had been involved in this new school, almost 500 were on a waiting list, and just over 300 teachers were enrolled for professional development activities.
Lessons to be learned
What lessons can we draw from such examples of good practice?
The first lesson is that education systems which already had an embedded digital culture made the transition from blended learning to remote learning far more smoothly and effectively than those who found themselves making the transition from traditional learning as an emergency measure. Examples of good practice include Plan Ceibal in Uruguay and e-Sgoil.
A second lesson is that there is no need to spend time and effort developing bespoke content and platforms – high quality educational resources are widely available on digital and broadcast channels such as BBC Bitesize. Excellent virtual learning tools such as Moodle, Padlet and Google Classroom are easy to adapt to local context and curriculum. Connectivity solutions can always be found and need not be digital, as the examples of Pakistan and Uzbekistan show. The appeal with e-Sgoil has been the real time pedagogic interface between the educators and the learners focused on curriculum offers that are appealing and recognisable in their educational systems.
The third lesson is the importance of partnership. The success achieved by e-Sgoil is attributable to its leverage of partnerships to provide educational resources; Scottish Government’s commitment through its Deputy First Minister has been crucial. This allows e-Sgoil’s small staff team focus their energy on developing the teaching methods and equipping teachers and pupils with the skills needed to operate in a remote learning environment. As in every educational setting, the degree of success is a function of the skills of the teacher. Whilst some sources highlight concerns, e-Sgoil has identified some key points of guidance for effective remote teaching.
The fourth lesson concerns coordination and management. Teachers operating in the ‘new normal’ have commented on how the balance of their workload has changed and the highlighted the importance of effective communications with parents and pupils, especially in areas of high deprivation and when supporting the most vulnerable pupils. There are opportunities for efficiency though, such as by ensuring that pupils all use the same online platform. For example use of GLOW (the national digital learning platform) was found to be patchy across Scotland, and this had to be addressed for pupils outside the Western Isles accessing e-Sgoil. Coordinated timetabling is essential for remote teaching across multiple schools as is technical back up in the first few course lessons when human error can impact on the learning experience.
In conclusion, traditional education systems have evolved over decades if not centuries, and they are generally poor at coping with emergencies. The Covid-19 crisis has precipitated innovation and development at an unprecedented pace, and has demonstrated the potential for remote learning within a blended learning environment as a tool to enhance access. It is very likely that in many global educational systems the ‘ new normal ‘ will be around for many months and hopefully one of the positive legacies of Covid-19 will be an acceptance that blended learning, where there is direct interface between educators and learners no matter distances, can be firmly established.
Every education system would do well to ask how it can improve its remote learning capability to improve resilience in emergency situations, and help minimise the social costs of interrupted learning. The best examples focus on developing teachers’ skills, and leverage partnerships with a range of organisations in the public, private and third sectors to meet the learning needs of pupils.
About the Authors
Martin Finnigan is Director of Caledonian Economics. He works with governments and international development agencies, developing better partnerships in the education sector.
Bruce Robertson is a former Director of Education and a Visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.
On 6 September, the Government of Uruguay signed the country’s first Education PPP contract which will create 59 new kindergartens and support centres for infants and families throughout the country.
Our team at Caledonian Economics helped develop the business case and technical specifications for this wonderful project.
Compared to other infrastructure sectors, education needs a different approach to identifying projects for public–private partnerships.
In this blog for Development Asia, an initiative of Asian Development Bank, we draw on experience from around the world to demonstrate that the education sector needs a different approach to PPP project identification and selection compared to the classic infrastructure sectors (such as transport, energy, municipal services), and propose a viable methodology.
In anticipation of a forthcoming assignment, I recently attended “What’s Next for Education Reforms in Punjab”. This event was hosted by the Centre for Global Development in London.
Speakers from the #Punjab #School #Education #Department, #DFID, and The Citizens Foundation (#TCF) shared experiences and views on Punjab’s fast-paced and ambitious education reforms.
I have published a full report on my Linkedin page, and present a summary of the key points below:
- Pace of Change: Last year the Economist described Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous state, as “home to the most frenetic education reforms in the world, trying to make up for generations of neglect”.
- The infrastructure gap: it is estimated that 80,000 new schools are needed in Pakistan. Many existing buildings are crumbling and overflowing.
- Data is king: Pakistan has diligently gathered data on education for many years. There is scope to use data more effectively as the evidence base for policy-making.
- Quantity and Quality: there was much discussion about initiatives to improve teaching, the curriculum and assessment. Whilst Pakistan is making good progress at reducing poverty, improvements in human capital are falling behind some of its neighbours.
- Public and private alignment: the concept of the mission-aligned cooperation between the public and private sectors was discussed extensively.
I would like to thank event organisers at Centre for Global Development, and the speakers for such an interesting discussion.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremony of Oban High School, a PPP school on the west coast of Scotland. The building is a superb example of a modern learning environment, but the stars of the day were the pupils whose excitement and enthusiasm was a joy.
My team at Caledonian Economics were financial transaction advisers on the project, which reached financial close in 2016. The new building opened for pupils in 2018, with demolition of the old school buildings and sports pitches completed this year.
Reflecting on this in the light of my recent projects in #Azerbaijan, #Uzbekistan and #Kosovo, I wondered what lessons we can apply, as we tackle the challenges of crumbling buildings and dynamic populations in these former Soviet countries.
Lesson 1) – school estate regeneration is a long term business. My involvement with redevelopment of schools in the region goes back to the feasibility study we wrote in 2000. This led to a series of developments using both direct capital investment and PPP modalities. The approach I recommend in developing countries is to:
- start by making the most efficient use of the classroom space that already exists;
- next, tackle areas of greatest need – buildings in bad condition, or mismatch between forecast population and classroom spaces;
- then, choose the procurement method that is best suited to the task at hand. Our large new high schools are #DBFM -type #PPPs, small primary schools are financed using government capital, and refurbishments use budgeted revenues.
Lesson 2) – listen to the pupils. The range of facilities in the new school are striking: gymnasium, dance and music studios, workshops for vocational skills, and all weather sport pitches. Yet, when I asked pupils what they would recommend for as priorities to maximise the impact on pupils of new school buildings in developing countries, they told me about the simple things, such as:
- bright, airy, uncluttered classrooms and informal ‘break-out’ spaces;
- avoid projectors and screens – large bright backlit monitors are much easier to read;
- plenty of whiteboard space, to capture important points;
- good school meals.
Lesson 3) – create networks of institutions. Oban High School works closely with the small (30 pupils) High School on the remote island of Tiree. Video links and screen sharing, backed up with in-person visits, tackle the curriculum constraints and provide developmental experiences for staff and pupils.
The Oban-Tiree link generally involves connecting classes, as compared to the one-to-one approach being followed by e-sgoil in the Western Isles. These techniques are relevant for remote, rural and mobile communities in developing countries. Reliability, I have been told, is more important than bandwidth: good audio matters more than high resolution video.
The network also includes the local further education (#VET) college who deliver training on construction, marine and mechanic skills.
Lesson 4) – In Oban I saw how extra-curricular after-school arts, sport and music activities build social and team-working skills, and strengthen the core curriculum.
Many schools in developing countries operate with two or three shifts of pupils – sometimes a response to population growth, but sometimes also a consequence of demand for popular schools while nearby schools have spare capacity. Multiple shifts make extra curricular activities virtually impossible, depriving pupils of opportunities to increase the quality and value of their school days. This is a primary determinant of ‘need’ described in Lesson 1).
Finally I would like to thank the Head Teacher Mr Bain, the staff at the school, the team at Argyll & Bute Council, and especially the pupils of Oban High School for a memorable, instructive and very enjoyable day.
We are very pleased to be working in an international team to support the Ministry of Education in #Azerbaijan on a long term donor-funded assignment to explore opportunities to expand the use of public-private partnerships (#PPP) in the Education sector.
This country of around 10 million people is a place of great contrasts. In the capital Baku, a glitzy modern centre sits alongside ancient Silk Road caravanserais, while an easy drive on good roads crosses the arid coastal desert before rising into the Caucasus – a mountain range as high as the alps.
Azerbaijani, a language closely related to Turkish, is the main language, with most people also speaking Russian. English is not widely spoken, although this is changing rapidly as international links grow. Most of the country was part of the Russian empire in the 19th century then the USSR until independence in the early 1990s.
Education is secular and compulsory from years 1 to 9 plus a pre-school year, and a high proportion of pupils do an additional two years in school. Most then go on to college or university.
We are looking forward to identifying the most suitable PPP modalities for addressing challenges within the education system here, testing their feasibility, and helping develop capacity and capability within the country.
The new £32 million education campus will replace three existing schools in the town and will include #nursery, #primary, #secondary, and further educational facilities.
The project is being delivered in partnership with hub South East Scotland using the standard Scottish PPP/DBFM structure, and achieved financial close 13 months after the business case (known as the New Project Request) was approved.
This successful project continues our relationship with the Council, having previously advised them on the development of the new Kelso High School which achieved Financial Close in February 2016 and which opened on time and budget in November 2017.
We have been appointed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to support them and the Municipality of Prishtina with the preparation and implementation of the first Education PPP project in Kosovo. The project will see two schools rehabilitated and four new ones built. Our role will be to help address various technical and commercial issues as part of IFC’s due diligence and transaction structuring.
This will be the first Education PPP in Kosovo, and continues our leading role in structuring Education PPPs worldwide. It adds IFC (part of the World Bank Group) to the list of Multilateral Development Bank partners with whom we have worked on Education PPP assignments, a list that also includes the Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Development Bank of Latin America and the European Investment Bank.
The ‘One Year Review’ of e-sgoil, written by our Education Specialist Bruce Robertson and Director Martin Finnigan, has been published by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, (Western Isles Council). Our review documents the remarkable success of this initiative which takes Smart Cities concepts and applies them in a rural Smart Islands context.
Careful data gathering and analysis, reliable communications infrastructure and technology-literate teaching staff have opened up new curriculum and pedagogical opportunities throughout the islands.
The potential of this approach to extend from schools into vocational and higher education has been demonstrated, and the impact on Cosnadh (employment), Cánan (language), Cultar (culture) and Coimhearsnachd (community) is clear.
The report assesses progress against the funding objectives, describes the transformational business model, and identifies the current and potential economic impacts.
The e-sgoil model is inexpensive, efficient and scalable. It is applicable in remote, rural and dispersed communities regardless of location. The report is can be downloaded here.