Beyond the Classroom Walls: An opportunity for an inclusive digitalisation of education

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders  from around the world and all parts of society  address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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The need to transform the education sector is overdue. The closure of schools around the world triggered by the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the challenges faced by schools, teachers and students to secure education continuity away from classrooms. On 10 September, ProFuturo had the chance to join a cross-sectoral discussion on Schooling in Times of Covid-19 convened by the OECD Forum. Together with practitioners and educational experts, we explored how the pandemic is changing education and opening an opportunity to rethink schooling.

During the Forum, we had the chance to hear from Lucy Kellaway, a secondary school teacher, who shared her experience on the challenges she and her students faced during the lockdown. The sudden halt of in-class education shows that most schools were not prepared to offer students distance education, and that not all teachers have the skills or the appropriate training to teach remotely.

Also on the Forum Network: “Schooling in Times of COVID-19”: Highlights from the OECD Forum Virtual Event by Willemien Bax, Head, OECD Forum

While digital education cannot substitute traditional schooling, at ProFuturo we believe that, in addition to maintaining lessons beyond the classroom walls — when the world is in lock down or when other barriers limit face-to-face education — it can improve the quality of education.

Digitalising education is not only about introducing technology into the classroom. Most importantly, it is about enhancing digital literacy to help teachers, students and schools to develop 21st century skills for our digital era. We should seize this opportunity to accelerate the digitalisation of education.

This is at the centre of what ProFuturo does. We are a digital education programme created in 2016 by two Spanish institutions, the Telefónica Foundation and ”la Caixa” Foundation. Our goal is to narrow the education gap in the world, bringing quality teaching to children in vulnerable environments through technology and innovative teaching-learning experiences. We focus on teachers as activators of the learning process, and use these tools to promote the development of their pedagogical and digital skills. We help to enable them to integrate technology in the classroom and prepare their students to thrive in the 21st century.

To mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on education, during the lockdown we made all of our teacher training courses and educational resources available to anyone, free of charge. In order to reach even more people, we also offered them to education ministries in the countries ProFuturo operates in and international institutions to be included in their educational platforms. We also reinforced training on innovation, ICT and digital competencies to our local partners so they could support teachers and students remotely.

Our founding partner, Telefónica, has also taken many initiatives, focusing initially on ensuring connectivity to address the early impacts of the pandemic. In the longer term, Telefónica has proposed a new Digital Deal for a fair and inclusive digital transition where education an digital skills play a fundamental role.

While embracing technology allowed many students to continue with the school year during the lockdown, it also made clear the pre-existing digital divide in many parts of the world. There are disparities in access to technology and connectivity of students from different socio-economic backgrounds, and inequalities in education disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. We need to digitalise education, but the transformation must be inclusive to guarantee no one is left behind.

Also on the Forum Network: The value of connectivity: How COVID-19 turned us into digital societies by Enrique Medina Malo, Chief Policy Officer, Telefónica, S.A.

At ProFuturo we strongly believe that digital education is a powerful tool that can tear down geographic and socio-economic barriers and transform the world. Technology can reach children that would not have access to education otherwise, and tailor teaching to different environments to offer equal learning opportunities to everybody. The digitalisation of education can contribute to narrowing the educational gap in the world and support country development and social equity.

During the past four years, we have demonstrated that it is possible to deliver quality education anywhere in the world. Right now, we are operating in extremely vulnerable environments such as suburbs of big African cities; remote areas like the Brazilian Amazonia; and emergency contexts where we have tested our programme in refugee camps in Lebanon or Malawi.

Over the past several months, we have used every possible tool to keep on reaching the unconnected, ensuring the continuity of teacher training even in remote areas with no internet connection or access to technological devices. These include interactive presentations, podcasts, audio and video lessons for radio and TV broadcasting, Whatsapp forums and distribution of printed workbooks door-to-door.

Seven months into the crisis — and with no clear end to it — there is no doubt that the educational transformation underway is irreversible. It is now our collective responsibility to ensure it fulfils teachers´ and students´ needs and leaves nobody behind. The challenge of transforming the education sector and ensuring no one is left behind is immense, but we believe we can do it if we work together. 

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Tackling COVID-19 Future of Education & Skills Digital Inclusion

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Magdalena Brier López-Guerrero

Managing Director, ProFuturo Foundation

Magdalena Brier is the Managing Director of ProFuturo Foundation, an education programme launched in 2016 by Telefonica Foundation and “la Caixa” Foundation to narrow the education gap in the world by providing quality digital education for children in vulnerable contexts. ProFuturo has benefited more than 11,5 million children and 450.000 teachers in 38 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. She holds a Master’s degree in Economic Sciences from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) and an MBA from IESE Business School. She joined the Telefonica Group in August 2000 as Deputy Director of Finance and Planning for Telefonica Data. She had previously held several positions in Financing international projects and Financial Controlling within Alcatel Spain since 1989. After a period working in Financial Controlling for Telefonica Group, she joined Telefonica Foundation in November 2008 as Director of Management and Resources. In January 2019, she was promoted to Chief of Staff of the Chairman´s Office, assuming the coordination of Telefonica Foundation and ProFuturo Foundation. In June 2019, she was appointed Managing Director of ProFuturo Foundation.

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