Recent times have seen an increased focus on skills-based education. The aim is to equip students with the knowledge and abilities to be career-ready for current and future jobs.
To gain greater insight into this approach to K-12 education, Edugist speaks to Harish Agarwal, Director and Global Head of Products at Magic Edtech, an educational technology and services company, known for its award-winning flagship learning platform, MagicBox™.
In this interactive session, Mr. Agarwal, who has over two decades of experience in building innovative tech solutions for real-world problems, shares his insights into the needs of K-12 education in helping students become job-ready for the careers of tomorrow.
Team Edugist: What exactly is skills-based education and what skills should K-12 education target for the coming times in terms of enhancing career opportunities?
Harish Agarwal: Skills-based learning equip students to apply and use the knowledge they have gathered through conventional instructional models. The differentiator here, from the traditional approach to education, is that students are provided opportunities to apply concepts learned in the classroom to real world settings.
EdTech offers excellent tools to enable schools provide such hands-on experience of applying knowledge to problem solving. It has a tremendous impact on STEM learning and design thinking – two fields that are going to be the source of a majority of the jobs in the future.
“Edtech tools for K-12 learning not just help build instinctive creativity, critical thinking, but a collaborative mindset and effective communication skills.”- Harish Agarwal
All of these are central to machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics, technologies that are already making their mark on the corporate landscape. They are also likely to define careers of the future.
The need for skills-based learning isn’t new. I remember that at the World Economic Forum 2016, one of the biggest sentiments expressed was about the need for overhauls in educational environments.
Automation is said to take over millions of roles over the world. There is a concurrent need to train the younger generation. Not for new jobs that already exist, but to create new ones. That will be the way forward for K-12 education.
TE: Toddlers are learning to code through robotics-based toys and middle-schoolers are engaging in self-directed learning through EdTech. Would you say that the changing ways in which learning is imparted also benefits the students of today to prepare for a changing economy — for instance video assignments, which facilitate collaboration and soft skills?
HA: Absolutely, there’s no doubt about it. Videos, Augmented reality / Virtual reality, Coding skills using online tools should become part of the curriculum. These technologies should not be looked at in a negative way.
It is time to change the mindset. All the skepticism regarding such technologies and their use in K-12 education has gone through a sea change since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic.
With students unable to attend classes physically, schools and teachers are increasingly looking at ways to make distance learning much more interactive and engaging. Since it makes the grasping of new and even difficult concepts easier for students.
Co-creation and collaborative work, both in terms of working with peers and with rapidly evolving technology, will be required in the coming times. The best part about it is that the access to EdTech solutions make instruction much easier.
While Video conferencing in the classroom might just seem like an exception at this time, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it could be the tipping point that could boost skills based and personalized learning and collaboration.
Teaching the same topic/subjects uniformly to all students is the biggest flaw in today’s education system. Video assessments allow real-world practice, something that has been missing in K-12 education.
TE: How does educational technology help develop problem-solving or computational skills among K-12 learners?
HA: Critical thinking / Problem-solving skills are a major factor in recruitment these days and will continue to be valued in the future as well. It basically refers to the effective application of learning gained theoretically, in order to reach the most viable and cost-effective solution.
In a way, the purpose of education is to prepare student for life. In essence, build problem-solving skills by enabling students to apply their learning to real-life situations.
There is a need to rethink digital education. At this time, most content providers are converting or enhancing their print assets to digital.
In some cases, educational content providers or education publishers build complex technology solutions that completely fail. There is a need to completely focus on three aspects.
- Teaching a particular concept in a way it could be applied to real life.
- Using simulations or digital interactivity as a way to teach the concept.
- Thinking of a tech platform as an enabler for above. Education content providers should not look at technology as a differentiator. It is an enabler.
MagicBox™ , helps create a full-fledged learning ecosystem that promotes problem-solving skills by way of interactive content. It supports simulation, video, audio, eBooks and any other content types that one can think of.
Such functionalities are conducive to STEM learning and design thinking, which help develop skills for solving real-world problems.
MagicBox™ has recently partnered with Bongo, a unique video assessment platform that provides structured video workflows for constant skill practice. We believe this will enhance problem solving and computational skills practice.
TE: For those with limited accessibility to reputed institutions, study material or other resources — due to geographical, economic, linguistic or other barriers — what avenues does a dedicated skills-based education offer?
HA: A recent research pointed towards the severe lack of skills in the working-age population to secure quality jobs in third-world countries. Research has revealed that youth unemployment is directly related to inferior skills-based training.
In America, lack of a proper skills-based education is having an adverse effect on the earning potential of low-income communities.
We have seen from the success of MOOCs, like Khan Academy, Coursera, EdEx, etc., that EdTech could help bridge the gap by allowing schools and higher-education institutions to enrol students from all over the world by way of online programs.
Course content could be made available in different languages. And as I stated above, downloadable books could help promote self-directed learning. It could help strengthen foundational skills and help create a greater number of leaders and creative and critical thinkers.
EdTech has also leveled the playing field. One of the largest benefits of digital learning platforms is that they help cut down the cost of education by a significant percentage.
For instance, A small content provider can now sell globally. OER (Open Education Resources) and the increased global competition has already brought down the prices of textbooks. eBooks cost a fraction of the price that students would normally pay for print textbooks. The cost factor itself fosters inclusivity.
TE: How do you see EdTech solving the challenges faced by K-12 skills-based education providers?
HA: Well, talking of the road ahead in education delivery, skills-based learning still has a long way to go. There are still a few challenges to overcome, as part of the EdTech community, we are working actively to address them.
For instance, we took into account the number of K-12 learners in the US who don’t have steady access to the internet and integrated an offline eReader on our platform.
We have also invested extensively in technology integrations that would address the needs of school. It will also help overcome resistance to new technology, which is a reality in every sphere.
Problems with readability of legacy content, when converted to digital format, have been taken care of through ePub3 standards.
Data privacy and Security is another pervasive challenge when it comes to the transition to digital learning. We are all aware of the Zoom fiasco, which was brought on by sloppy measures for data privacy.
Schools collect huge amounts of personal data, which can become vulnerable when shifted online. Mere compliance is not enough.
Using MagicBox™ would help with transparency in user data collection and handling. This is apart from compliance with regulatory guidelines.
TE: Would a skills-based education put a stop, for good, to the notion that college degrees are the only proof of professional aptitude?
HA: Absolutely. The hegemony of college degrees in securing jobs is facing stiff competition from the reskilling community.
Change is the only constant, an idea that doesn’t enjoy much favor from the faction that believes degrees assure lifelong professional competency.
The truth is that the most in-demand roles today are ones that had not even been thought of a decade ago.
TE: Soft skills, interpersonal skills and communication skills are becoming increasingly important… Can EdTech promote these skills too?
HA: There are so many myths related to EdTech or Digital learning. Most people think that when students take charge of their learning via digital learning, they don’t get to communicate with their peers.
This then leads to the assumption that their interpersonal skills or communication abilities might suffer. What EdTech actually does is the absolute opposite.
For instance, virtual classrooms are bound by a stricter limited-time factor. If approached properly, this can help drive away the distraction of a physical classroom and foster greater mutual engagement among the learners and the teacher.
It also enables greater collaboration through group assignments and course tasks. Discussion forums and other means of online communication help students learn from each other too.
Communication skills are bolstered with multisensory learning experiences. Multimedia also helps in adding layers to project-based learning, which has been seen to develop social-emotional learning. Students can engage much better among themselves and with educators through an EdTech platform.
TE: How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education delivery? Will it leave a lasting impact on the education system?
HA: The pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for education worldwide. Classes have been suspended and examinations cancelled over the world.
Educators and institutions have no option but to depend on alternate models of education delivery. Remote learning platforms and virtual classrooms are no more an option but a necessity.
In my view, there is no better alternative to make learning accessible. Using Digital learning Learners, language-related limitations and other disabilities can be engaged better. With the multi-device and multi-OS support, platforms like MagicBox™ have empowered a lot of learners.
The expansion of this digital learning model will also require constant adaptability with technological advances. We are committed to bringing the best EdTech solutions through our digital learning platform.
We are constantly innovating, so that educational institutions have the best of technology at their disposal.