Written by Mr. Colin Sheena  from our Economic & Trade Mission in Dublin, Ireland

In November 2020 the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, (OECD) published a Policy Brief titled “The impact of COVID-19 on student equity and inclusion: Supporting vulnerable students during school closures and school reopenings “ which stated that the pandemic was having a “profound impact, not only on people’s health, but also on how they learn, work and live. It highlighted the challenge faced by a global system of education that was built around physical school attendance and noted that at a peak in the pandemic during 2020 more than 188 countries, encompassing around 91% of enrolled learners worldwide, had closed their schools in an effort to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.[1]

Israel, which was lauded internationally as a model of good containment in the early stages of the pandemic, sadly became the country with the  world’s highest per-capita rates of new infections once the economy and society began to re-open significantly.  Analysis later on suggested that the rapid reopening of schools was a significant factor in the virus’s transmission.

Presently with even greater viral transmission due to mutations of the virus, albeit at a time when vaccine campaigns have begun, schools have been shuttered once again.  This time however the experience of previous closures have allowed schools and policy makers in education to be somewhat better prepared in terms of providing a substitute to traditional school based learning. Along with this however, comes the recognition that there must be further investment in this area and the realisation that mixing technology and education is no longer an option, but an imperative.

According to Merav Horev, Senior VP for educational policy at the National Digital Israel Initiative, a governmental initiative focused on harnessing digital technologies to help accelerate economic growth, reduce socio-economic gaps and promote the accessibility of government to citizens, “gone is the question of whether it is right to mesh tech with education, formal and informal. The question now is how to do it right and how to do it best,….“No one is talking about going back to what was. We’re all talking about the new normal.” [2]

EdTech Innovators to the rescue

As with the digital health and medical device sector, Israeli companies have for many years been innovating in the digital learning arena.  As a result, this industry sector, comprising about four hundred companies, offers a plethora of advanced technological solutions to a variety of audiences, from educational institutions to home users. These include distance learning platforms, administration tools, internet safety solutions, training and authoring platforms, virtual classrooms, documentation and automatic distribution of live and recorded events, video libraries, archives and more.

For example in core subjects such as math, Matific offers an award-winning out of the box solution for distance learning at school, district, state, or national level. It provides thousands of curriculum-aligned activities and worksheets in over 40 languages and combines this with a robust reporting for teachers, administrators, or Ministries of Education.  Other companies such as Class.me provides tools to help students avoid digital information overload and to communicate more easily with teachers and peers using real-time chat apps, on-demand online tutors, assessment tools for teachers, and a private communication network customized to each school, class and age group.

Not just content but engagement too.

Recognising that engagement between student and teacher and not just content is a critical feature of remote learning, Tailor-Ed offers a platform that provides holistic learning experiences to the needs of the teacher, the classroom and individual students. According to Maayan Yavne, CEO, “ Distance learning is not about using Zoom to deliver what you did in the classroom.”…“Our specialty is the social-emotional component, which is very important in distance learning because teachers don’t have the same interaction with students as in the classroom.”

In a interview with Israel21C last year, Avi Warshavsky the CEO of MindCET,  the ed-tech innovation unit of Israel’s nonprofit Center for Educational Technology, said that “most technical issues surrounding distance learning are easily solved, however communication, time-management and self-learning difficulties are harder to address.[3] Hence other companies, such as Composica helps organizations create compelling and highly interactive e-learning content. Its flagship product, allows real-time collaboration and provides rich development features without the need for programming while being capable of delivery on any device.

This vibrant  e-learning ecosystem is supported by organisations like EdTech Israel, a national business hub that successfully connects the Israeli Education business sector with international entrepreneurs, investors, and business partners and collaborates with other national EdTech hubs to share knowhow, and build business relationships in education innovation all around the world.

It seems that for educators and for students alike, every day is a school day indeed.

[1] https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

[2] https://nocamels.com/2020/09/israel-school-hack-teaching-learning/

[3] https://www.israel21c.org/israeli-ed-tech-solutions-help-launch-a-very-unusual-school-year/