COVID-19: School closings, global adoption of digital learning and efforts to include emerging economies

 

Nine days ago, CanopyLAB made a pledge to educational institutions worldwide to help them transition to digital learning through a 6-month free trial of our learning software. Co-founder and CEO Sahra-Josephine Hjorth gives a rundown of the events since then. The interview is conducted by CanopyLAB’s Head of Partnerships, Yamanda Boukmakh.

 


 

We have agreed to help 78 educational institutions so far. They represent 543.980 students, spanning 17 countries and 4 continents.

 

Yamanda: To start off with, I think it would be helpful for all of us to understand to what extent have people taken you up on your offer?

 

Sahra-Josephine: We have agreed to help 78 educational institutions so far. They represent 543.980 students, spanning 17 countries and 4 continents. There are some clearly identifiable patterns in the data. We see three main types of institutions: 1) Universities, 2) colleges or vocational schools, 3) language schools. Of course we also get requests form Middle Schools, music schools etc. but less so.

 

Yamanda: What about demographics?

 

Sahra-Josephine: While 90% of requests for help are from Latin America, we can see patterns that follow when different countries or regions implement lockdown policies. The first wave of requests was from Denmark, Sweden, Croatia, Spain and Portugal, followed by Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Ecuador. Last night, we began to see requests from Uganda and Nigeria.

 

Yamanda: Why did you decide to make the software free of 6 months with a promise of extending the period if deemed necessary?

 

We’ve always been passionate about equal access to education.

 

Sahra-Josephine: We’ve always been passionate about equal access to education. This remains an illusion because access to education is far from equal, but in this particular situation it was just so clear who would be left behind. In Denmark, every school already uses some digital technology to teach. Of course the quality differs, but there is access. That is not the case in a lot of countries in Latin America, Africa, the United States and some parts of Europe. It is actually very shocking to realize what different stages we are at in our digitization journeys.

 

Yamanda: How are you coping with the large number of new students?

 

Sahra-Josephine: It’s a very unique situation and we are doing the best we can, while everyone is also home taking care of their kids. The team has been unbelievable. We have also asked for extra help.

 

Yamanda: What kind of help?

 

We have launched a global ambassador program of student volunteers who help 2-5 hours in total to spread the world about our offer in their home countries.

 

Sahra-Josephine: We have pulled in a lot of new talented people. New Board members, advisors, team members, friends and neighbors! We have launched a global ambassador program of student volunteers who help 2-5 hours in total to spread the world about our offer in their home countries. But there are a lot of implications, especially on the technical side, where we have had to scale up hosting etc. very fast. We are still in the process of doing that, and are onboarding people in small batches while stress-testing the platform.


Yamanda: Do you think this mass-onboarding of learners to digital platforms is a short-term phenomenon?

 

Sahra-Josephine: No. I agree with those who already predict that this speeds up a process of digitization that was already taking place. Afterwards we will see a continued uptake in digital learning, combined with blended learning.

 

Yamanda: Are the trends the same globally?

 

Sahra-Josephine: Not at all. While there is a global move towards digital learning, Internet availability and the price of learning management systems or learning experience systems are important factors. In many Latin American countries, Internet access is becoming more widespread and we already started to see some digitization in education and HR. To me, this is by far the most interesting market. There are hotspots in Africa where access enables digital learning, but huge areas where it still isn’t really an option unless there is downloadable content and sponsors of data plans or other creative setups.

 

Yamanda: So what is on your agenda for the coming nine days?

 

[…] help at an exponential rate

 

Sahra-Josephine: Onboarding all of the people who are waiting for access. Providing great user and customer service experience, and helping them get started. We have designed the platform like a social network, that means it is a structure many people already feel comfortable with, so we don’t expect it to be necessary to have too much hand holding. At the same time, we are launching webinars, virtual pedagogy and feature series etc. to give all the support needed. If anything, the school closings show us how adaptable we can be. It has also enabled us to help at an exponential rate, which we are very proud of.

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