PeaceX organized a webinar titled “Technology and Education: Bridging the Needs of the 21st Century” on 18 October 2020. The keynote speaker of the event, Mr. Lester Phillipp Vargas Angeles is a Full Stack Developer and Tech Entrepreneur. The event was moderated by Nonjabulo Gumede, a member of PeaceX based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” This quote by Alvin Toffler perfectly encapsulates the theme of the event. With emerging AI technologies and obsolete curriculums, unemployment is on the rise like never before. This ordeal has been further amplified by the Covid 19 pandemic leading to social and economic disruptions, credential inflation and a sudden spike in the numbers of educated unemployed youth. In such a pretext, it is vital to arm students with skills necessary for employment, syllabi that teaches them to work in tandem with technology and using technology to increase efficiency of already existing systems.
The theme of the webinar explores the digital divide between those who have access to technology and those who do not. This digital divide was further exacerbated by the onset of Covid 19 pandemic. The pandemic highlighted the precise scope and extent of this technological disparity with approximately 63 million teachers and 1.2 billion students affected worldwide. The resulting situation raised questions about existing methods of teaching and the modus operandi going forward as education was mostly shifted to online platforms. This stresses the need to bring innovations in the field of education to make it more inclusive, relatable for the students and personalized.
The keynote speaker of the webinar, Mr. Lester Phillipp Vargas Angeles is a Forbes 30 under 30 Fellow in Education (2015). He is a Full Stack Developer and Tech Entrepreneur. In addition to these impressive credentials, he also co-founded FractalUp, a Live Digital Learning SaaS in 2013. The UN Office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth welcomed him into the 2020 Class of Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals. He was nominated to the ‘Oscar of Education’ (2018-2020), consecutively for 2 years by QS World University Rankings and Wharton in the UK.
Q1. What pushed a young man from Peru to work towards revolutionizing education?
I started my company FractalUp with my brothers in 2013 because of an astute realization that educational institutes in Peru aren’t concerned about the quality of education imparted to students. This issue actually isn’t limited only to Peru but plagues the entire world, with only a handful of institutions working towards constantly improving education methodology. At first, I was so taken aback that I wondered in awe, how can this be possible? Despite making strides of advancement in STEM fields, educational modules remain virtually the same globally. Since educational institutes are part of the indispensable framework of each country, we wanted to help them bring in personalized education to tackle the bleak situation.
Q2. As far as education is concerned, many countries were unprepared to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. What are some technological challenges in a developing world?
The primary reason for the pandemic affecting the education sector as harshly as it did was the emphasis on building physical structures for imparting education, rather than investing in technologies. Therefore, the need of the hour is for more and more institutions to begin investing in technological frameworks that can detect whether teaching and learning processes are up to the mark. Say, a couple of decades ago, if institutions had focused more on developing technological frameworks, then the situation wouldn’t be as bad as it is today.
Q3. In line with the theme of our event, what are some 21st century skills that every student needs?
We have identified 4 major skills that every student of the 21st century should be essentially equipped with:
Emotional Intelligence: This involves inculcating in our students the qualities of resilience, learning from failure and flexibility in adapting to one’s external environment.
Critical Thinking: Teaching students to solve problems at their very core instead of adopting surface level measures. This will also help them understand the world.
Creativity: In a world where machines are so much more efficient and better than us at doing many things, creativity assumes utmost importance. We have to empower students to innovate in ways that computers will not be able to do in the coming 100 years.
Collaboration: Last but not the least, we need a world where students and workers can work with each other.
Many of these skills are also required for many jobs. Interestingly, around 90% jobs in the world require basic skills.
Q4. In your opinion, are there countries that are performing rather well in terms of skill building and promoting technology?
Yes, for instance, we our working with the government of Qatar to help them identify and close the gap between the skills required and the skills taught for successful employment in various educational sectors. They have realized that in 20-30 years from now, they need to create more sources of earning for the current batches and create an ecosystem to retain talent. This is a relatively new concept and not many nations have adopted it. For example, Peru is a country that mainly focusses on activities that do not require high levels of education and training such as agriculture and mining.
Q5. How can educators compete with the reinvented format of online learning? Do we still need classroom education?
We have two diametrically opposed ways of going about education technology:
On one hand, we have technology that seeks to replace teachers.
On the other hand, we have the mindset that education must remain 100% physically in classrooms.
The solution is to empower students and teachers so that they can both benefit. This can be achieved by providing teachers the tools and equipment to upskill students in a way that they can match pace with the ever-evolving technology. An accurate example of this would be medical science. Today, doctors have at their disposal the kinds of machines and techniques that were unimaginable a century ago. As a result, doctors make much fewer mistakes today than they did before.
Q6. How can technology in education help special needs students and go beyond the existing system to help them?
Technology in education can definitely help special needs students. For example, in Peru when students get injured or sick, they go to the hospital and miss classes. The government doesn’t do anything for them in such cases. We are helping them to recover those classes so as to not disturb learning. This makes it evident that there are always ways to help. For some things it may take time but we will reach that.
If the event had to be summarized in just one sentence, it could be done only by this quote from Nelson Mandela - “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
If the Covid 19 pandemic has shone light on any aspect of the education sector, it is that teaching and learning is more than just the availability of a functioning mic and screen.
Despite of having qualifications, students don’t have skills for successful employment. Since technology is evolving every day, we need to constantly update our syllabus. The syllabus has to be constantly changed because even if the syllabus is changed a little bit every 5 years, it is still not enough to keep pace with the strides of the technological world, stressing the importance of the final takeaway, which is the need to personalize education.
Investing in technology is extremely critical to improve the quality of education being imparted to students presently. This doesn’t imply that we have to completely do away with traditional methods of teaching, involving physical classrooms and teachers. We need to personalize tools to parents, teachers and administrators as there are certain things that AI will never do, that humans can do. How a student behaves and learns is something only an educator can comprehend. Therefore, technology doesn’t replace teachers, it is simply there to help.