Peter Lacey, the Commercial Head for MEA at Acer Middle East, speaks about the challenges faced by the education sector, how these challenges can be overcome and the way forward for the industry
How has the pandemic affected the education sector in the region?
The single biggest change has been the environmental one. With schooling moving from a classroom to a home setting in 2020, teachers have had to adapt to a new way of delivering lessons and parents have had to turn into ‘assistant teachers’. The need for educators to be able to teach, communicate and interact with students drove hardware sales but it came with a steep learning curve. Schools that already had a one-to-one strategy (one student, one device) going into 2020 benefited from not having to adapt to and learn new teaching methodologies. Connectivity became the buzzword and of course, the Wifi capability of a device became more important than the processor.
In light of this, the Acer TMB311 flourished as we never compromised on the quality of product and provided the latest Wi-fi technology in all our student and teacher devices. Acer also understood that the amount of time which would be spent in front of a screen was going to increase dramatically, so our devices come with Acer Bluelight technology to assist with protecting eyesight. Anti-microbial solutions were also introduced on the surface of the chassis, the touchscreen, top cover, keyboard, and touchpad. With this, devices can stay cleaner longer and will not require regular alcohol scrubbing or specialised covers.
What sort of opportunities do you see in the regional education sector?
In 2018, Acer began an Innovative School program that brought together teachers from across the Middle East and Europe and gave them a platform to share best practices and learn from each other. In 2020, these relationships became fruitful, as the best practices these teachers were sharing with each other over the course of three years, were being put into practice due to online learning. They were quickly able to transfer these skills across their schools and upskill their staff to work in this new environment.
As schools start to open up in the region, we will continue to strengthen these relationships and identify how through technology, we can together offer an innovative hybrid learning experience. We will continue to work closely with our partners like Adobe and Magix, which will result in us being able to propose curriculum development courses and look at internship programs that will deliver new skills to students in a safe and controlled environment.
Is there a digital disconnect despite tech tools being available for distance education?
The disconnect is more about how students use the internet when directed by their teachers or school as opposed to the same educational usage outside of the school environment. With so many control measures in place to protect students in the school environment the restrictions to their freedom of access to information can lead to quite the opposite: misinformation, false reports, cyber bullying and dystopian views of society.
How can this digital disconnect be bridged?
This can be achieved through freedom of access in a controlled environment. This will be difficult to achieve and will rely on machine learning to gradually expand the horizons of students and their access to material online that will enhance the education experience.
STEM has risen as the go to stream of education during the pandemic. What importance does STEM have in developing the skillsets of a student?
STEM is really about social and emotional learning, often referred to as EQ (Emotional Intelligence). With students being away from the classroom environment, STEM could give opportunities to reinforce the teaching experience. It should help develop and enable them to apply skills (creative thinking) to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, maintain positive relationships and increase problem-solving abilities in real-life situations.
This topic is difficult to cover in detail in a short question but how it relates to technology is easier to see. By offering project-based work, STEM has allowed students to explore independently of the teaching environment. My belief is that we are developing “thinkers” who will be able to solve the problems of the future. Acer for Education is driven by the by innovation, engagement and empowerment and this is reflected in the high quality of our devices. With a focus on quality stylus and screens, Acer is not limiting the learner’s ability to create and deliver projects conceptualised in their minds.Acer gives them tools to effectively bring those thoughts and dreams to life.
Do you provide solutions today to make STEM learning a seamless experience?
At Acer, we are continuously looking to partners, particularly in Maths and Science, who are developing applications and software that test the critical thinking of students. For example, projects like Scottie Go!, a simple robotics program for young learners, has the ability to get students thinking laterally.
What about the security aspects of online learning? How can that be addressed?
Online Security has been one of the key focus areas for Acer. As a result of our close relationships with key software partners such as Acer Classroom Manager, Skooler, and Mobile Guardian, we are able to safely secure the entire school environment for both Microsoft and Google Chrome devices. With the level of security we have built with these partners, we are able to control the device through various levels of security.
From blocking undesirable sites to controlling the choice of words used by students, we can effectively offer the best of class security to the school environment. We even have the ability to extend this level of control beyond the classroom and into the home environment if that is a feature that parents would like to see. This can be done on a device-by-device level ensuring the highest degree of flexibility.