The Future of Education — Digital, Immersive, and Seamless

This article is sponsored by Adobe.

The way students, faculty and staff — the three key stakeholders in the education sector — are consuming, producing and conveying information has radically changed over the past decade. Teaching and learning now are centered around digital experiences, and at the same time undergoing major operational transformation with workplace disruptions especially over the past two years.

In a webinar organized by Jicara Media and hosted by Adobe, senior executives from the education sector from ASEAN gathered to discuss the changing needs of education, the transformations sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for students to develop creativity and critical thinking skills.

The need for a new approach to education 

Dr Tim Kitchen, Senior Education Specialist, Adobe Digital Media, Asia Pacific, began the discussion by highlighting the World Economic Forum’s Top 5 most important skills for the future, published in 2016. These were: (5) coordinating with others, teamwork, collaboration; (4) people management and leadership; (3) creativity, (2) critical thinking, and (1) complex problem solving.

He then showed how the current education system around the world is based on the needs of the past, and does not train students in such skills.

He elaborated, “This education system was initially designed as we moved from an agrarian society – farms – to an industrial society. And now, we’re in a digital society, and moving to what many are calling a creative society. Our education systems desperately need to catch up to help us better prepare pathways for student success. It’s not that the education system in schools and universities is totally broken. It’s just that it really wasn’t built for the modern society that we live in. We’re still holding on to old assumptions, old mindset, and old education approaches that are literally more than a hundred years old. For example, the concept of everyone learning at the same time, and being grouped by age rather than by interest.”

How COVID-19 has disrupted education

Titu Minhas, Senior Manager, Enterprise Sales, Adobe Experience Cloud, gave an overview of how the different countries in ASEAN coped with the pandemic.

“There were some institutes and schools who were ready for this – and unfortunately there were some who were not, and they are hit harder. And what we have seen is, if you look at the whole of Southeast Asia, we have seen different approaches in different regions. Singapore was well-prepared for this and most of the schools immediately went to remote learning or online learning. But what we saw was a struggle coming in from some other countries in Southeast Asia, because they were not ready. But now they know that this is the short-term future and they have to prepare for this, and we’re seeing they’re taking steps to improve their infrastructure in terms of using technology for remote learning,” he said.

Mohammad Rizaldi, S.T., M.Ds, Head of Visual Communication Design Study Program, Faculty of Art & Design, Universitas Multimedia Nusantara, described how ancillary industries in Indonesia were similarly disrupted.

He explained, “In the publication industry, especially in Indonesia in print publications, disruption is happening. Some publications went from hundreds of thousands of prints every day to as low as tens of thousands. It is not a problem of content, or information deficiency, but how we now receive that information based on our preferences, or technology, or our improved lifestyles. People now expect more personal or customized information that is, more importantly, interactive. This is what some of the old media cannot provide.”

Covid-19: An Opportunity to re-think education

In spite of the challenges of remote learning, its outcome in terms of educational standards has proven promising, at least in Australia.

Said Dr Kitchen, “It’s been interesting looking at the results of some of our standardized testing in the state of Victoria in Australia. Victoria has been in lockdown for longer than any other state in Australia. Literally, most of the last 2 years, students have been learning from home. The standardized testing results have just come in, and last year, have actually shown increased literacy and numeracy standards. While students have been stuck at home, learning from their parents, or learning from themselves through all sorts of online channels, their actual numeracy and literacy standards have risen. What does that say about our traditional education systems?”

Rizaldi agreed, saying that educational institutes and media should now evolve and embrace the possibilities of digitalization.

He said,”[Education and publishing] have to evolve. And although the pandemic has hurt us badly, it also make two things possible for us: one is, maintaining real-time primary interaction with the border – location, space or time – while minimizing physical interactions while communicating and teaching. And two, to make all of us, with no exceptions, adapt and get used to the new platforms of technology, and push us further and faster to the future.”

The hybrid future

Today, most are in agreement that the future will be hybrid, with a mix of both on-campus and remote learning and working. In Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia, proof of this is in the polytechnics’ investment into Adobe remote licenses for its staff and students.

Minhas described, “We just did a renewal for all the 5 polytechnics in Singapore, where they want all the staff, all the 76,000 students, to have licenses, so the technology can be available on their own personal machines. In Malaysia also, we’re seeing the same thing happening, especially in the design schools. We’re seeing a similar trend in Thailand, in the Philippines also.”

Said Kitchen,  “I was doing a presentation to Indonesia yesterday, and one of the things that came through in the discussion was, we have very limited internet in some parts of Indonesia, so how can we use your tools if we haven’t got the internet? And that was a challenging question to answer. And the reality is, we need the internet for virtually everything we have. Obviously, we have a lot of tools where you don’t need to be online for, but you do need to log in to. That’s not just Adobe, that’s virtually all Software-as-a-Service providers. So it’s really up to governments to make sure that there is a level of basic internet coverage available for everybody. And that’s something governments all over the world have been aiming to do.”

Minhas agreed, and cited the Singapore government’s initiative to provide hardware for public school students.

He said, “It has to be a government-based initiative, especially for the public or government schools. In Singapore, the Ministry of Education started a program called PLD, or Personal Learning Device, for all the students, so that they at least have access to a device they can use remotely. It’s a good initiative. There was a time when there was a buzzword of BYOD, and there was a trend of the schools giving laptops to their students. But it was mostly international schools, not the public or government schools, because of funding and the other issues. So that’s the first step. Internet and the hardware, so they have access to the internet or hardware to use the licenses or software and apps.”

Educating students to be future-proof

Once equipped with a Wifi connection and the right hardware and software, students should be taught skills that will make them future-proof, such as creativity and critical thinking.

One key way to do this, said Kitchen, is to begin with educating teachers.

He said, “It’s important to emphasize skills like creativity and problem solving, not only for our students to develop those skills, but for our teachers to also have those skills. Those skills aren’t going to be replaced by automation. You can’t replace creativity, at this stage, with a computer. You can’t replace collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking, at this stage, with technologies.”

Rizaldi agreed, saying that skills need to be imparted to best utilize the technological tools now available.

He summed up the discussion: “Tools are just tools. They cannot work by themselves. What we need to do is to build the minds and skills of the person, to build and educate the person behind the technology. That’s what’ll make the technology relevant, and also make it possible for students to answer the challenges of the future. What we need to do is to expose them to the relevant platforms, and to connect them with the industry, the teacher, and also to masterclasses. With the proper tools or technologies, the creative mind can meet the creative tools.”