Soraya Beheshti, Regional Director, Crimson Education - Middle East, Africa & Turkey

Soraya Beheshti was born in Dubai and self-studied multiple A-levels in school. She graduated early and spent two years working around the world. Before graduating Magna Cum Laude in Middle Eastern Studies and Anthropology from Columbia University, Soraya founded Karvan, a fin-tech non-profit building innovative blockchain technology to improve the lives of refugees around the world. For this, she received the Columbia Innovation Award and was a semi-finalist for the CTA Startup of the Year and the world’s largest Social Venture competition, the Hult Prize. Recently, Karvan matriculated from IBM’s Blockchain Accelerator in NYC. 

 

The COVID-19 virus caused arguably the largest global disruption of the education sector in decades. However, this was a sector that badly needed disrupting. Whilst transportation, supply chain logistics, food systems, retail, communications and almost every other industry charged into the 21st century, education… did not. Instead, it trudged on; a tired old beast heavy with the weight of tradition and curbed by the yoke of ‘how things are done’. Stagnation is a concern in any industry, but because of education’s direct impact on the quality of the future workforce in all sectors, it’s particularly problematic here. Without quality education, we relinquish all hope for first-rate doctors, financiers, engineers, and leaders. It stands to reason that improving the efficiency and outcomes of education could in turn lead to higher performance in every other sector. 

The rapid growth of online schooling around the world has been driven by the continuing challenges of Covid-19. However, digitalization was also made possible by spectacular developments in technology, which have allowed teachers to replicate and even enhance the best elements of a traditional classroom while also bringing to life new possibilities. The digital classroom enables top-quality education to be delivered to students anywhere in the world. With so many companies now offering work from home opportunities, some families are opting for lifestyle changes, perhaps relocating out of cities. Online education means that schooling disruption and grammar zones need no longer be a factor for families to take into consideration. Their children can have access to schools that provide consistent, quality education. Online learning models also permit teachers to work more flexibly. Traditional constraints have meant that teachers must be on campus full time. Unique or niche subjects – think A Level Law, Classical Studies, Ancient Greek – could not be offered to students if there wasn’t enough consistent demand within a single campus or jurisdiction to fill the class. Online schools can have a global classroom with a larger pool of students, permitting them to offer such opportunities. Students who have unique passions can be catered to. Whereas living in a remote area might previously have meant that your school would struggle to attract and retain the best teachers, online schools can now hire the best teachers from other jurisdictions. They can also hire part time teachers, who perhaps also work in the industries they teach about. This alone can bring a practical, professionally oriented perspective to the classroom. Finally, schools can redirect funds that would have been spent on fixed costs like rent to hiring better teachers and or scaling their impact to more students. 

Educational applications of artificial intelligence facilitate personalisation at scale by tailoring educational experiences through deep analysis of student behaviour, which leads to a more comprehensive understanding of how a student learns. Crimson Global Academy’s (CGA) is an innovative, tech-enabled global online school whose systems already support this. Students are streamed based on ability, not age, which means that students can learn at their own pace. Data can also tell families and educators more about in-class participation, which can in turn provide useful insights on how to continuously adapt teaching material to keep students interested. Previously, parents would be able to learn about their child’s progress just a handful of instances in the year. Digitalization allows for a new level of transparency. Online tools can monitor homework submission, attention, and progress in real time.

Online education creates transparency for parents at a scale never seen before. It can monitor engagement levels, homework submission and almost live reporting on a child’s academic progress.

For students with learning, hearing or visual impairments, or for speakers of other languages, AI tools make learning easier and faster. 

One more surprising benefit of the digital classroom has been the reorganization of space, with all students effectively being equidistant from the centre. Students aren’t able to hide in the back of an online classroom. Certainly, this has not been the experience of all students – many schools rushed to go online in unfavourable circumstances and with little or no training. Some students have complained of unengaged teachers, delivering lectures with cameras turned off. This passive model is rather similar to the old-fashioned ‘chalk and talk’ approach to teaching, wherein students are expected to absorb and memorize the knowledge of their teacher through one-way communication and repetitive tasks. However, if the e-learning experience is managed correctly and new technologies are made use of, the learning experience can be much more engaging. Teachers can call upon students to share their screens to facilitate collaborative problem solving with much more efficacy. They can review students’ work in real time; measure their engagement and use a larger and more reliable set of data to improve upon their methods and ensure the learning outcomes they seek. 

Crimson Education has built complex psychometric tests and algorithms that process hundreds of thousands of data points to identify career and university pathways that suit a student’s unique goals, preferences and personality. This can help to eliminate the racial, socio-economic and gender bias that sometimes pervades these subjective processes. A study by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago found that gender bias impacted the kind of information students received about their career choices. In other cases, racial bias may lead to individual counselors recommending lower paid and lower-skilled pathways to minority students, even when accounting for similar education levels. Technology can mitigate against these harms and ensure that students receive impartial, yet personalized, guidance. 

Technological tools do not have to be positioned in opposition to the personal help an individual teacher or tutor can provide. Rather, we see these tools as being able to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of student-teacher time. On a practical level, automation of manual tasks, such as marking work, taking the role and assessing engagement, frees up more time for teachers to invest in meaningful interactions with the students. There would be more time for group work, flipped learning and discussion-based learning. 

The digitalization of education is an opportunity to rethink how our societies build the foundations for success, both academically and personally.

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