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On the 14th of August, Digital Transformation Council, Revista Comunicații Mobile, and TelecomTV.RO organized an online conference, moderated by Ion Vaciu (President, Digital Transformation Council), on the topic of education in Romania in pandemic times. Educational experts, telecom operators, government officials and decision-makers, LMS developers, sports representatives, content providers, and technological equipment suppliers gathered to find the best formula for today’s education.

It was a necessary debate since the new school year is approaching and the scenario for the educational environment is still unclear. At the moment, three alternatives are predicting the future of schooling; the green scenario (the traditional way of learning), the yellow scenario (a hybrid way of teaching, both in school and online), and the red one (online classes only). The conference started based on an article published in Harvard Business Review, called Digital Transformation is not about Technology, stating that before implementing any technology, first there must be the right mindset. This means the focus is on the management of digital transformation, which requires a meeting between the private and public sectors.

1. Decision-makers and government representatives’ point of view

The conference started based on an article published in Harvard Business Review, called Digital Transformation is not about Technology, stating that before implementing any technology, first there must be the right mindset. This means the focus is on the management of digital transformation, which requires a meeting between the private and public sectors.

Marian Murguleț (Government CIO, Coordinating Secretary of State for Information Technology at the level of the entire central public administration) talked about the shortcomings in the Romanian educational system. Our country has structural problems since functional analphabetism is increasing (the PISA results show that in 2018, the percentage of functional analphabetism was 44%, with 5% more than in 2015).

Moreover, in Romania, more than 70% of digital attempts have failed because their objectives were poorly formulated or inexistent. Therefore, when using a digital solution, it is important to understand its purpose and the outcomes one expects from that particular transformation. The Government wants to implement two major projects in the field of education; one is represented by the School Management Information System – SIMS (Electronic Catalog, planned for release in 2021) and the second one is related to the concept of Virtual Library – a Digital Platform with Open Educational Resources (EDULIB, implementation planned in 2023).

Victor Negrescu (a member of the European Parliament) described the situation at the level of the European Union, stating that strategies exist, but there is a need for a more coherent approach for each country. Most European countries already have a national online platform used in education, but this is not our case. On the contrary, The Ministry of Education appropriated the achievements of the private sector in matters of EdTech and declared them as the institution’s results in the reports to the European Commission.

Apart from that, Victor Negrescu expressed his interest in the impact of digital competencies, stressing the word connectivity as a key element. Connectivity is mandatory especially in rural and mountain areas such as the Apuseni mountains where, at the moment, some projects based on this topic are ongoing.

2. Solutions given by telecommunication operators

Mircea Hațegan (Business Segment Sales Director, Telekom Romania) talked about the actions his company is taking for the well-being of their employees. Most employees are also parents and a focus on the parent-children-teacher triad is imperative. Therefore, Telekom started offering a long-term solution, the SmartEdu package offered to teachers and students, facilitating access to interactive classes, digital catalog, online homework and evaluation, online testing, direct communication student-parent-teacher, even directors or inspectors. The package included connectivity services – 4G Internet and access licenses in the educational management platform, developed in partnership with Adservio. Over one million users have access and contribute to the continuity of the educational process, creating content, and taking part in training webinars as well.

Cosmin Buza (Director Corporate Sales, Orange Romania) moved the conversation further on the topic of data and the increase in its volume. Orange works in integrating 4 and 4G technology in rural areas so children can have internet access. Among the solutions offered, starting with 2016 Orange took social responsibility as the main objective for their pilot project Digitaliada, a national program to support digital education in middle school classes. It resulted in training for teachers and IT equipment for numerous school laboratories.

They also have integrated solutions such as 24Edu – similar to Telekom’s offerings, based on homework delivery and assessments, teacher-student interaction, content (over 5 million homework). 24Edu has integrated office 365 in its platform so they allow video communication through Microsoft Teams and easy configuration of the classroom environment.

3. Education Specialists perspective

Marilena Ionașcu (Education Director, Microsoft Education) announces that large technology companies offer their consulting services free of charge to the Government. As the market comes with many offers, an analysis is necessary to avoid the limits of decentralization. She explains that Digital transformation is not only about the management of technology, but also about integration and security.

Integration means that the teacher can easily access with one click all the resources, notes, conferences he needs. Security is a must when it comes to any acquisition done to support education as all devices should already be integrated into an educational system. The acquisition must be ready to use, under the careful administration, with certain specifics regarding technical aspects. They offer Microsoft 365 for education which is different than the commercial version as it’s cheaper and comes with 40 free accounts for students. Together with the Ministry of Education, they organized educational webinars attended by over 100,000 people.

Doina Baciu (Vice President, Romanian Academy of Scientists) raised an issue that cannot be avoided when talking e-learning: digital data collections. In a digital era, digitization is inevitable, therefore, all textbooks must be digital for all children. Students should be able to easily access their books, manuals, and use them at any time in the context of online schooling. The transition from traditional libraries to digital ones is indispensable.

Răzvan Bologa (Prof. Univ. Faculty of Cybernetics, ASE) moved the discussion further to the topic of changing the industrial way of working with a more modern approach of the cybernetic systems. The focus is now on machine learning which provides customized content. The lesson will stop and offer additional information for the student who still has questions and will continue for those who understood it. Truth is that the trades of the future require knowledge in the field of robotics. For example, the BCR (Romanian Commercial Bank) has launched the Tech Nation program which focuses on creating digital competencies, offering smart jobs, and bringing digital transformation in the front.

4. Solutions offered by LMS Developers & IT Equipment Suppliers

Edvin Abdulachim (Commercial director, Altex) mentions the aspects that need to be taken into consideration when buying a device. Depending on the purpose of an acquisition, the device should have certain characteristics. If the Government is planning to acquire devices for underprivileged children, the process might be longer than we imagine because producing 250,000 tablets requires time and money.

Cosmin Porumb (COO Hypermedia) presented his company’s perspective in matters of online education. Their vision is based on a collaborative learning concept deployed under the name of HyperTalk Education (HyperEdu). HyperEdu represents an easy-to-use, cloud-based, e-learning platform suitable for institutions, companies, schools, and universities. It brings together teachers and students with the common goal of building knowledge through a collaborative learning concept. Users are brought outside the classrooms to explore valued-added educational content delivered interactively. No matter the device, it helps teachers save time and costs, quickly deliver their classes while exploring a wide area of educational resources (webinars and online focus groups, multimedia learning objects, hybrid classrooms, virtual library, blended assessment components, virtual labs, or PBL instruments). Technology and education work hand in hand, taking teaching beyond traditional text-based learning. Hypermedia already has several collaborations with Universities (such as the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Iuliu Hațieganu or the University of Chemistry, Cluj-Napoca), tutors, and even fitness trainers.

Mike Borze (Vice President at BenQ) and Lorian Vintilă, (Senior Account Director, ZTE Romania) pointed out that the pandemic has increased the value and numbers of IT equipment manufacturers. Moreover, under these circumstances schools and educational institutions are heading towards a management system of courses, where the student-teacher relationship is under an administrator’s surveillance.

5. Alternatives for Athletes

Mihaela Pellegrini (CEO Juventus Academy Bucharest) raised the issues of having a sedentary lifestyle. Therefore, sports represent a side of education that needs to be taken into consideration. All the projects that expand under the digital transformation boom should integrate athletes as well to avoid disruptions in the sporting calendar. Teachers and school principals should take all means necessary to safely organize diverse sports workshops and activities to get students out of the house.

All in all, EduInvest came with new perspectives over the formula of education: understand the context we live in, the people and tools we work with + know how to define our purpose and objectives + create digital competencies + learn to connect with others + creating awareness on the importance of education.

These times ask for collaboration and a strong sense of community. The number of specialists involved in this conference has shown how everything is interconnected and how education today depends on more areas than we imagine.