This is an exclusive op-ed written by Jon Omund Revhaug, CEO of Telenor Myanmar
The last months have taught us that almost everything we do can be handled online if we’re motivated to make it work. New habits post COVID-19, connectivity and quality content sets Myanmar up for a learning revolution.
Governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that has impacted more than 91% of the world’s student population. While countries around the world are working towards flattening the curve of the still-growing pandemic, headlines mostly focus on relief efforts and infection rates. However, no society can afford to overlook the education sector.
The sudden and unprecedented disruption to education places new challenges on governments to ensure continuity of learning. The issue affects students, parents, teachers, and caregivers. While the pandemic continues to unfold, it is increasingly clear that education itself and the next generation of learning will be defined by how well the policies and practices before COVID-19 and those that come in response to the pandemic work together to fill the gap to enable continuity. According to UNESCO, this will be the defining chapter from education disruption to recovery.
The World Bank has identified the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on education “a learning crisis with high evidence in learning poverty”. At least 1.5 billion children and youth from more than 160 countries have been affected by school closures done to limit the spread of COVID-19.ii In many countries, including Myanmar, school buildings have been turned into makeshift quarantine facilities. Current educational content shared throughout the world revolves around the importance of precautionary measures, social distancing and staying at home, while formal education has been overshadowed. The situation emphasizes the importance of efficient distribution of information and knowledge to all parts of society.
Regional chapters of UN agencies such as UNESCO in Asia-Pacific are taking action to ensure that #LearningNeverStops, making tailored educational material available on its portal. Similar efforts are undertaken by both organizations and governments, as well as some businesses. All of this has to happen as authorities debate when and how to reopen schools, as well as looking at longer-term impact of the COVID-19 situation.
Telenor has embraced online learning as a tool to upskill and reskill its own global workforce, challenging employees to spend at least 40 hours per year on learning something new. Now in its third year running, the learning challenge has produced new critical expertise for the company and helped instill a learning culture. Telenor Myanmar employees on average spend more than 60 hours on e-learning, suggesting that our staff see clear benefits with this form of learning.
These experiences have compelled us to also bring online education to our customers through our own digital channels, recently launching the first telco-education program in Myanmar together with Strategy First University. The program includes business management courses targeting small and medium enterprise owners, as well as young learners with basic educational content from the school curriculum.
In the meantime, all schools in Myanmar are still closed for safety reasons. While the Government is planning to re-open some in the coming months, there is still the need to provide continuous education in the country. Due to the exceptional nature of the current situation, the use of distance and virtual learning through digital platforms have developed greatly.
However, most students and teachers lack access to the necessary resources, such as appropriate infrastructure or technical skills to effectively take part in this e-learning revolution. Safe, reliable and efficient connectivity remains the foundation for any virtual learning experience. Ensuring this access is available to as many as possible is vital. In response to the current situation, industry players like Telenor are providing free access to the Ministry of Education’s online platform for six months while DBE Boxes, remote learning tools, have been donated to teachers and students in schools across Myanmar.
For this reason alone, it is urgent that all mobile industry players step up and contribute to the acceleration of digital learning. While the education sector is tasked to respond with digitally inclusive methods and implement plans outside of the traditional classroom, industry players must step up with innovative solutions and robust communication. E-learning technology may indeed become one of the most compelling sectors for businesses to explore, also in Myanmar.