Digitalization in the educational sector: The case of how digital schools can be implemented in the Lebanese Educational Sector

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Digitalization in the educational sector: The case of how digital schools can be implemented in the Lebanese Educational Sector

Dr. Adiba Hamdan([1])

Nancy Ghazzawi ([2])

  1. Introduction

            The Lebanese educational system is a highly structured and prescribed system that focuses on acquiring skills to pass the official exams (Brevet and Terminal); so called “high stake exams”. With a curriculum that has been set since 1997, implementing such a curriculum is not meeting with the demands and the requirements of the 21st century. The world today is witnessing fast development of information technology in different aspects of life. Speed, easy accessibility, visual aids, no space bound… are characteristics that this generation seek when dealing with any situation. With a rise of a more techno-friendly generation, usage of information and communication technology (ICT) has increased to a great extent. As students in Lebanon are exposed to using new technologies, especially for education purposes, their passion for attending classes and gaining knowledge is increasing. Thus, there is a need to enhance today’s teaching pedagogies using new learning technologies and strategies. In fact, this paper will analyze the challenges faced by digitalizing the Lebanese Educational system and propose a digitalized school model that will enhance the educational system to comply with the needs of the 21st century. Furthermore, it will discuss how the Lebanese traditional schools will be transformed into digital schools to benefit the digital potentials by identifying the necessary steps that may influence the intentions of digitalizing of schools and describing the effectiveness of the suggested digital tools and the design to promote an appropriate digitalization in improving the future and the quality of digital schools in the digital era.

  1. A brief overview of the Lebanese Educational Sector

            The Lebanese educational system is a 5 cycled system, kindergarten, lower and upper elementary, intermediate, and secondary levels, that encompasses various teaching pedagogies, competences and framework that adhere to the multi-lingual, cultural, and gender diversity. Both private and public schools adhere to similar competences that comply with those of the official exams yet the pedagogies and tools used differ due to various challenges, both sectors face, such as financing, availability of resources, infrastructure… This sector is facing a tremendous gap between the private and public sectors due to the heavy financing of the private sector and the adherences to various multinational financing, pedagogies, and cultural diversities (Education State University, (n.d)). Furthermore, the Lebanese educational system has negatively been effected, post-civil war, to various economic and political turmoil.

Weak government reform policies and high corruption rates have led to the lack of sufficient financing and educational reform for the public schools which adhered to an increasing reliance on foreign aid. Based on Magazier and Loo (2017) around 75% of the learners are enrolled in private schools. With a country that has a very high literacy rate (around 99%), this country still faces poor quality educational pedagogies with respect to nearby countries due to the lack of implementation of modern ICT tools. (Magazier and Loo, 2017). The Lebanese educational sector is mainly teacher centered whereby the teacher acts as the provider of the information, and information is mainly focused on recalling and memorizing. This approach limits critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and research skills alongside retaining information will only be in the short term. Very few Lebanese schools adopt a student centered approach in the learning methodologies, hence very limited technology is implemented and properly integrated in the Lebanese educational system. (Jabbour, 2013)

  1. Digitalization in education

            Based on the Business Dictionary (2020), “Digitization is the integration of digital technologies into everyday life by the digitization of everything that can be digitized.” Digitalization in education is the process of incorporating new technological tools into the educational curriculum. Tools such as internet, online simulation software, online programs, laptops, tablets or iPad, smart boards, e-books, etc. to cater to all students everywhere. Digitalization has been an important topic in many fields for quite some time already. Digitalization and digital technology tools have found their way in the educational sector as well. New ways to use digital tools in teaching and learning have aroused a lot of discussion around teaching methods utilizing digital tools, such as blended learning and flipped classroom. But how does moving into digital era actually happen? The most fundamental aspect of digitalizing schools is upgrading and training the human capital; meaning that the entire educational body (staff, teachers, and students) ought to be trained with the essential digitalization tools and skills in order to know where and how to use them. Teachers in this era act as facilitators of information rather that providers of so.

  1. Tools of Digitalization

            Living in a digital world has made the use of using digital tools more important, and has increased the need to teach learners the skills of the future. Adopting new technologies is not always easy and may take some time. Fully adopting new digital tools as part of everyday teaching and learning often requires training and social support. Some of these tools are:

  • Software Applications
  • Interactive white board
  • Online simulation platforms and software, courses and exams
  • IPads, Tablets, computers…Digital Textbooks, Animation.

            For example, creating a user-friendly website using “Weebly” for education, tailored for the classroom and based on the student’s levels, strengths, and weaknesses. Students and parents can access the website which includes assignments, worksheets, extra work for the students to practice, videos, and a brief explanation of every lesson.

            In addition, using the “Seesaw” application, students will upload all their tasks and work to save everything they have done throughout the year. This will be their own digital Workplace or Portfolio. Student’s portfolio will be used to check their performance throughout the year and to reflect on their work and improve their learning and understanding of a lesson. Parents will also have access to it, to check on their students’ progress and performance. The digital portfolio will be used to share students’ work with their parents. Digital portfolios also support educators since they are used as anecdotal recording and documented evidence to help them prepare better lesson plans, develop more objective and constructive feedback, and pertain and improvement opportunities. These data will aid educators their quest for effective teaching and professional development. Moreover, mobile applications can act as an intermediary between the educational staff and teachers and the parents whereby all announcements, meeting, homework, assessment, and grade reports can be easily accessed. Furthermore, using Interactive whiteboards in the classroom can assist teachers in giving out live examples and interacting with the learners for a more student centered approach rather than a teacher centered one. Improving the labs with the latest technologies to implement experiential learning to help learners explore and develop their cognitive skills. This approach helps learners retain their information in the long-run and develop their critical thinking skills.

  1. Literature Review
    1. Challenges faced by digitalizing the Lebanese Educational Sector

            According to a study done by Jabbour (2013), a direct relationship exists among implementing a student centered approach and school availability of the proper resources. Results showed that teachers could not implement student centered techniques due to the lack of proper technological tools such as laptops, internet access, labs, e-learning platforms, etc. in addition to the rigid curriculum and lack of professional development. These challenges are forcing teachers to opt to a more teacher centered approach which limits incorporating digitalized learning. Similarly, Yehya, Barbar, and Abou-Rjeili (2018) also highlight on the fact that the lack of insufficient technology tools and labs, inefficient technical support, poor internet act as barriers to implement ICT which intern opts for a more digitalized educational system.

            Farah (2016) argues that teachers in Lebanon face various challenges when implementing information communication technology alongside digitalized learning curricula. Some of these challenges are the consistent power outages which is negatively effecting effective teaching (proper use of technological tools, hardware malfunction, and lack of fast, free, and well-structured internet connection due to the poor infrastructure) .Another challenge is the lack of proper ICT integration in the Lebanese curricula due to the high capacity of information and insufficient time barriers. These elements cannot comply with the additional usage of digitalized learning since the time frame does not correlate. Farah also argues that the lack of proper technology literacy directly effects its usage in and outside the classroom. Technology literacy is essential across all the educational body in addition to the parents in order for the learners to acquire proper meaningful learning. Furthermore, a negative attitude towards incorporating a digitalized education exits amongst the educational body due to the lack of proper training on how to use technology effectively in and outside the classroom.

            Based on a report issued by the World Bank (2019), AbiNader argues that members of the educational body must keep on updating their technological literacy skills to comply with the needs of the 21st century. However, financing of such resources is considered a major challenge, making them scarce. Proper financing towards digitalizing schools will be difficult to obtain with a rising budget deficit in Lebanon.

  1. Models of digitalization

            Digitalizing schools opts for a student centered approach that integrates collaboration, coordination, communication, and research. Various models have been developed that work on digitalizing schools:

  1. TPACK Model/ Framework: Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge

            This model attempts to identify teacher’s technological literacy and aims at identifying the nature of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching. This model relates technology literacy to the objectives and pedagogy. It mainly focuses on what the teacher will be adding to the lesson in terms of technology

  1. ASSURE Model: Audience Strategy MODEL Technology

            This model focuses on the learners and the learning environments when designing a lesson plan. Learner participation is the key for a successful lesson and implementing a student centered approach. Learners of the 21st century and driven by technology, hence, incorporating effective tools such as Popplet, Online simulations, Kahoot… while create a dynamic and collaborative lesson.

  1. SAMR Model: Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition

            This model concentrates on the progression and process of implementing technology in the teaching process. It focuses on two main questions (where we are we currently in using technology? Where do we want to reach or to go with it?)

  1. ARCS Model: Attention Retention Confidence Satisfaction

            This model highlights on the motivational aspects when designing a lesson plan. Which means that teachers ought to develop lessons that learners perceive as interesting and worthy of their concentration, ensure meaningful instruction, build student expectations to success based on efforts, and incorporate intrinsic and extrinsic rewards

  1. ADDIE Model: Analysis Design Development Implementation Evaluation

            This model is an instructional design whereby it effectively works on implementing technology into the whole learning experience. It helps teachers design activities and lesson in a way that the objectives incorporate technology.

  1. RAT Model: Replacement Amplification Transformation

            This model is a self-assessing model whereby teachers are encourages to reflect on their work and look for new opportunities to enhance their teaching styles when it comes to implementing technology.

  • Plan of Action towards a digitalized Lebanese Educational System

            The Lebanese educational system is a system that has passed through various economic, social, and political changes. Nowadays, the systems opts for a major change towards a digitalized era. Modernizing and digitalizing schools is one of the major key players that will drive this system to meet with the demands of the 21st century. On the macro level, structural changes ought to occur whereby policy makers ought to implement educational reforms to legalize a proper online teaching framework. A law ought to be developed that will properly define the online platforms used, the accredited educational bodies to work with, and the collaboration with the ministry of education and higher education (MEHE). A technical committee ought to be developed by the MEHE that provides quality assurance for the public and private schools.

On the micro level, implementing effective ICT tools requires schools to create a positive learning environment and culture. To do so various elements ought to be perceives:

First, all school member should be collaboratively working and working on board (teachers, students, and parents) by educating them about the benefits and advantages of using such devices. Working collaboratively to develop a framework and a strategy to integrate digitalization in the learners’ education is important. The educational body should understand that incorporating technology is not there to take the easy way out.

Second, the school should collaborate with the IT department to work on improving the technical problems that educators might face such as problems related to using a software, hardware, or even slow internet connection. In the sense that the school ought to reallocate fund and have a media coordinator and a technology facilitator at all times so that if any problem happens while the teacher is in session, the media and tech coordinators can come in and support. In addition, a help desk could be designed to help parents and learners in case of any tech-problems when they are off campus. Reallocating fund will help schools provide all essential tools for digital conversion such as laptops, tablets, and free wireless internet across school campus. Financing in the proper tools for digitalization is cost efficient in the long-run; having proper automation increases overall productivity. Having secure connection for the online software used will ensure that the learning experience goes efficiently and smoothly.

Third, training teachers and educational staff on ways to use ICT tools (digitalization tools). Teachers must attend trainings and workshops to develop their skills and use technology more effectively and efficiently by promoting active learning strategies using ICT in the classroom to rule out the “digital skill gap”. Various institutions, such as the British Council and other multinational accredited educational bodies, across Lebanon provide adequate training to successfully use online platforms; partnering with such institutions will act as an added value to the professional development of the educational body.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lebanon has been under lockdown which played a major role in forcing the educational body to find another alternative to carry on with the academic year. Schools started resorting to online platforms to reflect virtual teaching. Due to the lack of internet literacy and technical problems, it was a hassle. However, some caught up and started using online platforms such as Zoom.us and Microsoft Teams to teach a lesson. However, efficient teaching is not yet reached. Therefore, mobile learning is a new trend that schools ought to preach for.

The intentions toward digitalizing schools is highly influenced by the teacher’s perceptions of what ICT will provide. Teachers argue that ICT and its benefits do not match their teaching experiences. They usually perceive technology as a waste of time. However, once technology is properly implemented; students can become co-creators of their own learning. The learning will be shifted learning at home and applying and collaborating in the classroom. These means help cater to different students’ needs and creates customized learning for them. Having individualized lesson planes will perceive better outcomes, productivity, and student engagement.

Finally and most importantly, guiding teachers in finding the proper resources needed for their curriculum which will help them implement ICT in the classroom in a simplهe and easy way so that they can have a better attitude towards the contribution of information technology and how to include it in the curriculum.

References

Jabbour, K. (2013). Issues that restrain teachers from adapting student-centered instruction in lebanese school. Tejuelo, 85-96.

AbiNader, J. (2019). Challenges in Lebanon’s Education Sector Detailed in World Bank Report. American Task Force For Lebanon.

Business Dictionary. (2020). Retrieved from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/digitalization.html

HOW TO BRING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION TO EDUCATION. (n.d.). Retrieved from digitalmarketinginstitute.com: https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/blog/how-to-bring-digital-transformation-to-education

Lebanon-EDUCATIONAL-SYSTEM-OVERVIEW. (n.d.). Retrieved from education.stateuniversity.com: https://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/827/Lebanon-EDUCATIONAL-SYSTEM-OVERVIEW.html

Loo, B., & Magazine, J. (2017, May 2). Education in Lebanon. World Educational News+ Reviews.

Lynch, M. (2018, December 22). DIGITAL LEARNING THEORIES AND MODELS THAT ALL EDUCATORS SHOULD KNOW. Retrieved from The Tech Edvocate: https://www.thetechedvocate.org/digital-learning-theories-and-models-that-all-educators-should-know/

Zain , F. (2016). The Potential of Technology in Education: A Case in Point of Tablets Use in a School in Lebanon. Lebanese American University, 81.

 

[1] – Associate Professor, Lebanese University

[2] MA- Lebanese American University

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