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Coronavirus: Ed tech offers free services

A number of ed tech companies around the world – and the country of Estonia – are offering free services to universities, schools and students to limit the disruption to learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Ed-tech companies are offering online tools for free in the wake of coronavirus. Photo: iteach.world

“iTeach.world has had a 4000% increase in usage over the past two weeks”

Challenges to the international education sector have been unprecedented, with travel bans and school and university closures

In response, language-learning platform Busuu has announced a new initiative called Keep Kids Learning, that will offer free live streamed language classes for children in English, Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese.

Classes will be grouped by age group and taught for free by Busuu’s network of experienced and qualified language teachers, who will be compensated by Busuu.

“This is waking people up and making them modernise their approach to instruction”

“As a working parent myself, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to keep kids occupied when school is closed. With so much uncertainty around when schools will reopen, it’s crucial that we keep children engaged in learning as best we can,” said Bernhard Niesner, co-founder and CEO, Busuu.

Other edtech companies such as iTeach.world, RAFTR, Aula and Intergreat are offering free remote teaching tools or online platforms to help universities and schools connect with their students. 

And in Estonia – already a digital-embracing nation where e-residency is available – the Ministry of Education & Research announced the country is “humbled to share all of its digital education tools to support other countries’ education systems during the COVID-19 crisis”.

Remote learning has been adopted as a strategy by institutions as they cope with sweeping restrictions put in place by governments who are trying to tackle the virus. 

“We’re here to help in any way we can,” said Jean-Pierre Guittard, CEO and founder of iTeach.world, an ed tech company that offers a modern virtual learning environment to students and teachers. 

“During this transition, we’ll be doing our best to support teachers and schools and to continue to support them with a free online tool.

“I know a lot of other ed tech companies are opening their tools, whether it is curriculum books or online tools that students can use. Everybody’s trying to do their best to pitch in and help out as best they can,” he told The PIE News

The demand for the company’s virtual classroom is high and according to Guittard, iTeach.world has had a 4000% increase in usage over the past two weeks. 

Demand is also being satisfied by companies like Silicon Valley-based higher ed tech company Raftr which is offering its messaging and notifications platform to colleges and universities free of charge through the end of the academic year. 

Raftr’s app is designed to facilitate instant and direct communication between college administrations and their students in a mobile-first platform, including the ability to send direct messages instantly to students’ mobile devices. 

“Raftr can provide universities immediate access to communicate with their students, faculty, staff, and even parents, anywhere in the world,” said Raftr founder and CEO Sue Decker.

Extract of the announcement from Estonia

“It is very fast to implement and designed for interactive, flexible and coordinated communication on a stand-alone basis or to supplement email communication.”

This push of philanthropic activity is a global phenomenon. InterGreat Education Group, a UK-based education agent, is providing free online lessons to Chinese families that want their children taught in English, with an international style of curriculum.

Yinghui Gilbert, director of international partnerships at IEG, told The PIE that the company had developed a free online program which is currently only available in China.

The program is aimed at providing home-based learning for school-aged children between 6 and 16 years of age.

“When we heard the announcement from the Ministry of Education in China, IEG realised that the knock-on effects for this would be huge if no thought-through alternative provision was available for the students in the vacuum,” she said. 

“IEG realised that the knock-on effects would be huge if no thought-through alternative provision was available”

The challenges of shifting from a face-to-face model to teaching online have been noted by some organisations.

In fact, Aula’s CEO noted, “We have prepared a (very brief!) quick-start guide to get started with teaching remotely on Aula” as he announced the social learning platform would offer free unlimited licences.

The Republic of Estonia’s Ministry of Education and Research is offering a range of digital education solutions for free to help educators make the jump into remote teaching. 

Guittard explained that as more people move online, there may also be difficulties with internet access given volume demands.

“The biggest challenge I’m seeing for some students is internet bandwidth. So everybody is being put online but in some countries and some areas, the internet just isn’t what it should be for this type of thing. This is affecting some students and teacher’s experience,” he told The PIE. 

Despite these issues, Guittard said he believes the coronavirus outbreak will show people the importance and value of remote learning. 

I think what is going to change here is that schools are being forced to make the change that they need to make because in the background there’s been this huge market shift where people have realised that we have these communication tools… This is waking people up and making them modernise their approach to instruction.”

Additionally, digital language platform Babbel has announced it will offer all US K-12 and college students free access to its app until mid-June 2020.

Babbel’s CEO, Julie Hansen, explained that as the number of students in the US affected by the pandemic increases, Babbel is “in a position to help right now and that is exactly what we want to do”.

“At this time of global concern, we are reminded of the similarities we have with other people around the world, rather than that which divides us. We believe that language connects us all, and we are proud to share this philosophy with American students and provide support to them at this difficult time,” she added.

In the UK, education’s digital tech specialist agency JISC has called for greater access to teaching and learning materials in a bid to support millions of students, teachers and researchers in the UK in this time of crisis.

Co-signatories of its appeal include Universities UK, UUK CNAC Group, Association of Colleges, Society of College, National and University Libraries, Research Libraries UK and The British Library.

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