Sunday September 27, 2020

More than just an emergency measure

Educational charity Camara Ireland has clicked into gear during the Covid-19 crisis, but there is more to educational technology than just dealing with crises

6th September, 2020
Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Finance; David Dempsey, Ireland country leader, Salesforce; Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Martin Shanahan, chief executive, IDA Ireland, at the Convention Centre when Salesforce announced Salesforce Tower Dublin and the addition of 1,500 jobs Julien Behal Photography

With schools reopening there is a fledgling sense that things will soon go back to normal, but with Covid-19 still out there and the only certainty being uncertainty, we all know that education is changing.

Meanwhile, across the world we are seeing the digital divide writ large: those families and schools with access to resources are better able to keep education going than those without.

Charity Camara Education Ireland works to help schools, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, not only deploy and use ICT, but also to develop technology strategies.

Naturally, this mission became more important than ever when schools were shut down, but teachers were instructed to keep education going.

Of course, it was not only schools that were blindsided by the pandemic and its attendant shutdown.

Camara itself found that it had to rapidly adapt, but Marianne Checkley, chief executive of Camara Education Ireland, said that it was surprisingly smooth.

“Our team was really quick to adapt,” she said. “Schools closed on March 17 and we had our first webinar on March 19.”

For Checkley, this is a clear illustration of how technology can be used to bridge a real-world gap.

It also helped to shine a light on the skills and expertise that schools would need to keep operating during the pandemic.

“I think the fact that we’ve been doing this for a number of years helped greatly,” she said.

A force for learning

Camara is globally supported by Salesforce, not only in Ireland, but also for projects such as delivering laptops to sub-Saharan Africa, alongside staff volunteering and providing pro bono support. That support now includes Ireland.

“There’s been a strong relationship and partnership between Salesforce and the wider Camara organisation and, more recently Camara Ireland,” said Checkley.

“The grants that we had from Salesforce in recent years – had that not happened they [the schools Camara supports] would have been in a rather different place.

“All-in-all, it is a challenge. We’ve had an amazing response over the past six months. Salesforce were a large part of us being able to do that.”

How the world of education moves forward is anyone’s guess, but Camara has some idea.

“The first challenge for the coming year is that the global supply of hardware is so tight. There’s a hierarchy of need: corporate workforces to home,” said Checkley.

The result of this has the potential to be quite striking.

“I have no doubt that there are many young people who just have no connection to their teachers.”

After that, the question is how to make long-term, strategic improvements, said Checkley.

“The second challenge is about how we build back better,” she said.

“While schools will be grappling with coming back in the next few weeks, we also need to think about the ‘what’ of learning. What we want to make sure is that there is a deeper development of how technology can be used in an educational setting.”

In the end, Checkley said, the point is to move forward with the technology that is already central to everyday life, and will become increasingly important, not to merely use it as a stopgap.

“Technology shouldn’t just be identified with an emergency or crisis,” she said.

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