The future of learning

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OneConnect – Democratising education in Africa

There is a way to ensure that every child in Africa has access to quality education, independent of their geography or financial standing, and the technology needed to do this already exists. This, according to OneConnect Managing Director of Education, Rogers Sithole, who says the innovative solutions and technology provider aims to democratise education on the continent. 

“It’s time to break down the barriers and remove the obstacles that have been holding our children back,”  Sithole explains. “Traditionally, education has been confined to the boundaries of a classroom, and the business of education was limited by the number of times four walls could be constructed to give us a classroom.”  

Schools were limited in this way, and could only attract students who were already in or had access to their geographical location. Schools could expand, but were still limited to space and how much brick and mortar they had access to. 

“We help these institutions see that they can grow their businesses beyond brick and mortar, and do so quickly – breaking down walls to reach students beyond their physical geography to provide teaching and learning to remote students,” he explains. This, says Sithole, is about much more than just providing a virtual classroom. 

“We offer solutions for every stage of the education cycle, and an online teaching space is only one part of that. Most digital platforms were not created with teaching in mind. 

Our solutions are built with the end goal in mind; our virtual classrooms were designed specifically for education.” Simply meeting online is not the same as teaching online, he reiterates. 

It’s not just enough for knowledge to be imparted though; learning must also be assessed. OneConnect makes use of cutting edge technology and artificial intelligence solutions to ensure that the integrity of tests and exams taken at home is maintained. 

OneConnect also assists institutions to create learning content that is accessible and engaging, as well as understand the trends within their schools, making use of turnkey enrollment and learning management systems to track registrations, graduations and other key data that already exists but often goes unused. 

Covid accelerated plans that many institutions have been working on for years, and has disrupted the educational sector. Sithole says that while the technology is not new, the thinking surrounding remote learning solutions, and the necessity to implement these solutions quickly, is. He says when the pandemic started, OneConnect was able to migrate the University of Limpopo online within 10 business days. “This was possible because they recognised the need and were quick to make decisions, support the necessary transition and therefore continue with learning almost uninterrupted.”  

Despite, and perhaps because of, the pace of innovation, teachers have been left behind. “Most of our teachers have been teaching in the First Industrial Revolution style for years, sitting with a wealth of knowledge and amazing experience that cannot simply be thrown away,” he says. If these teachers are not empowered to keep teaching, the quality of education will suffer. “They need to be transitioned from the way things have always been done to a digital style of teaching; we need to turn teachers into e-teachers!” 

The Digital Teaching and Training Series is one way that OneConnect aims to enable teachers to step into the future of education, equipping them with the digital and technological competencies to teach online, as well as the skills needed to create educational materials that engage, regardless of the distance between educators and students. “The fact of the matter is that teachers were trained to teach on blackboards and not on computers; if we just throw technology at them without enabling them to use it then we will sit with educators who are anxious and frustrated and unable to perform,” he says. For this reason, change management is needed.

Institutions must remember that emergency measures implemented in haste at the start of the pandemic are not set in stone. “These decisions still need to be analysed, and we’re hoping that when we engage the institutions we can work together to tailor these solutions in a strategic and future-focused way,” he explains. “We need to sit down with institutions that purchased platforms as interim measures that are not necessarily conducive to their long-term ecosystem. We must help them to make sure that the solutions they implement are aligned to their key strategies and objectives, and we can help them develop a roadmap to take what has already been done into the future.” 

This, says Sithole, is necessary, because the world is never going back to the way things were done. “By embracing this, our clients have been able to expand their presence to geographies they could never have dreamed of accessing.” 

The digital divide that hinders access to quality education is not a problem unique to South Africa. “This is an African problem and cannot be solved by us alone,” says Sithole. “We need public-private partnerships and engagements to address this. If there is a child in a remote village anywhere in the country or on the continent, OneConnect can provide tech solutions to ensure quality education and allow students and schools to participate. We also need the telecommunications companies to provide the requisite infrastructure, and the government to subsidise a part of those costs.” The government also has a role to play in assisting providers zero rate their learning management systems. “All role players must come together in the understanding that only through education can we alleviate poverty.”  

For this to happen, it is necessary to ensure that every school is connected. “If we can achieve this, we have not only breached the digital divide, but also ensured that a child attending a rural school in Giyani is not worse off than a child receiving a private education in Sandton. We need to democratise education to ensure that no child is left behind, and that is what we strive towards.”  

When this happens, it’s not only the children who will benefit from the interconnectedness. “The physical walls will not only be broken down for learners, but for teachers too.” An educator in a rural village can now also teach students in a different geography, and these students will benefit from having diverse teachers contribute to their education. 

Sithole’s own tech journey started when he was 16 years old when he got a small job doing filing at the company where his father worked. Instead of being paid, however, he was given an old computer. “That is when I fell in love, and suddenly no longer dreamed of becoming a pilot,”  he laughs. He started studying computer sciences in the early 2000s, long before it was fashionable to do so, and graduated with his Honours degree as the only black student in his class. “I have loved computers since I was a teenager; I have grown to love technology even more considering how many solutions it facilitates, across various industries and sectors and spheres of life.” 

For technology to truly live up to its problem-solving potential on the continent, however, it is not enough to merely import solutions from elsewhere in the world and expect them to work. “We have to build skills locally and develop our own solutions,” he says, adding that this does not mean reinventing the wheel. “We live in a globalised world and we cannot build walls that box South Africa in. We need to be part of that world, but make sure that we enhance the value of the products we bring in and customise or tailor them  to our specific context to fix our problems.” Afterall, he says, nobody is in a better position to understand and solve the continent’s problems than those most affected by them. 

MD of OneConnect Education, Rogers Sithole, shares his idea of what democratised education could look like in the future:

“A young girl in a rural village in South Africa walks into a ‘smart classroom’ with a handful of other learners. The village has the infrastructure to support learning — stable, high-speed internet because every school is connected. The solar-powered pop-up classroom has a smart board, which looks a bit like a big screen TV. The teacher on screen, who could be sitting anywhere in the world, can see the girl, and interact with her as if she were standing at the front of the room. The reason TV failed as an educational tool is because of the lack of feedback. Here, we have high-quality cameras in the classroom and the teacher can see when a child is confused and answer questions in real-time. Other students in this lesson may be sitting at home with their laptops anywhere in the country, but if that option isn’t available or they don’t have personal resources, then they can take part in a communal remote learning experience, sharing space in this smart classroom. If we do this right, then that girl can have access to the best maths teacher in the country, without having to leave her village. She will have access to the same quality of education as a child attending the best private school. Furthermore, that child will also interact with peers across the country and the continent, and will be exposed to new ideas and new opportunities, benefitting from the diversity of her engagements. She will see that she deserves quality, and that she has as much to offer as a child in the city, attending school in the suburbs. Her future will not be determined for her based on the resources, or lack of resources, available in her immediate environment. Her world and her opportunities open up beyond her circumstances and geography; no child should be limited in life because of where they were born. This is what it looks like if we do this right. And if we succeed, this will not only be what education looks like for a child in South Africa, but instead be the lived reality of children across the African continent.” 

Cheating prevention steps for the ‘new normal’

OneConnect strives to offer turnkey technological solutions to educational institutions at every step of the teaching and learning journey. Simply providing learners with a virtual classroom, however, is not enough, as feedback remains an important part of the educational process. This is done through assessments such as assignments, tests and exams, explains OneConnect MD and Chairman, Rogers Sithole. “Cheating, however, a pandemic in its own right, is something we all need to be concerned about.” 

While many schools have migrated learning online, not enough attention has been paid to how to assess the learning experience remotely. Traditionally, students write exams in a controlled environment; a physical exam venue where they are closely monitored by an invigilator, separated from academic resources and aids like text books, mobile devices with internet access or study notes. Students sit in silence to dissuade answer sharing.

This, however, has changed and online learning institutions need to be innovative and progressive when it comes to preventing cheating and ensuring the integrity of assessment and exam processes. Students are now assessed remotely, and the environment they are in cannot be monitored or controlled in the same way as before. 

Current solutions being utilised in the online education and remote learning space are largely insufficient. Some institutions employ anti-cheating measures like the locking of browsers during an exam to stop students from accessing notes or search engines, but few people only own one device, and a learner could be accessing external resources through their mobile phone. It’s also not enough to just monitor students and their environments via webcams. “A learner could have a subject expert sitting at the table across from them, out of sight of the camera, feeding them answers,”  says Sithole. “Someone could connect a keyboard to the device port just off-screen and be typing the entire exam on a learner’s behalf.”  

This, he adds, will cause long-term problems and have a far-reaching impact on future studies and employability: “It might lead us to doubt the quality of a qualification that someone attains in this period; we don’t want children who have worked very hard to achieve good marks during this pandemic to have their education seen in a bad light because of the unethical actions of others. The fact of the matter is that people might be disadvantaged because the integrity of the assessment process is called into question. So how do we stop this from happening?”  

The answer to the question of how to maintain the integrity of assessments, especially high-stake exams, says Sithole, is once again technology. 

OneConnect solutions utilise state-of-the-art facial recognition to authenticate the identity of the person in front of the screen, as well as their attentiveness during the exam, while also locking the browsers and ports to block any external input. Artificial Intelligence is used to analyse the typing patterns as another form of authentication. “Although we might both type at 250 words per minute, we each have a typing pattern as unique as our fingerprint,” Sithole explains. 

The technology also constantly scans the room, and the moment someone enters the room or the exam taker gets up from their seat, the system locks and re-authentication is required to continue. 

“So we’ve got a solution, and it’s an award-winning solution that takes the whole assessment space into consideration,” says Sithole.  “In this way we can ensure that institutions are able to, not only teach, but also conduct high-quality assessments that guarantee integrity in their processes, especially when it comes to high-stake exams and tests.” — Jamaine Krige

Ready to take the next step to future-proof your learning institution 

This is why Sithole urges anyone who wants to take their business or educational institution to the next level to contact him: “We are here to help you, and we want to talk. That doesn’t mean we have to talk about specific technologies; rather, let’s start a conversation about education in this day and age, and the direction that teaching and learning is heading in the future. Let’s talk about how it works, and how it could and should work, and let’s see what we can do to make it work for you. We can help you create content that fits with your existing platforms, or explore new platform solutions that are tailor-made to your context. We can assist in training your teachers to make sure that they are not excluded from this transition, and to ensure that their skills and expertise are retained, even as the educational landscape changes. It’s important for you as an institution to have a roadmap — a strategy that shows how to move from where you are to where you need to be, while ensuring that no student is left behind. Reach out to us and let’s discuss your processes and how to align your current situation to your end goals.” 

Sumadi – Helping to shape the future of online education

Education has experienced a significant digital transformation — and although this was gaining momentum prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was significantly accelerated because of it. In particular, the need for online assessments grew in relevance and importance, and that trend is set to continue. 

SUMADI is OneConnect’s proctoring partner on the African continent

Sumadi is helping organisations around the world — from universities, to government agencies, certification providers and corporations — adapt to this digital transformation by providing flexible, cost-effective and secure automated proctoring solutions for online assessments. Sumadi’s solutions played a pivotal role in enabling assessments to continue virtually — so that students could be assessed and graduate, employees could be accredited, and people could continue their professional and self development — regardless of the pandemic. 

Points of difference 

Sumadi uses the latest AI-powered facial and typing pattern recognition, authentication, and browser tracking solutions to ensure the integrity of online assessments. It offers the only automated proctoring solutions that can be delivered: 

  • in multiple languages, 
  • simultaneously, 
  • at scale, 
  • with real-time client reporting (capable of processing millions of images per hour).

Using Amazon Web Services’ secure Global Cloud infrastructure, Sumadi is able to segregate deployments in multiple regions around the world, delivering in excess of 50 000 assessments at any one time. 

Proven secure, large-scale assessments 

Just one example of how Sumadi’s solutions have been used for large-scale yet highly secure online assessments is its work with the Colombian Institute for the Promotion of Higher Education (ICFES — part of Colombia’s Ministry of National Education). Sumadi’s solutions enabled the delivery of 326 000 online state exams to students across the country, as well as abroad, at a time when social distancing and health restrictions banned in-person testing. 

“We supervised these online exams as they were happening by creating electronic academic files and identifying those students that were not abiding by the exam rules,” said Raúl Rivera, Sumadi’s Executive Director. “Our supervision involved identifying students who may be attempting to open a restricted web page, looking at their mobile phone or speaking to another person.” 

Throughout the exams, continuous facial authentications were captured of students, producing records automatically, and generating alerts in real time for exam evaluators. In the case of ICFES, Sumadi captured more than 181-million photographic records. Colombia became the first country in the world to successfully carry out exams on such a large scale, online and simultaneously. 

“Using the latest advancements in AI and facial recognition technology, we ensured the integrity of these exams, allowing for a fair and impartial evaluation of all students, no matter where they were located,” Rivera said. “Importantly, the project helped contain the spread of Covid-19 and kept students safe as they undertook their exams from home — enabling them to fulfil their assessment requirements and avoid significant impacts to their learning outcomes.” 

Data security 

Sumadi is committed to the highest standards of data security and privacy, and complies with the most stringent global standards. 

These standards include the Open Web Application Security Project’s (OWASP) Top 10 Proactive Controls and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Customer support with tailored solutions 

Sumadi’s industry-leading service and support model ensures the successful delivery of its solutions, and distinguishes it from other providers. 

The Sumadi team understands exams can require different monitoring, so solutions, services and support are customised to best meet clients’ needs. 

Once implementations are in place, the Customer Care team trains clients in the use of Sumadi’s solutions, with follow-up sessions scheduled regularly or on demand. Self-service resources are available at all times and a Live Chat service is available in English and Spanish, which will soon be available 24/7. 

Partnering with OneConnect in Africa 

Sumadi is working alongside its preferred partner in Africa, OneConnect, to offer its automated proctoring solutions across South Africa and the continent.

The organisation — listed as one of the Top 10 EdTech startups in Europe in 2020 and one of the Top 10 Biometric Solution Providers in Europe in 2021 (by Enterprise Security Magazine) — intends to modernise and simplify online supervision and information validation for education and certification providers here. 

“We’re proud to partner with OneConnect to support online learning in Africa. Like Sumadi, OneConnect is an innovative provider of solutions, and together, we’ll help safeguard learning outcomes and ensure the integrity of online assessments,” Rivera said. “Our plan is to lead the new way in virtual supervision of online assessments. It’s an exciting time for both our organisations.” 

Features of Sumadi solutions 

Advanced computer vision and webcam monitoring 

Using the latest advancements in machine learning, Sumadi allows the secure and continuous monitoring of users, analysing and processing images in real time. 

Increased security with Sumadi Secure Browser 

A streamlined experience and security of a user’s device and operating system if provided through the Sumadi Secure Browser (S2B). Combining multiple controls, Sumadi captures key information of the exam context, such as if a user leaves, and reports in real time for evaluators to review. 

Multi-factor authentication and verification 

Sumadi provides alternative identity verification and authentication through advanced, accurate and secure digital biometrics. Sumadi will support other multi-factor authentication mechanisms and digital biometrics (e.g. voice recognition). 

Evaluator experience 

An instructor/evaluator can review all webcam snapshots, facial authentications, and Browser Focus Tracking reports in an overall view, or detailed per individual user. Reports and analyses are made available in real time, and are ready for review during or after an exam. 

User experience 

After landing on the Sumadi platform, the user is asked to create their unique facial profile (which will be used for every exam), and undergo facial authentication. The Sumadi Exam Wizard guides a user through the process of authenticating and entering their exam. 

Born in the cloud and easy to integrate 

Sumadi was developed from the outset as a cloud-based platform, without legacy systems, which allows for greater efficiency of cloud computing and enables the latest software architecture. 

Quickly and easily detects unwanted behaviour 

Sumadi analyses data in real time and flags suspicious behaviour, making it easy for evaluators to identify a specific user’s exam that requires review. 

Data privacy and security 

Sumadi builds trust and confidence by collecting only necessary data, and has detailed data retention policies. Data protection impact assessments are regularly conducted.

For more information on Sumadi’s automated proctoring solutions contact OneConnect at: [email protected]

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