As education digital transformation is a topical subject around the world right now, it is interesting to examine the discourses related on the topic. An excellent possibility for that opened at the end of March when SAIS supported project Edupreneurs for Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania, was launched in a full day event. See also: The Edupreneur Launch Event.
In this short blog, I summarize the main themes of the day.
Firstly, it is important to understand the objectives of digitalization of education. In digitalization, three interrelated aspects should be stressed: 1) usable tools, 2) data for decision makers and 3) process improvements. As Kauppinen et al. (2020) pointed out, it is not possible to reach reliable and usable data unless systems are considered as useful tools which help daily work (by improving processes). Although this sounds self-evident, in practice it is not. There is plethora of different platforms which seems to be built in some sort of whim, without fulfilling (or even considering) these three aspects. For example, if we think about education sector, rather often systems offered are either nice gimmicks for teachers, which might look fine and attract pupils (at least for a while, until the next nice gimmick is presented), or systems developed purely for data collection and storage only. In both cases there are problems, the systems either do not simplify teaching processes, are useful tools for teachers, or produce usable data for decision-making. In the worst cases (and sadly to say, in most cases), systems of this kind do not genuinely provide any of these three. When one three of these are missing, the motivation for the system is low, either in teacher level of decision-making level. Teachers are not so enthusiastic to use extra time filling forms they do not see helpful for them, managers are not interested to invest into systems which looks like software providers latest fad and do not produce any usable data for decision-making. Actually, here we are at the core of digitalization: without the motivation of whole organization, there is no digitalization. There is just another (considered unnecessary and mainly hated) software implemented. This kind of discussion is very important when a digital platform for edupreneurs is developed, but it is not about building the platform only, this discussion must be kept alive inside the platform as well, without it we will have the market oversaturated with similar e-learning solutions, while the real problems of education digital transformation are categorically neglected.
Secondly, another important theme stressed is what are the main actors and what is their role when a new education digitalization ecosystem is build. At a society level there are three main players having each an important role: government, research institutions and industry (see Figure 1)
Figure 1. The Triple Helix Model, adaptation from (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000)
As shown in Figure 1, all these parties benefit from co-operation although they also have to give up something. However, the achievable benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. This kind of co-operation do not come automatically, but each party must actively support and pursue it. Organizations, such as SAIS, supporting different levels’ co-operation (between these different parties, as well as between different nations) has a remarkable role here. However, organizations of SAIS kind can only be catalysts; they cannot do anything on behalf of government, academia or industry. Therefore, there is a need for constant co-operation between parties and co-operation among edupreneurs as well. All parties have an important role in the ecosystem building. There must be regulations, rules and recommendations, there must be research and training, there must be innovativeness and entrepreneurship, and all that must be done in co-operation. One concretisation here is the policy paper to be developed in the Edupreneurs project, but more important than that are the functioning processes inside and between the parties. As this co-operation is so essential, it was encouraging how well different parties were presented in the Edupreneurs project launch event.
Third theme, relating strongly to the two previous, is capacity building: how different players know how to do things right and, especially, to do the right things. Since the education digitalization ecosystem is not yet working properly in SADC countries (and rarely elsewhere either), there is a wide range of need for the capacity building. In schools, teachers and managers have different kind of need to build their digital capacity; teachers in schools seem to need support for digital pedagogy while managers might stress process improvements. On the other hand, there is a clear need for entrepreneurs to understand education in general. In addition, all involved groups need practices for change management, research and co-operation coordination. In general, functioning of the ecosystem must be understood: what is the keystone organization’s role and how activities, how responsibilities and value should be shared in co-operation (Rinkinen & Harmaakorpi, 2018). Emphasis should be put on change management and motivation building as well, as said, if there is no motivation, there is no digitalization either.
Therefore, to improve the situation, support must be offered not only to entrepreneurs, but also to teachers and school/education managers. All stakeholders must be considered and engaged, and here the above-mentioned parties are key players, all of them much have their own approaches when capacity building is provided. Changes do not happen by themselves, motivated and competent people are needed to make the changes happen.
Fourthly and lastly, a really important theme is how the ecosystem should function when it is built. From an entrepreneur point of view the ecosystem should be transparent enough, so that it is possible to see what the scopes, strengths and weaknesses of different actors are, and to build trust between the actors. The ecosystem should provide practices for fair co-operation where responsibilities and value capture are balanced. In addition, the platform supporting the ecosystem should be open for all, it must be easy for new members to join the ecosystem. In a good ecosystem there is synergy, no one must know everything, and not every development have be started from scratch. It must be understood that there are some potential disadvantages for companies joining the ecosystem. Thus, the ecosystem should be built so that the benefits to the ecosystem far outweigh the disadvantages. Ecosystem Pie Model (Talmar et al., 2020) was mentioned as one practical tool for ecosystem value proposition evaluation, and that kind of tools are important to go through when the platform for edupreneurs is developed.
As a conclusion, it is important to stress that all these four themes are important to be taken into account in the ecosystem building, and it was gratifying to note that all themes were considered in the Edupreneurs launch event in a balanced way.
Etzkowitz, H., & Leydesdorff, L. (2000). The dynamics of innovation: From National Systems and “mode 2” to a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations. Research Policy, 29(2), 109–123. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0048-7333(99)00055-4
Kauppinen, R., Lagstedt, A., & Lindstedt, J. (2020). Digitalizing Teaching Processes – How to Create Usable Data with Minimal Effort. European Journal of Higher Education IT, 1.
Rinkinen, S., & Harmaakorpi, V. (2018). The business ecosystem concept in innovation policy context: building a conceptual framework. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 31(3), 333–349. https://doi.org/10.1080/13511610.2017.1300089
Talmar, M., Walrave, B., Podoynitsyna, K. S., Holmström, J., & Romme, A. G. L. (2020). Mapping, analyzing and designing innovation ecosystems: The Ecosystem Pie Model. Long Range Planning, 53(4). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lrp.2018.09.002