Education institutions ramp up digital infrastructure

June 02, 2022 | 08:00
The race amongst Vietnamese universities to go digital is expected to accelerate, with schools boasting more digital components predicted to gain the upper hand in both teaching quality and admissions.
Education institutions ramp up digital infrastructure
The Posts and Telecommunications Institute of Technology (PTIT) in Hanoi was among five universities selected to participate in the joint digitalisation project, established by the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Information and Communications. Photo: ictnews

In late April, a meeting of the National Committee on Digital Transformation identified such a transformation at the university level as one of the main focuses of 2022’s action plan.

The meeting followed in the footsteps of new government moves this year to vastly improve the prospects of the country's universities. A few months prior, a project on raising awareness and developing human resources for national digital transformation, with a focus on expanding and systematising digital universities, was signed and approved by Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam.

Taking effect from the end of January, the project aims to formulate and promulgate a set of indicators and criteria for evaluating the digital transformation of higher education institutions.

One of the specific goals of the project is to complete Vietnam's first digital higher-education model by 2025, while training 5,000 bachelors and engineers in digital technology. Private universities are encouraged to participate in the pilot implementation period.

By 2030, the model is expected to be applied to at least half of all public universities nationwide, with 20,000 engineers and bachelors trained in digital transformation.

The Posts and Telecommunications Institute of Technology (PTIT) in Hanoi was among five universities selected to participate in the joint digitalisation project, established by the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Information and Communications.

Students at PTIT can already log into the school's PTIT-Slink application installed on their phones, which connects the school with lecturers and students and allows students to pay tuition fees, view timetables and exam schedules, apply for student cards, and more.

Most experts believe that the benefits of digital universities are apparent, especially in creating a competitive edge in an increasingly selective market.

“Digital universities will personalise the future of education. To remain relevant, higher education institutions must develop digital frameworks that place special importance on student engagement and market speed,” said Dr. Mai Van Tinh, Deputy Head of Policy Research and Analysis at the Vietnam Association of Universities and Colleges.

“Students are now questioning the plausibility of traditional learning methods, marked by an annual calendar that begins in September each year, while they have to commute to specific locations with increasing tuition and fees," Tinh added. "They are increasingly looking forward to affordable, continuous, and on-demand learning opportunities. Universities that can provide this will gain an advantage in the market.”

However, with a digital framework not yet completed, perfecting a digital higher-education model is a challenging journey. According to Dr. Pham Do Nhat Tien at the Academy of Educational Management, the shift in awareness and possibly increasing social inequality in education are some of the obstacles ahead for this effort.

“Digital transformation is not just the introduction of technologies into schools, but rather the application of such technologies, to organise not only online classes but also develop open educational resources and massive open online courses. Here arises an important challenge, which is the digital capacity of staff and lecturers in many aspects,” Tien said.

“On the other hand, there's the inevitable existence of the digital gap between those who have the necessary equipment, transmissions, and skills and those that do not. This gap is global and can create a digital divide between countries; between regions/regions within a country, between schools, and between different learners.”

Despite the ambitious goal, the higher education digital transformation journey is currently in its early stages.

“In Vietnam, there is no survey to clearly assess the current state of digital transformation in higher education," Tien said. "However, based on data at the end of 2020 on the implementation of online education during pandemic, it can be estimated that 45 per cent of higher education institutions are in the stages of design and implementation, while much of the remainder only have a desire to convert, or no awareness at all.”

Vietnam currently has more than 240 universities, with the number of graduates majoring in IT, electronics, telecommunications, and information security reaching more than 50,000 per year – 20,000 lower than the average of countries in Southeast Asia.

Andy Nhu - Edtech researcher and lecturer, VinUniversity

Education should not be limited to lecture halls – it should encourage hands-on learning and real-life simulations. The edtech model at VinUniversity embraces blended learning using a combination of live classes with guided self-study components using AI, and a team-based small group instructional learning strategy.

We are trying to adopt the metaverse correctly and offer learners a workable version of the virtual world in which interconnectedness, personal touch, and expressiveness are emphasised. It is particularly helpful when our faculty members are working on-site across the country or overseas. Around 20 per cent of our learning content is face-to-face, and the remaining 200 hours are delivered online using guided self-study and adaptive suggestion technologies.

The biggest problem now for the educational landscape is that everybody wants to present themselves as the “one-stop-shop, all-in-one” solution, but their technologies, investments and know-how in the field do not allow such a claim. To teach effectively, we have to cherry-pick the top solutions from the market in each aspect and try to make them work together in our ecosystem.

Learning data needs to be shared for teachers to intervene in time. It has been a slow process to convince the different vendors to share and develop features harmoniously in the same ecosystem, but that I think should be the ethos of education: the spirit of collaboration and harmony, not just business.

In education, the dream of going fully digital is not possible. Here and there, we still need a human touch and a sense of community to empower our learning goals, but most of the learning experience can now be automated and also can only be personalised at scale by using technology, not manual labour. After all, face-to-face learning is costly and cannot be enough for students to excel in a constantly changing world.

An adaptive curriculum that changes based on a student’s level of proficiency and personal preference is a sensible solution, and standing on the shoulders of giants should be the way forward.

By Linh Le

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