This is a back-to-school season like no other. With the world still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of students will attend class online for at least part of every week.
The challenges are great, from connectivity issues to not enough devices for each child, to a lack of social contact. Still, remote classes will be part of the education landscape for a long time if not forever.
This presents many opportunities for Israel’s approximately 400 educational technology companies.
What specific problems are associated with remote learning in Covid times, and how can Israeli ed-tech help solve these problems?
ISRAEL21c posed these questions to MindCET, the ed-tech innovation center of Israel’s nonprofit Center for Educational Technology.
Surprisingly, the answer was more about logistics, socialization and structure than about software, hardware and content.
“School was the daily routine for kids and suddenly it’s not there anymore,” says Cecilia Waismann, vice president for R&D at MindCET.
“At first, everyone thought the main problem was content, and so kids and parents were being overloaded with content,” she says.
“Structure is really the main problem. There’s also the social/emotional aspect. For example, recess is very important for kids.”
MindCET CEO Avi Warshavsky adds that most technical issues surrounding distance learning are easily solved. Communication, time-management and self-learning difficulties are harder to address.
“The biggest challenges are structural. Teachers know how to give a 45-minute lesson in a brick-and-mortar school and now they have to rethink the whole learning process,” says Warshavsky. “It’s a change of culture.”
Some of the 30 MindCET portfolio startups target these issues.
Indimo helps teachers equip students with self-directed learning skills at an early age, following a personalized curriculum that arranges subject matter according to learning styles. Digital Tuesday teaches a cluster of data literacy topics to enhance daily human-computer interaction.
“The corona situation just accelerated what we’ve been developing for the past eight years,” Waismann tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s been a living lab for us, and we are working with schools to share everything we’ve learned.”
Yariv Bin-Nun, cofounder of eTeacher — one of the oldest remote-learning companies – tells ISRAEL21c that he’s eager for his kids to go back to school with their friends.
“Digital education brings a lot of value, but it does not replace the physical school” for younger ages, he says.
He believes distance learning is more likely to become the norm in higher education, supplemental and afterschool education, test prep and professional education.
eTeacher launched in 2000 and two years later was commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Ministry to open the world’s first online Hebrew school for children of employees in the Israeli diplomatic service.
Today, language instruction, science, technology, engineering, arts, math and other classes are offered by eTeacher’s five virtual schools reaching 50,000 students from 200 countries. Classes are taught in nine languages by 450 teachers in 50 nations.
eTeacher’s sales have spiked 50 percent since March, Bin-Nun tells ISRAEL21c.
“I’m not surprised that the online education shift during corona has been tough because it was very sudden,” he says.
“We’ve been doing it for 20 years, so we know it takes time to master this art. You need good technology, infrastructure, teacher skills and content that is adapted to this medium.”
Let’s look at some other Israeli companies that can help students and teachers with remote learning.
Some 4,500 teachers across the globe use Tailor-ED to create differentiated digital, in-classroom or hybrid lessons in K-8 math, English and language arts to print or share in one click. The Israeli Education Ministry chose this platform for remote 10th-grade math classes.
Student motivation, confidence, social aptitude, memory and focus are factors considered in composing learner groups. Teachers choose the most effective collaborative and individual activities to incorporate into each group’s lesson plan from more than 5,000 online and offline activities curated by Tailor-ED.
“Our specialty is the social-emotional component, which is very important in distance learning because teachers don’t have the same interaction with students as in the classroom,” says CEO Maayan Yavne.
“Distance learning is not about using Zoom to deliver what you did in the classroom,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
“The emphasis is more on personalization, differentiation and instant engagement. That requires understanding each student and tailoring the lessons accordingly.”
Yavne holds an MBA and an MA in education from Stanford University and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Technion -Israel Institute of Technology. CTO and cofounder Yael Haramaty, a learning analytics specialist, holds an MA in learning, design and technology from Stanford as well as a bachelor’s in computer science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Class.Me provides tools to help students deal with digital information overload and to communicate more easily with teachers and peers.
Among these products are real-time chat apps, on-demand online tutors, assessment tools for teachers, and a premium Private Communication Network customized to each school, class and age group.
Class.Me messaging apps are searchable by school subject and provide an interface to one-on-one tutors – an advantage over disorganized WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger groups that kids and teachers often create to send homework and help each other study.
The company reports “dramatic growth” since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Verbit, which offers AI-generated transcription and captioning services, responded to the Covid-19 shift with a new Live Room desktop application providing interactive transcripts and captions within live Zoom sessions.
Live Room helps schools deliver online courses that comply with accessibility requirements and offer enhanced Zoom engagement. Transcripts can be shared directly from the app or downloaded to create study materials.
Among clients using Live Room are Stanford University, Fashion Institute of Technology and UC-Santa Barbara.
DASE-Learning is one of the many emerging Israeli ed-tech companies.
A recent graduate of the startup accelerator of AtoBe Entrepreneurship Center at Azrieli College of Engineering in Jerusalem, DASE was founded by pedagogical expert Galit Sarel and neuropsychologist Lan Lossos.
DASE’s high-speed IntegraLearning technology is based on the latest science about how children learn, Lossos tells ISRAEL21c.
“Education is still about linear learning and short-term memory, but we now understand that the brain gathers information in so many other layers, including the many layers of memory and the various modes of consciousness,” she says.
“These other layers and abilities were, unfortunately, treated as interfering in the classical manner of learning. But some of them actually enable the brain to gather much more information from the surroundings at a very fast pace.”
The startup’s proof of concept will be an online English-as-a-second-language (ESL) program for kids aged five to seven to play independently or with others remotely. DASE is seeking investment to pilot the game in Europe.
“Thanks to Covid-19, we understood that our method can assist in by-the-way learning and distance learning, helping kids dismiss what is less important and focus on analyzing and synthesizing what is more important,” says Lossos. “The outcome is the ability of the brain to absorb more information in less time.”