Creativity and innovation of educational institutions are being challenged in this technological era. Pandemics and other natural calamities require educational leaders to be creative in the way they have to provide and offer education services to their clients.
Also students/learners as the targeted recipients of these educational services are being handicapped in terms of access and affordability of these services due to these invisible enemies. Based on the traditional learning and teaching approach, learners or students are better off when they attend classes face-to-face. This strategy is widely recognised and accepted as an effective way of imparting knowledge and skills onto the educational recipients. It also gives students and learners an opportunity to interact with their peers as well as teachers physically.
However, the emergence of Covid-19 and other natural catastrophic disasters necessitated a re-invention of teaching and learning strategies by educational administrators and other stakeholders. As such, governments, ministries, agencies, schools or universities globally, have to consider offering their services online via different e-Learning platforms.
E-learning is praised to be a saviour and liberating tool as it allows both educational recipients and facilitators to engage in constructive discussions online without boundaries. Though, it is faced with numerous challenges such as digital illiteracy, e-divide, technophobia and digital evangelism, it is regarded as a good platform for the sector. With that, we have seen numerous online and e-Learning initiatives offered mainly by the private sector as solutions to a handicapped education sector due to the current pandemic.
What worth noting is that, stakeholders in the education sector usually, fail to do a proper assessment of both internal and external forces that are likely to impede the effective implementation of these services. To some extend these forces are being ignored and overlooked by those in authorities.
Rather than e-Learning being a solution, these online services tend to create more problems than solutions. Therefore, based on my extensive engagement in educational technologies through teaching, researching and consultancy, I developed a Digital SWOT analysis that school managers and administrators need to use when considering opting for e-Learning services. This SWOT analysis requires the institution to use a rubric and a scoring sheet for each quadrant (if you need a diagrammatic, rubric, and scoring sheet, contact me).
Each element in the scoring sheet has five maximum points. The aim is for the institution to score high on both strengths and opportunities so that they consider e-Learning implementation. This is what I called an online break-even point of the institution in terms of its digital abilities in my writing. Schools or universities should note that, weaknesses and threats could easily be turned into strengths and opportunities that will serve as a foundational tool for effective e-Learning management.
SWOT stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal digital issues that each educator needs to know. If your weaknesses are more than your strengths, then you need to sit back and strategise until you reduce your weaknesses to be less than your strengths before the actual implementation of e-Learning services. Many schools or universities usually fail this first stage, as they do not do a proper study to do a self-evaluation digital analysis to determine their capabilities and loopholes.
The strengths range from issues such as: having a large pool of human resources (teachers, principals, inspectors, education officers) that can be trained and converted into online facilitators; management by-in; availability of policies e.g. ICT policy for education, inclusion of ICT as a promotional subjects in schools; continuous donation of ICT equipment to schools by the private sector organisations and international donor agencies; willingness of (some) staff members to be ICT champions at their respective schools; increase in e-democracy initiatives aimed at school; digitalisation and eagerness of learners to adopt online/ICT devices as a complementary learning tool. It is not possible to have all these, but ensure that you have more of these.
The weakness can be: inadequate ICT infrastructure at schools; most public schools do not have computer labs and other ICT devices; digital literacy level of staff members (digital literacy vs illiteracy); poor implementation of plans, directives; poorly resourced schools in terms of ICT infrastructure; network problems especially in rural areas; resistance to change (Technophobia); more schools in rural areas still in need of electrification as well as utilisation of ICT as a solution rather than a tool to enhance productivity.
When a school or university is strong internally, the next stage is for them to assess their external environment. The external environment consists of opportunities and threats. It is also important to note that, you need to make sure that your opportunities are more than your threats. Otherwise if that is not the case you are required to re-engineer your actions so that you will turn all your threats into opportunities to ensure that e-Learning will be more beneficial to your organisation rather than it being a burden to your clientele or stakeholders.
Opportunities that need to be considered at this level are issues such as: strong political will in the country; proliferation of ICT devices ownership and acquisitions e.g. smartphones, laptops, PCs, tablets; narrowing of a general digital divide; availability of free or affordable data plans from telecommunication companies e.g. Aweh, Super Aweh and so on; global community willingness to assist schools in the global south; and an increase in the number of network towers in the region or constituency. These are external positive conditioning factors that can serve as a breeding ground for effective e-Learning implementation, monitoring and evaluation. However, there are external negative forces that need to be assessed and your school or university need to highlight them at an infant stage of e-Learning adoption.
They range from issues such as: over pessimistic of ICT utilisation; unrealistic political goals and directives; globalisation and digitalisation of public and private services; fast growth and adaptation of e-teaching, e-school administration, e-resources, e-learning; misuse of ICT devices, corruption, vandalism; poverty, unequal distribution of resources; poor network, bandwidth and an increasing rural-urban digital divide.
It is important to note as well, that as a manager or school administrator, you have less control on the external forces than the internal ones.
Hence, you need to have powerful institutional policies, institutional procedures, strategies and systems in place that can favour the internal weaknesses to be turned into your strong weapons to survive in this digital war toward education.
It is advisable that schools, universities or colleges should conduct this SWOT analysis at the beginning of each academic year as well as at the end of each academic year. The aim is to determine their stand point with regard to digital enhanced learning. The exercise should not be that costly as long as we have internal structures in place and we will leave it in the hands of the capable, qualified, passionate and dedicated members of our organisations. Through this we will be able to make a final decision as to whether we should completely offer our service online or probably we can adopt a blended learning approach, which consists of both limited face-to-face classes/sessions as well as offline classes.
This does not make your services accessible by those who cannot afford to travel to your respective institution during a catastrophic event, but can enhance your global digital power in terms of delivering education to the mostly neglected societal members during critical times. Therefore, a well-informed digital strategy can be equalised to effective e-learning implementation, management and administration.
*Dr Sadrag Panduleni Shihomeka holds a PhD in Media and Communication. He writes in his own capacity as a researcher. He can be reached at email@example.com.