Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Private School Fee Increases and the KHDA's Education Cost Index

This week the KHDA published its annual Education Cost Index (ECI) which determines the maximum amount by which private schools in Dubai can increase their fees. The ECI is set at 2.4% which means that 
  • 'Outstanding' Schools can increase their fees by 4.8%  (2.0 x the ECI)
  • 'Very Good' Schools can increase their fees by 4.2% (1.75 x the ECI)
  • 'Good' Schools can increase their fees by 3.6% (1.5 x the ECI)
  • All other schools can increase their fees by 2.4% (the ECI).
The issue of increasing school fees and making money out of educating children is an emotive one. The ECI is an important mechanism to protect parents from organisations profiteering from education. Ultimately, parents are reticent about moving children from the schools in which they are settled because of fee increases. 

ECI Theory and Practice

In theory, the ECI incentivises for-profit organisations by allowing those schools who have invested in achieving high standards to increase fees by a higher rate. However, it may argued the unintended consequence of this is that good schools have the income to get even better, whereas weaker schools are caught in a poverty trap by not having the capital to make necessary improvements. 

Where does the money go?

Much depends on where the additional income from the fee increase goes: whether it is reinvested in the school (as it is in full in the not-for-profit schools) or whether it goes to line investors' pockets. All schools should be transparent about the percentage of school fees that goes on profit to the investors so that prospective parents can make informed choice of school. 
At JESS, Dubai, we publish these data on our website and 100% of any annual surplus is reinvested in the school.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

How Virtual Reality is changing how children learn in the classroom

Virtual Reality is the latest in a long line of new technologies which can be harnessed by teachers to help them make their classrooms come alive; to improve further the learning experience of their pupils. Over the past twenty years’, teachers have used videos, DVDs, classroom projectors, interactive whiteboards, and 3D projectors and now they can call upon Virtual Reality. So, what is Virtual Reality (VR) and how it so different? 

What is Virtual Reality? 

In order to experience Virtual Reality, the user needs to put on a headset in which a 360° panoramic image is projected. The technology is simple, it works very much in the same way that enabled a previous generation of children to enjoy 3D images through a Viewmaster. The headset projects a slightly different image to each eye, which gives a 3D effect. As the viewer moves his head to the left and right, the image moves giving a strong feeling of being in situ. By turning around, the viewer can see what is behind him; by looking up he can see what’s above him-it’s ‘real’! 
Surprisingly, it is possible to create a VR experience for less than US$5 by purchasing a simple cardboard kit into which a smartphone can be inserted. The 360° panoramic images used for the ‘virtual experiences’ are produced in two ways. They can be filmed by a 360° camera, in just the same way that Google Street View is mapping cities of the world. Or, they can be computer-generated as in console action games, such as Call of Duty. There are thousands of 360° videos available free on YouTube (just search for ‘360° videos’) and this number will increase exponentially as 360° cameras become commonplace. 

What makes Virtual Reality different? 

The greatest difference between VR and, say, watching a DVD is that VR is an active rather than a passive process. It feels like the real experience. Because the viewer is controlling where he looks and what he focuses on, this inevitably leads to greater engagement. Indeed, Virtual Reality allows the user to experience what is going on in a way that feels authentic. The first time that I put on a VR headset, I went on a roller coaster ride – the experience was so immersive that I had motion sickness! This was not a passive activity it felt real – I experienced every dip and turn. It is this characteristic of creating an experience that makes VR such a versatile and powerful tool for the classroom. 

Virtual Tours 

I am sure we can all recall the experience of trips out of the classroom during our own school days. To be able to see what had been discussed in the classroom gave a clarity and strong memory association that no text book can ever hope to achieve. A huge strength of Virtual Reality in schools is that it gives almost limitless scope for teachers to take pupils on trips anywhere in the world without leaving the grounds. A class can visit China and experience what it is like to walk up and down the crumbling steps of the Great Wall, they can take a stroll along Wall Street gasp at the view from the top of the Burj Khalifa, or even to dive the Great Barrier Reef. All these ‘visits’ are available in the classroom within a matter of minutes – a further bonus for the teacher is that there’s no risk assessment, no budget and no buses! 
But Virtual Reality allows teachers to go further, for VR makes it possible for a pupils to experience the impossible. 

Time Travel 

Virtual Reality allows pupils to go back in time to experience key events in history. It is possible to be there as Martin Luther King makes a great speech; they can wade through World War I trenches, they can be in a dog-fight in the Battle of Britain, build a pyramid in Cairo witness the Execution of Mary Queen of Scots. 

Space Travel 

VR has also made Space Travel available for all. The publication by NASA on YouTube of 360° panoramas of Mars and Pluto makes it possible for teachers to take their classes to outer space. Pupils can explore the Martian landscape from atop the Mars Rover - no space suit required. 

Personalised Learning 

In the past few weeks at JESS, Dubai, Year 5 have met some ancient Egyptians, Year 4 have been to London, Foundation 2 travelled into Space and Year 6 went to Ancient Greece. The children ‘felt’ what it was like to be there and the experience helped them to develop mature responses at a significantly deeper level than would ever be possible from watching a video. Possibly the greatest strength of VR is that the experience is personalised – the child is in control of the experience, he can go at his own pace, choosing to look at what he wants, taking time to look for detail, moving on only when ready. 
Teachers should always be on the look-out for new ways to enable young people to learn, to help them understand more about the world around us and Virtual Reality can now be the latest addition to their toolbox of ways to inspire – and what an exciting addition it is!

This article was published in Emirates Airlines' Absolutely Education Issue One (Feb 2017)

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Future of Schooling – A view from the Middle

This article was published in The National on 20th December 2016

The Challenge 

Source: Richard F. Elmore, Harvard University,
Supporting Strong Instructional Practice Feb 2015
One of the greatest challenges for Education in the Twenty-first Century is that there is an ever-increasing divide between the demand for learning and the supply of schooling. This is seen most obviously in the global shortage of teachers, but it extends to dearth of school leaders and to the unavailability of schools themselves. According to UNESCO, there are an estimated 263 million children who are not in education and the world will need 3.3 million more primary teachers and 5.1 million more lower Secondary teachers by 2030. There is no easy solution to this problem, but I believe that lessons from how the Middle East is addressing the problem may provide a solution that will work in other parts of the world. 
You might ask, ‘Why would a solution come from the Middle East? Why not from the most developed Educational systems of Europe and North America?’ Well, I believe that the answer to that lies what Clayton M. Christensen of the Harvard University Business School, calls ‘Disruptive Innovations’ - i.e. innovations which transform the entire form of organization and management of established institutions. Christensen argues that one of the characterististics of ‘Disruptive Innovations’ is that that they ‘originate in Low-End and New-Market footholds’ (‘What is Disruptive Innovation?’ HBR December 2015). On this basis, it is more likely that a solution the Learning-Schooling problem should be found in emerging educational market of Dubai than in established settings of the the US or the UK independent sectors. 

Lessons from Dubai 

The traditional model for schooling around the world was one where education was provided by Governments or by charitable not-for-profit organisations. In the UK, the church and the independent schools, and subsequently the State provided education. No one countenanced the concept of making a money out educating children. Indeed, prior to the recent machinations by the UK Charity Commission, the provision of education was considered an inherent good for the wider benefit of society [a concept in which many of us still believe].
However, Dubai is different. Today 92% of the population are immigrants – economic migrants if you like – who can never be citizens of the UAE. In this context, the State recognizes the need for there to be good schools in order to attract workers to Dubai, but, understandably, sees no reason to provide education for the children of ex-pats free of charge. The consequence has been the growth of the Private School sector. In the early days of the UAE (the nation is only 45 years old) the first schools were founded by the companies working in the country – they were Not-For-Profit following the UK, French or US models. Today 95% of Private Schools in Dubai are For-Profit. The expansion of Dubai is so fast, that the Not-for-Profit sector is not equipped to respond – with the inevitable consequence that the For-Profit sector has filled the void. Market forces play out on the Dubai stage in a way that, I believe, will be a model around the world. So what lessons can we learn For-Profit sector in Dubai? 
The Dubai For-Profit Sector 
The For-Profit sector in Dubai, unsurprisingly is driven by the economic drivers of ‘return-on-investment’, ‘economies of scale’, scalability, differentiated markets and keeping costs down – especially of staffing. However, there are three important characteristics of the For-Profit sector that, I believe, will shape global schooling in the future: 
  1. The For-Profit groups offer education at different price points: The For-Profit groups offer Premium, Mid-range and Budget in the same way that airlines offer First Class, Business and Economy seats on their planes. The differentiators between the price points are school and class size, the range of facilities available in the school, the qualifications of teachers, and the amount of teacher-pupil contact time in the week. 
  2. The For-Profit Groups invest in central I.T. systems: Nord Anglia have developed the Nord Anglia University as a global CPD portal for teachers. GEMS have developed a share VLE for their schools and have introduced ‘blended learning’ programmes which have moved the process of teaching and learning away from the traditional model of a teacher standing in front of a class.
  3. The For-Profit Group invest in top talent for key leadership roles: GEMS have attracted top educationalists from around the world to drive their educational and IT learning strategies.

Looking into the Crystal Ball – Five Prophecies for the Future of Schooling 

So if we apply the principles of Dubai’s For-Profit sector to the global Learning-School problem, what solutions might we see? 

1. Education For-Profit will become the norm around the world. Not-for-Profit education is not equipped to meet the global demand for education, the inevitable consequence is that the For-Profit sector will fill the void. 
2. Being taught by a specialist teacher in a classroom at Secondary level will be a luxury. Technology won’t replace teachers everywhere – but it will in many places. In the future, it will only be Premium Secondary Education that will be delivered by specialist teachers in classrooms drawing on a range of real and virtual resources. Budget Secondary Education will not have subject teachers, but will be delivered totally through online courses on learning platforms. However, for many young people around the world this will be better than the present situation of receiving no education at all. Mid-Range Secondary Education will be delivered by “super-teachers” via Virtual-Reality Conferencing. The For-Profit will invest in new technologies in order to maximise the impact of teachers. 
3. Virtual Reality Teaching will be the disruptor of Secondary education. We also already have ‘Virtual Teaching’ through video conferencing which enables pupils around the world to be taught live by a remote teacher. Furthermore, ‘Virtual Reality’ already enables pupils to travel through time and space – to experience the ancient Colosseum in Rome, life in the trenches or a World-War One dog-fight with the Red Baron. Once these two technologies are combined so that we have ‘Virtual Reality Teaching’, it will be possible for a pupil can put on a headset and ‘feel’ as if they are in a real classroom with a world-class teacher, or be taken on a virtual school visit to any place in time and space. 
“After Games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on your goggles at home.” Mark Zuckerberg
4. There will be ‘superstar teachers’ commanding very high salaries. One of the consequences of the rise of Virtual Reality Teaching is that there will be the rise of superstar teachers. The For-Profit sector has a proven record of investing in talent where it can made wider savings. It will inevitably pay to attract top talent, particularly in shortage subjects and their global educational networks will provide a platform which will enable great Virtual Reality teachers will be able to reach millions of students. These teachers will inevitably be very well paid and, given the nature of the C21, it is likely that they will be famous and become celebrities.
Humanoid 'Nao' robots Manufactured by
Aldebaran are being trialled
in S. Australia
5. Primary Teachers will be assisted by Robots. Young children at a formative stage of development need human interaction to shape their learning, thus it is highly unlikely that it will ever be possible to replace teachers in primary schools with technological solutions. One consequence of the predictions for secondary education outlined above is that primary schooling will need to teach the skills to enable young people to access non-classroom based forms of education. It is quite possible that robots will replace Teaching Assistants, performing basic instructive tasks such as teaching basic mathematics and listening to children read. 

Final Thoughts on the Future of Schooling

Prophecy is more about reading the signs of the time and working out a likely a future position from the direction of travel, rather than predicting the future receiving some dislocated revelation from on high.  Prophets are rarely popular because they are usually delivering a message that people don't want to hear. I believe that the signs for a possible future of schooling are there for all to see.
In an ideal world every child in the world would receive the quality of education that is available at Eton, or Phillips Exeter Academy (or even at Dubai College or JESS for that matter) but that isn’t going to happen. The reality is that there is inequality of educational provision in the world and that that is very unlikely to change.  
The challenge to every true educationalist is how that we can give every child the opportunity to have at least some form of basic education. Ideally, Governments supported by the Not-for-Profit sector would provide the solution because I believe that we have to be very careful about how we make money out of something as fundamental as the provision of a child’s education. Sadly, the global political will to achieve this is absent. Thus my hope is, as Diamandis and Kotler argue in Abundance, that the combination of new technologies and billionaire philanthropy will change the world. Unless that happens the approach taken by the For-Profit Sector in the UAE is likely fill the void and that stands as a warning to us all.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Future of Schooling - A view from the Middle (Presentation)

A presentation given at the Digital by Design, Digital by Default – ISC Digital Strategy Group Conference 2016 held on Thursday 1st December at Microsoft, Reading, UK.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Empowering School Leaders to Manage and Lead I.T.

A presentation given at the Digital Education Show in Dubai on Wednesday 16th November, 2016.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

What is Digital Governance and why you need it in your school - Digital Governance Part Two

An Introduction to Governance
Corporate governance structures exist to ensure that executive management act in the best interest of the organisation/shareholders and not merely to maximise their own self interests. For example, school leaders will be familiar with the concept of Financial Governance which ensures that employees know the limits of their authority to commit the organisation’s financial resources. This usually takes the form of policy document which outlines the rules on expenditure, contracts, salary levels etc. Digital Governance works in a similar way. 
Digital Governance
An organisation’s Digital Governance document is in effect the rule-book outlining
  • why the strategy is the way it is (the principles on which the strategy is founded) 
  • who can make IS/IT decisions; 
  • how IS/IT decisions are made; 
  • what is permitted in the organisation. 
Digital Governance ensures that a year group/department/colleague can’t declare UDI and strike off in their own direction. These policies outline the rules for anyone who wants to purchase a new device/software program/app, and put in place procedures to check that the proposed development is aligned to the school’s wider strategy and compatible with the rest of the IS/IT network. 
“[It] is concerned with promoting consistent and coherent decision-making behaviour across an organisation regarding Information Systems (IS) and Information Technology (IT) in order to maximise the value the organisation derives from IS/IT” (Peppard and Ward, 2016, 368). 
The ‘Why’ of Digital Governance 
Digital Governance allows an organisation to align IS/IT developments to the wider vision and direction for the organisation. For example, Digital Governance enables organisations to standardize systems and processes, which ultimately bring greater efficiency and reduced costs. Digital Governance is a way to break down the ‘silo culture’ of some organisation as it puts structures in place which encourage alignment and collaboration. 

The ‘Who’ of Digital Governance 
There is significant debate about who should be making IS/IT decisions. There are real dangers in leaving these decisions to IT Network Managers as, too often, decisions are made from self-interest. Equally, there are dangers in allowing enthusiastic administrators/ educationalists who do not understand the technical aspects of school networks to dominate -they are fundamentally responsible for the legacy spaghetti. Instead, it is worth considering two other common models:
  1. Digital Governance Committees. These groups combine some of the senior team with teachers and the Network team. Together they can evaluate new technologies and put in place the necessary infrastructure to ensure that it is effective. Such a group is well placed to draft the initial Digital Governance Document and to revise it as necessary. Large organisations may like to differentiate between a wider digital governance group, which oversees policy, and a narrower network architecture group, which looks at the technical specification of the network required to deliver that strategy. 
  2. Digital Leadership Roles. It has become quite common for large firms in industry to appoint ‘Chief Digital Officers’ (CDOs) to drive digital change from an executive level. Some schools have appointed Assistant/Deputy Headteachers/Principals to fulfil this role. This is undoubtedly an excellent solution as it means that a single senior leader has time and authority to drive the necessary change. However, the difficulties are cost and finding a candidate with sufficient pedagogical and technical knowledge to be able to do the role effectively. 
The ‘How’ of Digital Governance 
As with all other areas of school life, there are inevitably good ideas competing for limited resources. The Digital Governance document should define the process by which IS/IT decisions are made and how competing IS and IT priorities should be managed and implemented. It is often helpful to consider these as either ‘demand’ or ‘supply’ decisions: 
  1. ‘Demand’ Decisions include deciding how much to invest in IS/IT and how these decisions are prioritised. (‘We want to be able to . . . . ‘) 
  2. ‘Supply’ Decisions include deciding on required IT capability, how projects and programmes will be managed, and IT services delivered. (‘Here’s how you can do it . . .’) After Peppard and Ward, 2016, 371 
The ‘What’ of Digital Governance A Digital Governance document should define the School’s IS/IT policies on the following areas: 
  1. Define the core Information Systems for the organisation 
    At JESS our core Management Information System is iSAMS and we are endeavouring to consolidate other systems into it. 
    At JESS, we are moving to a Teaching and Learning environment in Office365, migrating away from a locally held Intranet. 
  2. Define the compatibility requirements for new software 
    At JESS we are endeavouring to ensure that all educational software can either be run from remote desktop, or on the Cloud. o 
    We are endeavouring to ensure than all other administrative systems integrate with iSAMS. 
  3. Set out the rules for procuring Cloud-based services. There is a trend away from making a one-off purchase of a ‘software package’ to contracting for ‘software as a service’ on an annual licence. The same applies to ‘storage as a service’. In many ways these are no different from other contracted services which fall under the remit of financial governance. 
  4. Define the specification for hardware procurement outlining specification requirements and clear expectations in terms of performance. This should include the specifications for Servers, Switches, Cabling, End-user devices, and other Peripherals (especially printers!) o There is much to be said for having an agreed specification for the ‘standard classroom’ – this brings greater reliability to the system, allows for quick and easy replacement if a piece of kit fails, and aids familiarity for teachers moving between classrooms. o For example, at JESS we have a policy of replacing Interactive White Boards (IWBs) with 75” Screens. This means that we will not be replacing like-for-like when IWBs fail. (In practice, we reallocate resources to ensure that the new monitor is installed in the location in the organisation where it will be most effective, which is not necessarily the classroom where the IWB failed.) 
  5. Define BYOD and Guest User Policies. Schools need to have clear policies on Bring Your Own Device and outline the Terms and Conditions under which non-school devices might be connected to the network. 
  6. Define the School’s User Behaviour and Security Policies. It is essential that school have clear policies relating to data access and levels of security, which outline what to do if the event of a failure or breach. These should sit alongside the school’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) which defines the way in which all users in the organisation conduct themselves on the network and online. 
Given the fast-moving nature of IS/IT, each policy needs to be subject to regular review, at least at six month intervals, although it makes sense to review hardware specifications on a monthly basis, given the rate of change in this area.
Links, References and Further Reading:  

Does your school have a legacy spaghetti network? - Digital Governance Part One

Does your school have a
legacy spaghetti network?
Most school IT systems have evolved with well-meaning enthusiasts in the vanguard of the IT revolution: a school management system here, a time-tabling package there; a laptop programme in Physics, an iPad programme in French; a great app for English teaching here, a graphing package for Maths there.
Most school networks are testimony to at least a decade of anarchy. 
It is common for schools to hold data in multiple databases and to use a range of local, network and web-based packages which aren't integrated. Each new teacher and administrator joining the school brings great new ideas and 'innovation' and, with it, even more complexity to an already overloaded system. The result is what Information Systems experts term legacy spaghetti.
Ultimately this situation is a failure of a past school leadership which did even know they needed to understand how IT systems work before setting them up. Such an oversight is both understandable and forgivable for it was a time when IT expertise was not part of the school leader's toolkit, but it does pose a significant challenge for today’s school leader.
Why is legacy spaghetti a problem? 
‘Legacy spaghetti schools’ are tying themselves up in more and more layers of complexity that mean that pupils, teachers and school administrators are wasting precious time and resources. At some point the school reaches a point (and perhaps yours is already there) when the whole system begins to run so slowly that upgrades and simply adding more RAM and Terabytes just won't solve the problem. In the long run legacy spaghetti means that the school network will no longer be fit for purpose will prevent schools from keeping up with innovation. Resolution of these historic issues is possible but it does require strong Digital Leadership today and good Digital Governance going forward.

In Part Two Digital Governance - What it is and why you need it in your school I will explore what is Digital Governance and how schools can put it in place.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Leading Digital – Turning Technology into Business Transformation by Westmann, Bonnet and McAffee – Key Points

Leading Digital outlines how firms in any industry can harness digital technologies to gain strategic advantage. The book categorises four types of organisation according to their ‘level of digital mastery’ with the follow characteristics:
  1. Beginners – an immature digital culture usually with a management sceptical of the business value of advanced technologies; 
  2. Fashionistas – a digital culture which lacks an overarching vision; but has many advanced features which exist in silos. 
  3. Conservatives – an overarching digital vision which is underdeveloped, but active steps are being taken to build digital skills and culture; there is strong digital governance across silos.
  4. Digital Masters – a strong digital culture flowing from an overarching digital vision with excellent governance across silos; many digital initiatives generating measurable business value. Digital Masters combine digital capabilities and leadership capabilities to achieve performance that is greater than either dimension can deliver on its own. 

The book also has some very useful self-assessment tools:
  • How well is your organisation building digital capabilities?
  • How well is your organisation building leadership capabilities?

Structure of the Book

Part One: Digital Capability: the what of digital mastery 

  • How firms engage with customers and how they can create a ‘compelling customer experience’. 
  • How digital technologies can transform operational processes and ‘exploit the power of core processes’
  • How digital technologies can produce and reinvent new business models. 

Part Two: Leadership Capabilities: the how of digital mastery

  • How to create a ‘transformative digital vision’. 
Re-envisioning the customer experience
Re-envisioning operational processes
Combining both of these to re-envision business models 
  • How to engage and energize employees to make the vision a reality. 
  • How to put in place good ‘Digital Governance’ which will keep the transformation on the right track. o Standandise o Automate o Accelerate 
  • How to develop ‘technology leadership capabilities’ to drive the transformation forward. 

Part Three: the Leader’s Playbook for Digital Transformation – concrete management guidance on how to get started. 

  • How to frame the ‘Digital Challenge’
  • How to focus investments
  • How to mobilise the organisation 
  • How to sustain the change. 

Some favourite quotes from the book: 

“The digital operations advantage is about more than great tools. It’s a combination of people, processes, and technology connected in a unique way to help you outperform you competitors.” p.69 
“Companies fall apart when their model is so successful that is stifles thinking that challenges it.” p.87 
“Leadership capabilities are essential to achieving true digital transformation, they turn digital investment into digital advantage.” p.95 
“When your technology leadership capabilities are weak, everything is a risky struggle. When they are strong, you can do great things.” p.171 
“Focussing investment is where the rubber meets the road in digital transformation.” p.189 

Some thoughts in response to the book

  • Digital technologies have not brought cost savings in education because of increased compliance. 
  • Digital transformation will not be possible in secondary schooling until it is liberated from the shackles of the (British) examination system. 
  • So many schools have not imposed digital governance. Enthusiasts have been allowed to run off in all directions. There needs to be a balance between empowerment and anarchy.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Pivotal Role of School Middle Leaders in Setting and Maintaining Standards

A presentation given as part of Developing Middle Leaders INSET at Ranches Primary School, Dubai on Thursday 25th August 2016