Wednesday, 14 November 2018

UoM Trisector Society Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Here is a copy of my speech on that occasion as the Chief Guest of the event, representing the Vice-Chancellor.

Prof Hookoomsing, former Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University, Ms Bhurtoni (Disability Activist), Mr Boodhun (Legal Lead Accenture Mauritius), Ms Gopee (Project Coordinator, Inclusion Mauritius), Colleagues of the University, Staff and Students,

Ladies and Gentlemen – good afternoon to you all.
 
I am pleased today to be among you here on the occasion of this laudable initiative by the UoM Students’ Tri-Sector Society in the context of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. At the level of the University and in line with our Core Values, we are leaving no stone unturned to put in place appropriate infrastructure to ensure that our fellow citizens with any type of disability are given the full support to study in a conducive and inclusive environment. Access to education is a critical factor for anyone to have a chance to live a decent and normal life afterwards. However, there is still more to be done, and we reckon that without the support and contribution of each and everyone of us, progress will be limited.

The tri-sector concept is no doubt one of the key ingredients to help towards the holistic inclusion of persons with disabilities in the society, as we can witness today by the presence of friends from the private sector, civil societies and government, including academia. At the University, we have coined the term a bit differently through what we call the triple-helix model with a fourth dimension, the people. Indeed, no model or approach will be successful if the human aspect is not present.

Mauritius is a fast-developing country, and the ingredients that will help us to move from a middle-income country to a high-income economy is there, the blueprint is there and key actions are reflected every year in the budget. But in that quest for development and economic progress, there are two important questions to answer:
  • In our rush and quest for more progress and development, are we not leaving behind key values of humanity, mankind and ensure inclusion at all levels and for all types of vulnerable groups?
  • How come in the Mauritius of the 21st Century we still have families living in extreme poverty, and others struggling to live a decent life because of prejudices?

Inclusion of all different groups in society is indeed a pressing issue not only at the local level but in a global world and is not only limited to people with disabilities. Indeed, having international days to remember, celebrate and sensitize the world about challenges, difficulties and achievements of mankind and organizing workshops and events of this kind definitely help to further such causes that we live and stand for. However, it will be of no use if there is no change in human mentality and our inner attitudes, behavior and the whole bunch of prejudices that exist from within us.

To be able to bring this change in mentality and inner attitudes we first need to go back to what we often call “the first principles” and engage in deeper thinking about the very basis of our existence on this earth and about its purpose. Today in this world we are taught to show contempt first rather than compassion towards a fellow human being. Yes, while giving someone 5 cents to complete the rupee you might have been lured by unknowingly paying for someone to buy a cigarette but have you ever thought that in some other cases it might have been the 5 missing cents for someone to buy milk for his kids? No, because we are now in a ruthless society where everyone is in a race to get ahead of the other. We have learnt to think differently. We are taught to look at the 5 cents less we will have rather than the rupee the person in need will have and which could change the world for him.

It is unfortunate today that mankind despite being granted with brilliance, intelligence, and superior abilities, yet drops bombs in its greed for power and thirst for more wealth to create more disabled persons. As somebody has rightly said “I see humans but no humanity”. This is why today, it is more than commendable that you are engaged in a noble cause linked to basic humanitarian values of not letting anyone behind and helping each other to overcome the challenges of life which often takes diverse forms.

Therefore, as the youth representing the future generations of leaders, professionals, and as ordinary citizens, my message to all of you here is to never abandon those in need and to always thrive to give mankind back “ses lettres de noblesse”. It does not take much to be a better human being and I personally believe that there is no better place than a University to set the foundations for a better world. On this note, and on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor and the University, I wish to reiterate my thanks to all those present as well as the speakers who have kindly agreed to take part in this workshop.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Africa’s Movers and Shakers in Corporate Online Learning 2018

A list of the one hundred most influential people in online learning learning in Africa is published in the context of the eLearning Africa 2018 conference. 
According to the article published on learningnews.com, "this list represents the views of key people about the personalities who lead the online learning world in Africa. Several hundred people received nominations. The judging process was carried out by an independent – and non-African - group of judges from the online learning technologies industry. 

While this list is not endorsed in any way by the organisers of the eLearning Africa event, in Kigali, Rwanda, from 26 to 28 September 2018, the event’s organisers supported the idea of the List by using their extensive network to invite nominations. Moreover, they recognise that the List gives visibility and “status” to the online learning sector in Africa and promotes discussion of this sector within Africa"

Among the three to four persons from Africa, i am pleased to come at the 39th place in the "premier platinum" category. The description given is as follows:
39. Santally Mohammad Issack - Pro Vice-Chancellor (Planning & Resources) at the University of Mauritius, who promotes e-learning within the university and collaborates with agencies, such as the Commonwealth of Learning, to train officers of the Food and Agricultural Research Institute (FAREI) to develop e-learning materials for small and medium enterprises in the farming sector.
I wish to place on record my thanks to colleagues especially Prof Jhurry, the Vice-Chancellor who believed in me and nominated me for this list. I am also thankful to the COL/FAREI and other organisations with whom i worked closely in the past. I also wish to congratulate my good friend Kaviraj Sukon, Director General of the Open University of Mauritius to have made it to the 22nd place.

The full article and the list can be accessed here:

Monday, 27 August 2018

Alternative modes of assessment and evaluation of student learning for 21st Century Education

Assessment and evaluation of student learning is an integral component of the learning process. Assessment can either be formative or summative. Formative assessment is usually done throughout the course to allow the teacher to monitor the learning progress and use valuable feedback to either change the way teaching is being done to promote better understanding and to also give the student feedback on his or her progress to allow the student to identify areas where he or she needs to input more effort. On the other hand, summative assessment is a way to measure and evaluate the students learning at the end through a kind of a more formal and structured activity such as written examinations or a project. In all cases, the main objective of summative and formative evaluations is to ensure that intended learning outcomes are met. It is therefore important to define clear assessment criteria for each intended learning outcome.

In many elitist and competitive systems, supervised closed book examinations have long been seen as the preferred choice for student assessment and evaluation. It was perceived as the best way to ensure that the assessment processes were reliable, authentic and to maintain the integrity of the competition. Over the years the model has been widely implemented and accepted at all levels of the education systems throughout the globe. However, researchers and practitioners have started since some time to question the validity and relevance of such examinations, that normally rely mainly on memorization abilities of learners and have a limited range of application, in terms of what we can really measure out of them. With the proliferation of technologies and the internet, does it still make sense to rely on the ability of individuals to memorize and recall information in a closed-book examinations setting that lasts a few hours? Is it sufficient to assess in such a span of time about the intended learning outcomes and the learning that took place over one year? Is it a reliable way to measure whether the students have the necessary skills to apply their knowledge in the real world and in authentic situations?


While many developed countries and higher education institutions of the North have started to gradually move away from the traditional systems of evaluation and assessment, we note that developing countries are still lagging behind and in many cases, we have witnessed the consolidation of such systems. On one hand people would be talking about 21st Century Education while on the other hand, in the name of quality assurance, decision makers and school leaders would prefer to play the safe way by maintaining supervised closed book examinations. When we refer to 21st Century education, it is often pointing to learning in a context driven by technology and amidst an unrivalled abundance of all sorts of information at your fingertip.


When you could get to know the Capital of any country or the date a particular President of the United States died within seconds on the Internet, we need to ask ourselves, about the relevance or pertinence to ask a kid or a University student to remember this information because they might come out in an examination? Is it not wiser in the current era that we assess their ability to use the right tool to find such information when the question is being put to them? This further reminds me of a technique often used by some teachers of General Paper subject. They would dictate their students different sorts of essays related to themes normally to be covered or that may be highly probable to come out for the exams. Students would be expected to memorize these essays to have a better chance to perform in the exams.


21st Century Education is not only about developing a certain expertise of a subject matter but also characterized as the acquisition of other skills known as soft skills such as the ability to communicate better, to apply the knowledge acquired and to develop the capability to engage into reflexive practices. In the past, the teacher was seen as the one who knows it all. The content was at the center of the teaching and learning process. This is no longer true in the information and knowledge age. It is therefore obvious that the teaching methods and assessment instruments that we devise are relevant to that specific context. If the way we teach changes, then the way to assess has to evolve accordingly. Let us have a look of a few alternatives to the standard supervised closed book examinations.
 
Project Work

Project work has the merit to engage students into inquiry-based learning combining at the same time acquisition of information, application of knowledge and to reflect on one’s own learning through a presentation of the work done, or through the write-up of a report. Project work can be done individually or in teams and occurs over an extended period of time. At the end of the project, an artefact is normally produced which is assessed based on pre-defined criteria.


Open book exams



Open book exams can be considered as the most direct alternative to closed-book examinations as such exams are often conducted under the same parameters as closed book examinations. However they are very much different in substance, as the majority if not all of the questions set would not rely on memorization but rather would test problem-solving abilities of the student. They could be given a complex question or case-studies such as the need to advise a client on a particular legal issue, and they are allowed to consult existing laws, previous cases and other relevant documents.


Formative Assessment - Reflective Journals, Peer Assessment and Tutor Feedback


Role plays, scenarios and simulations are considered as experiential learning. Modern teaching techniques also refer to these techniques as gamification or games-based learning. They learn through interaction within a predefined context in an environment which is recreated to provide a simulation of a real-world situation where learning takes place as they walk through the process at different stages. This is called active learning and are best assessed through formative assessment techniques such as keeping a reflective journal, tutor feedback or peer-assessment. An example is to setup a mock Court room where Bar students practice as the Defence and Prosecution to argue a case. They can be assessed by their peers and their tutor as well.

Practical Work in Authentic Settings

There are two ways to achieve practical work in authentic settings. The first one can take place for example in a computer lab where students develop a piece of software to solve a real problem. These types of assessment can take the form of hackathons where teams are formed and work on a specific identified problem theme with the aim to win the contest. Practical work in authentic settings also take the form of a more formal placement in a work environment where they are assessed on different elements and skills that are expected from them.  Such concept is often called work-based learning and the aim is to improve the learning experience of the student and his or her readiness to get on the job market.

Portfolios

A portfolio is basically a collection of artefacts produced by a student during the course of a study which is then presented to the tutor for assessment. Portfolios are a useful way for a student to demonstrate application of knowledge and his or her skillset that has been acquired. A portfolio from a trainee teacher can contain a set of lesson plans that he or she designed and used in the class with the students during a teacher training course. A portfolio is normally accompany by a critical reflection component where the person records his or her feelings, findings, views and reflections through the learning process while building the portfolio.


Moving to alternative modes of assessment and student evaluation should however be done in such a way that the integrity and seriousness of the processes are not compromised. The necessary checks and balances have to be put in place. For example, there is a need to ascertain that authorship of a report is really that of the student. This can be done through putting in place regular meetings to check progress. The use of anti-plagiarism software also helps to establish that a report is a students’ own work and not copied from other sources. Holding viva-voce presentations (oral examinations) at the end of any project or after submissions of portfolios can help establish authenticity and prevent abuses to occur. These should however be done, having in mind, and accepting the fact that examinations in whatever form they take are never foolproof.


As a concluding note, choosing the right model or type of evaluation or assessment instruments depends on what you want to assess, as well as on the subject area being assessed. No assessment method or instrument should be excluded from the beginning. It is also considered a good practice to have a variety of assessment instruments and methods in a curriculum. The idea in not to solely rely on one specific method every time and in every situation.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Keynote Speech @ eMerge Africa 2018 - Two decades of eLearning @ the University of Mauritius


I was invited to deliver a keynote speech to the eMerge Africa 2018 conference (also referred to as the festival of eLearning in Africa) which took place as an online event, hosted by the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, of the University of Cape Town (UCT). This was an excellent opportunity for us to share our own experience in the area as practitioners, researchers and advocates of 21st Century Learning.

The link to the Conference and Keynote Speakers is provided here
 
The premise of my talk again centered on the reason why the University shifted its strategy from the traditional distance education concept (yes, I find this term to be an oxymoron in the 21st Century, especially in a world dominated by ICTs and virtualization) to the more contemporary concepts of distributed learning and using the “ubiquitous” nature of ICTs and the Internet to transform teaching and learning in the 21st Century. 

The talk provided a timeline of the key events, and strategic shifts from 2001 till now and argues how a transformation of the current education system of the University of Mauritius through ICT leverages will help us to address the present and future challenges in such a way that we ensure the sustainability and relevance of the institution down the years. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

UNESCO Mobile Learning Week Presentation

The Mobile Learning Week is UNESCO’s flagship ICT in education conference. The Mobile Learning Week 2018 was organized in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for ICT. The 2018 event was organized under the theme “Skills for a connected world”. Participants exchanged knowledge about the ways governments and other stakeholders can define and achieve the skills-related targets specified by Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4).

I submitted a proposal for presentation titled “Capacity-building of Educators for 21st Century Skills - Developing agents of change through formal and informal approaches using a 4P Innovation model” which was retained among the 60 selected presentations out of about 300 submissions. The audience to the presentation included Advisors to Minister of Education of the UAE, public and private sector individuals, academics and representatives of NGOs. 
One of the main components of the presentation focused on the BABA-TV project in which the UoM is a partner. The project relates to a mass-literacy initiative over Africa in collaboration with partners from France. The key message delivered in the speech was that much of the focus of the conference was on the education for kids and the youth, but there was a lack of emphasis on the importance of the need to train parents as well. 


 

Key Ideas


A key idea that emerged there which would be of benefit for Mauritius in achieving SDG4 would be to revamp the idea of the “Ecole des Parents”. In the digital age, this could take the form of webinars, MOOCs and face-to-face meetings in Social Community Centres to help those living in vulnerable situations.

The eKitabu project was another project that captured attention where Kenya is embarking on the digitization of school textbooks, with an intention similar to the one behind the tablet project in Mauritius. An innovative idea in the context of the University based on the eBook concepts, and inspired also from a similar project in UK/Scotland where University professors have embarked on to the publication of low cost e-textbooks on Amazon Kindle surfaced during the discussions, but applied in our context to our OER repository project. One of the forms that the OER repository could take would be as a repository of free e-textbooks published as OER and which could serve either as building blocks to modules that can lead to the accumulation of credits.

One of the main message put forward in the opening of the conference was a new concept – gender equality and the digital divide. It was postulated Gender gap in internet usage is widening. Now the gender issue is getting its way into the use of technology also. Is it a real issue? If yes to what extent? Is it linked to poverty issues again, as a side-effect? There can be room for research here in Mauritius and to compare with global figures.

The Minister of ICT of Egypt talked about the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for teachers in the plenary session while the Advisor to the Ministry of Education of the UAE talked about the maturity of schools in terms of adopting technology. A key idea here emerged with respect to our ongoing funded project on Education Leadership for the 21st Century by the AAUN, where we could work towards a Leadership Maturity Model for Mauritius Schools in terms of ICTinEd.


Friday, 9 March 2018

Mauritius of tomorrow : Panel discussion on Radio+


I was part of the panel on Radio+ and the debate was centered mainly around Mauritius of the future. I had mainly prepared my intervention to orient it mainly around the role of the University and the importance of education in general to shape the future of this country.

Here is a brief of the main questions on which I intervened and I try to engage into some further reflections in this article.

Question 1 – What is your vision of the future for Mauritius?

After Jugdish Joypaul made a brief intro and painted an overview of the progress of the Country since independence, he asked me that question. My main reflection is that Mauritius is a fast-developing country, and the ingredients that will help us to move from a middle-income country to a high-income economy is there, the blueprint is there and key actions are reflected every year in the budget. But in that quest for development and economic progress, the key reflection I wish that we should make for Mauritius is the following:
  • In our rush and quest for more progress and development, are we not leaving behind key values of humanity, mankind and ensure inclusion?  
  • How come in the Mauritius of the 21st Century we still have families living in extreme poverty?
It is unconceivable for our country and this is our biggest risk for the future. It is high time that we put a pause and reflect on what we have called “living values” at the University. Socio-economic development does not necessary bring more social justice. So the vision of the future in Mauritius, is that there should be no families living under poverty lines in Mauritius.


Question 2 – On the issue of skills mismatch, the role of Universities and the jobs of the future

I brought the discussion along the key reflection question : What is the fundamental role of a University? For me the main role of the University is to prepare individuals for the future. A future, that is uncertain and unexpected, but where one is well-equipped to face. This is where the concepts of 21st Century skills are important, and where Universities have now to rethink of the type of education and pedagogies that they are putting in place. There is a need to ensure that students are able to apply their skills, and become resilient for the future, so that they are able to adapt to changing contexts.

Having said that the role of the University is also to produce manpower who can directly contribute to the needs of the country and the industry. On this aspect the University is capitalizing on schemes such as GTES that has been put in place by the Government. There is a need to balance how Universities deal with the problematic of producing graduates with skills that are immediately applicable for industry, develop individuals with skills to be resilient in the future, and to train people for the jobs of the future.

There is also a problem in the mindset of the youth. They think that when they possess a qualification in a particular sector they have to work at all costs in that area. I took the example of someone who comes out with a management degree, expecting to be recruited as a Manager. I took my own example highlighting my first degree in Physics, with a Masters in IT but I worked in the Education field more precisely ICT in Education. Now as a Pro VC I have a portfolio ranging from Finance, HR, PR and advancement of the University while my main qualifications are in Science & Technology. What is more important is therefore to inculcate skills such as decision making, leadership development, rational thinking and often a dose of common-sense in our students.

The University of Mauritius has always been playing a key role in supporting the development of the country, when we setup the school of Agriculture, then launching the Engineering faculty and the Textile Department, moving into Tourism, Ocean Sciences and finally the setup of the Faculty of Information, Communication and Digital Technologies.

Question 3 – On the issue of the role of Government and the poor to eradicate poverty

While it is the duty of Government to eradicate poverty, special reference here is made to the eradication of extreme poverty, the Government has mainly a role of policy making, and making the money available. However, there is a need to rethink in-depth the role of NGOs and whether they are effective in the fight against poverty. The approach according to me is wrong, as there is no defined process to measure impact and outcomes. NGOs have just become like research institutes where the key is about having the knowledge to write projects to obtain grants. All these money being injected to fight poverty, a country like Mauritius should not have families living in extreme poverty. On the reflection, that whether the onus is not also on the families to make the necessary effort, it is important to know that when a kid is not well fed since his birth, his cognitive and executive functions will not be fully developed in his crucial early years. Therefore poverty becomes a vicious circle for the poor irrespective whether they have the will or not to get out of poverty.

Question 4 – On the issue of brain drain

Mauritius has two key issues to tackle. The first one is ageing of the population and the second one is the issue of brain drain. Well, a lot is being said on brain drain but as Charles Cartier put it, Mauritius is among the rare countries that helps its brain to leave the country and not to come back – the laureate system. I said that although it’s a problem, in such a global world we cannot prevent the youth and other citizens from leaving the country. However we can always work on schemes and incentives to retain our youth. One of the key issues is that technical education is not valued in Mauritius and there is a disparity in the salaries. This is why everyone prefers to go to University – we would all recall the (in)famous one graduate per family policy, which has both its merits and its disadvantages. Hopefully with the polytechnics things will improve, and also with the 9-year schooling, but these remain to be seen.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Mauritius as an Education Hub Roundtable - Some Reflections

There were about 10 panelists including 4 Ministers with Australian counterparts on the theme of “Mauritius as an Education Hub”. The meeting was chaired by Raj Makoond and a number of officials from Ministries and Parastatal bodies attended the meeting. First of all this was a nice initiative…on a Sunday !

The different presenters talked about either Government Policies, or institutional strategies that are being put in place to promote Mauritius as an education hub. The Australian counterparts talked about how Universities from Australia and Mauritius could collaborate. One of the talks that impressed me was the one from Mat, the CEO of DUCERE who spoke mainly about disruption in education, highlighting the collaboration of DUCERE with University of Mauritius and laying emphasis on the possibilities for the Mauritius Education Sector to grow and conquer the African market. The Director of TEC also laid emphasis on Quality Education and Quality Assurance and Regulations.

One key question which was not covered and which is a very simple one was -What is an Education Hub? What do we mean when we talk of our country as an Education Hub? Remember Education hub concept in Mauritius has been a fashion frenzy word since 2009 when there was a Ministry looking after Tertiary Education. The concept in fact during the period 2009-2014 caused much harm to Mauritius as a potential education destination.

The second reflection I had was the following (in the form of a question): Can we equate quality in higher education to more strict regulatory frameworks? This brings us back to the TEC, a much disputed institution prior to 2015. However, we must admit that the current Minister and the newly appointed Director Prof Nair have brought some sense of stability and credibility to this institution. Two key questions, intrinsically linked to each other. 
 
SO what is an education hub? Why would our dear friends from Australia wish that Mauritius becomes an education hub? Will that not compete with them after all? Figures would show us how important the education “industry” is to the US, UK and Australia when it comes to exporting it to other regions as a commodity. Now Asian countries are joining the race – Malaysia, India, and China are all the new big players in the field. Student migration data clearly illustrate the positioning of the Asian countries. However, many of these countries do lack what we have – Bilingualism, our proximity to Africa and our ancestral link with India including other factors such as our political stability, and more and more, our country being now seen as the “Mauritian” dream for many Africans, Indians, and Bangladeshis… who would want to elect our country as a 2nd domicile at all cost. You do get the message, yes. There are risks also out there. The other issue is how do we become this hub? Empower our own institutions ? Can they be up to the level? Are they attractive enough to the international student community? Or do we maintain the trend of getting the big guns in the country to the detriment of our public institutions? This could be a good strategy though if we were to be looking at reducing public spending and creating institutions of average level which often do not contribute enough. Do we then merge the main public institutions in one mega University as France is doing? Strategy and a Grand vision is key here, otherwise our higher education sector can face real issues. Unless as I said, looking at the bigger sphere, might lead us to try to become an Education, Research& Innovation hub all at once, where the legislative framework would require that private foreign institutions have to invest into Research and Innovation programs and not only contend to deliver training and courses, make money and then pull out currency from the country. 
 
Coming to the second question, this is an area where the Higher Education Bill is very interesting. It separates the QA function from the regulatory process. The regulatory process is linked mainly with the legal framework in place, and ensuring that institutions willing to operate in Mauritius comply with these. Often such processes and due diligence have been equated to quality assurance. Quality Assurance is key to Mauritius becoming that much awaited education hub, and QA has to become the trademark for our Universities. A trademark that has to be preserved and seen to be preserved (reference here to the Quality Assurance Agency to be setup) so that our Universities keep striving for continuous improvement. This has to be their main selling point. Then, instead of competing with each other, they could contemplate the concept of co-opetition where the collaborate while engaging in a healthy competition linked to the pursuit of their own excellence and QA trademark.