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Coronavirus: Nordic digital educators collaborate with authorities amid pandemic

Nordic education technology startups are supporting education establishments in offering continued education during the Covid-19 crisis

Leading Nordic e-education providers Sectra and Koulu are deepening collaborations with national education authorities to meet the rising challenge of delivering cost-efficient home schooling and remote learning in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Norway, Finland and Denmark have closed all schools, including universities and training colleges. Although Sweden has closed universities and training colleges, the country has decided to keep its primary schools open as part of a more relaxed, if somewhat controversial, voluntary distancing strategy to curb the spread of the coronavirus.  

The need to restructure the academic year has caused widespread deferment of exams. This is seriously impacting second- and third-level education in all Nordic states. Distant e-learning is being used to bridge the preparation gap until exams can be rescheduled to mid-summer or autumn. Nordic governments hope to begin rebooting their hibernating economies and societies in May.

Launched in March, the Koulu.me free-to-use digital school is funded by the Finnish government and the indigenous education technology (edtech) sector. The open innovation project, which offers free apps and resources to support distance learning in schools affected by Covid-19, attracted immediate attention from educators in Finland and across the Nordic region. In Sweden, Sectra has rolled out a cloud-based medical education portal that enables teaching and studies to continue during the crisis.

Koulu.me was established in the wake of a tentative proposal made by Helsinki-headquartered innovation ecosystems specialist Spinverse to Finland’s edtech community. Spinverse’s proposal was to deliver a free distance e-learning and apps-based system for coronavirus-stricken schools. The idea prompted an instantaneous positive response from Finland’s edtech community, with industry players immediately offering to back the initiative with free-to-use applications and funding. 

“We wanted to do something tangible to help people, especially the hundreds of thousands of children and their teachers who are confined in their homes,” said Laura Koponen, CEO of Spinverse and co-funder of Koulu.me.

Spinverse rolled out Koulu.me as part of a collaborative consortium comprising an initial roster of 20 fellow edtech firms. Companies including Vuolearning, Seppo, 10Monkeys, 3DBear, Code School Finland, Eduten, EdVisto, Elias Robot, Language Clubhouse, Mehackit, Schoolday and Tinyapp agreed to provide security-approved online applications cost-free to Koulu.me.

“We wanted to find suitable tools to help distance learning,” said Koponen. “Our most urgent need was to identify developers of online education tools in Finland that would help us  establish the Koulu.me portal based on high-quality pedagogical content. It was important that the website is accessible to teachers worldwide, enabling them to secure important tools to support their distance-learning tasks and challenges during Covid-19.”

Koulu.me provides a range of educational tools to support distance learning-specific needs and assist teachers in offering online tuition to students in home-quarantine situations.

The open innovation Koulu.me portal is delivering learning applications for both pre-school and secondary education-level students in a broad range of subjects, including mathematics, science, languages and design. Organisers plan to increase the selection of applications as more education providers turn to digital solutions to adapt to school closures.

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The e-learning technologies driving Koulu.me help showcase Finland’s expertise in digital online learning, said Jouni Kangasniemi, programme director of Education Finland (EF). A governmental education agency, EF financially supports edtechs engaged in the development of e-learning with a global export potential. The state agency also provides financial, technical and marketing support to edtechs.

“Exceptional times call for exceptional measures,” said Kangasniemi. “Koulu.me serves as an expertise marker for the edtech industry in Finland, and this sector’s ability to deliver the kind of advanced distance digital learning tools and solutions that are widely needed in such challenging times as these.”

The disruption to normal doctor and medical training caused by Covid-19 has produced a spike in interest for Sectra’s distant digital teaching platform in Europe, particularly in countries such as Italy, which have been hardest hit by the coronavirus.

Teaching hospitals, including the Sapienza University of Rome, are deploying the cloud-based interactive learning and teaching digital platform to continue the institution’s doctor training remotely.

The interactive Sectra Education Portal (SEP) provides continuity in teaching for medical students in all stages of their training. The remote-learning online system is designed and structured to support those medical educational training centres that were forced to close due to the pandemic.

By connecting to the cloud-based sharing portal, the SEP enables educators, tutors, residents and students at medical training colleges to access a central, extensive library of clinical cases to continue their research and education through remote digital learning.

The SEP also enables educational institutions to both store their own lectures based on clinical cases, and access cases from other connected institutions. The portal also gives users access to course material including critical resources such as histopathological images from clinical patient cases.

Files and cases are readily available, and accessible from anywhere, to both teachers and students using interactive touchscreen devices such as personal computers and laptops, said Johan Carlegrim, head of Sectra’s medical education business division.

“Covid-19 is creating huge challenges for medical training institutions, and has affected their ability to continue their operations,” he said. “Remote learning solutions are able to ease the situation to a certain extent and ensure that parts of important educational programme can continue.”

Significantly, the Sectra cloud portal permits medical students to continue to follow core syllabus subjects, and specialist areas, in preparation for rescheduled end-of-semester examinations. The SEP encompasses normal anatomy, pathology, trauma, orthopaedics, histology, oncology, surgery and other specialties.

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