It is all about learning and very little about technology
The new e-learning platform for Maltese primary and secondary schools was launched two weeks ago, following the conclusion of tendering process that started last year. The message from Fronter, the chosen technology solution, is very clear: it’s all about learning and not technology, and far from being made redundant, teachers will have an important role to play.
i-Tech spoke exclusively to Matthew Mermagen, general manager of Fronter and vice-president for international operations at Pearson Platforms, owner of Fronter. Founded in Norway in 1998, Fronter was acquired in 2009 by Pearson, one of the world’s leading learning companies.
“It is all about learning and very little about technology,” insisted Mr Mermagen when asked about the core concept of e-learning. “In fact the technology will fade into the background and become fully embedded in the teachers’ and learners’ day to day activities. Because Fronter was developed in close cooperation with the education community, it is learning and not technology that motivates our product development. To put it very simply, we don’t do things because it is technologically possible, but we use technology to make more learning possible.”
Indeed Fronter is often described as a virtual school building that enhances a physical learning environment. Just like a school, the virtual school online is structured into ‘corridors’ and ‘rooms’. Teachers and learners have different access rights regulated by their password. Rooms are furnished with the tools required to empower the teaching and learning activities taking place.
Fronter runs a software-as-a-service application. Users get a username and a password and by entering these from any computer with internet access they can make use of the full service in their internet browser. The teachers and the learners will naturally have access to different parts of the system and different resources, but this is all regulated through user rights and secured by a password.
Parents will also have access to their children’s grades and reports on the platform and can communicate with the teachers. Schools management will also be integrated into the solution.
The Maltese government has entered into a seven-year agreement with Fronter for the implementation of the e-learning solution for a value of €8.6 million, mostly funded by the EU’s European Regional Development Fund.
“We are delighted and honoured to have been chosen as the e-learning solution provider. Our objective is to support the ministries for education and IT and the Malta Information Technology agency (MITA) in ensuring the success of the smart learning strategy.
“The customer will be in a better position to say why Fronter was selected, but we believe our strength lies in having a product that fit very well with the tender criteria in combination with successful large-scale implementations of a learning platform in other countries, such as in the City of Oslo and powering the London Managed Learning Environment (MLE),” Mr Mermagen said.
Indeed Fronter has a lot of experience with similar roll-out projects and it has made it a point to use that experience and knowledge of best practice to work with educators and learners in Malta to put the platform to the best possible use.
The training of local trainers will start in the coming weeks and the primary schools teachers will be trained in the beginning of next year. Roll-out will start in primary schools first, which are having their ICT infrastructure upgraded to meet the demands of the new platform. Then secondary schools will be next and it is expected that all schools will be on the platform in 2013.
Fronter will equip Maltese primary and secondary schools with e-learning facilities, but e-learning has been present in Malta for some years, with initiatives taking place mainly in higher education.
“Malta is quickly catching up with the most advanced countries in Europe, like the UK and Nordic countries, in the implementation of infrastructure such as network and interactive white boards. We are very excited to be a part of this process. We have established very good relationships within both ministries and our local partners. Because this is a project that has the support of so many important stakeholders in Malta, we are confident that it will be a success,” added Mr Mermagen.
However this success will not come all by itself and users will need to invest some time to get up to speed with this new teaching and learning tools.
“The time spent on getting familiar with the system pays off as you can start to reap the many benefits – for example easy communication – between the school and the home, between teachers and colleagues, between teachers and learners and between the learners themselves. So educators should embrace this as a tool to support their teaching activities and the authorities should help schools .”
While Mr Mermagen is optimistic about the implementation of their e-learning solution in Malta, he reassures teachers about their role. “The teacher will be as important as ever, but some of the more onerous tasks – such as attendance and scoring simple tests – can be automated and thus free up time for the important task of teaching and mentoring,” he said.