This is an unprecedented time for global education. As I write (April 9th), there are a staggering 188 countries worldwide where schools are closed. However, this does not mean that international schools are not functioning. The schools have rapidly moved to online or remote solutions to ensure learning continues for most, if not all, students. International school leaders and administrators are working well beyond their normal hours; also from the safety of their homes, as I am sure, are we all.
It’s not an easy time to engage with senior leaders at the schools; their priority right now is directing and supporting their staff with often unfamiliar solutions to ensure learning continues. Their time is also focused on responding to the many concerns of parents, and addressing the immediate needs of their school community. The situation for those delivering the teaching is quite different however. Never before has there been such a demand for new solutions that are easy to learn, well supported, deliver assessment protocol and that can engage both students and parents effectively.
So what is the way forward for education suppliers who need to continue developing their international business right now? Here are some key ISC Research insights based on feedback from international schools:
- Ensure your customer service team is being very attentive with your existing customers and their needs – needs which may be very different to normal.
- Remain informed of the countries directly impacted, and ensure your entire team knows of country-by-country limitations. ISC Research is sharing a weekly update of the status of countries where there are many international schools. UNESCO provides details of the countries where education of all types (including tertiary education) is impacted.
- Be conscious of the priorities of school leaders in locations where school buildings are closed. They will not want to receive sales messages into their inboxes at this time. If you have a message to share with school leaders such as free teaching and learning resources to support teachers with online learning at this time, take an indirect route to communication. This could mean using social media (school leaders like LinkedIn and Twitter, teachers also like Facebook and Instagram) and the marketing channels accessible to you through the international school associations your company is a member of, to reach out to the schools.
- Use social media thoughtfully — offer advice and valuable solutions to show your brand is supportive, rather than promoting your products at a time like this.
- Most importantly, talk instead to those at the schools actually delivering the teaching right now. The teachers, we know, really need to hear from you.
- Consider the degree to which parents are now involved in the education of their children. If what you have to offer is in English only, will parents understand? Can you offer translated material in your key markets?
- Be active in publicly sharing good practice that might provide immediate benefit or good ideas to teachers and leaders.
- Produce short podcasts for social media that provide practical advice and solutions to assist teachers. If they’re good, educators will share them, and your brand will be valued for its expertise and valuable support.
- Offer short, virtual, practical workshops or webinars, hosted during various time-zones, that allow teachers and middle leaders the chance to gather solutions and connect directly with you at a time that’s best for them.
- Create opportunities for teachers and leaders to ask questions easily, and have an expert on hand to respond immediately (even if time zones might be very different to your own), providing helpful advice that can be actioned immediately.
- Make absolutely sure that you support the teachers in terms of teacher resources and training, around your offer and that there is a support line in place for queries.
- During challenging times, schools will not be able to spend time introducing high cost solutions that require complex implementation. Postpone a campaign if you have to, or consider an alternative target market or target location.
- Consider any solutions you have that are affordable, quick to implement, intuitive for staff to use, and easy for you to provide remote and regular support. Make sure these are accessible to schools that are urgently looking for solutions.
- Raise your brand profile through indirect ways such as advertising on media that school leaders access.
- Don’t forget to take care of your own employees at this time, especially if you’re providing more international access during hours unfriendly for your home office staff. It might be worthwhile to rethink work practices to ensure key departments are not overstretched or closed when required.
- Create a core crisis communication team to ensure everyone within your company is updated regularly on changes that you need to make.
- Speak to other suppliers and don’t be scared to share hints, tips and experiences. We’re all in this together.
- Don’t panic. Schools need to be planning for the new school year regardless of what is occurring right now. Most will have already finalized large budget expenditure for their new year if they’re in the Northern Hemisphere school calendar. Provide the expert support that they need and want at this time and your brand will remain valued and may well build upon its reputation because of your sensitive and supportive approach.
There is no doubt that most schools will be giving serious consideration to their education continuity plans for the future.Stephanie Quayle, East Asia Consultant for ISC Research
Coronavirus is raising awareness of the benefits of education technology and online learning solutions to schools all over the world. Stephanie Quayle, East Asia Consultant for ISC Research, who is closely tracking the international schools in China as they prepare to reopen following coronavirus, said in a recent blog: “There is no doubt that most schools will be giving serious consideration to their education continuity plans for the future. Many schools are already exploring the online platforms that works best for them, and developing systems, structures and practices to ensure that all members of their school community are well placed should there be any form of disruption to learning in the future.”
For many schools, this may be the turning point to fully embracing education technology in its many forms.