Smart Education is a relatively new concept to the education industry in Sri Lanka. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of schools and other educational institutes in Sri Lanka for more than two months. This unexpected situation created severe issues of meeting syllabus deadlines and
finding alternate methods of conducting lessons, to ensure students do not fall behind in their studies. During this period, a major transition into Smart Education took place rapidly, since many people were forced to accept that the digital era and digital solutions were now an integral part of their lives for survival in this day and age.
Abans holds a prominent position in the transformation of the education industry in Sri Lanka, from conventional teaching into Smart Education. Abans Group PLC General Manager Chathura Jayawardana sat down for an interview to offer an in-depth insight into the diverse aspects of Smart Education solutions offered by Abans, and its role in taking education to the next level in Sri Lanka.
Q: What are your thoughts on Smart Education? Why is it important in the future of learning, and what are the benefits in shifting to Smart Education?
A: As you know, conventional education has consisted of old-school methods where a teacher uses a blackboard to conduct her lessons, and her students use pens and books to take down notes. Study and learning materials were textbooks, paper-based tutorials and the aforementioned notes. Examinations and assessments were conducted in a rigid and restricted manner. Educational information was collected manually and records were not digitalised. Due to the lack of connectivity and open communication between the teachers and students, the full potential of both students and teachers were not realised. Thus, the need for a more innovative and effective solution for teaching was necessary, and the concept of an interactive class was introduced to the education sector in Sri Lanka. Since the advent of Smart Education globally, it is imperative that our students and teachers are also up-to-date with new technology, more knowledge and better ICT skills, to keep up with the rapid progression in the rest of the world.
Q: What is the role of Abans in pioneering the influence of Smart Education in Sri Lanka? Tell us about Abans’ experience in the Smart Education field.
A: Abans Group PLC is a 50-year-old company with a longstanding reputation for trust and empathy towards customers and providing them a better way to life. Building upon that stature, we entered the ICT industry in Sri Lanka 20 years ago, with the evolution of computer technology. Having introduced the HP brand of laptops to the country, and then venturing into public projects that focused on Smart Education five years back, Abans has paved the way for Smart Education solutions to elevate students to new dimensions of learning experiences, and introduce teachers to more innovative approaches of conducting lessons. Our main objective was to create a Smart Student and that’s how the need for Smart Classrooms arose. In keeping with this, we have deployed Smartboards to over 1,200 schools island wide (both government and private) and successfully installed over 270 fully functional Smart Classrooms. Other types of Smart Education devices have been deployed by us to over a 1,000 schools and educational institutes.
Q: What do Smart Education solutions consist of and how do they function?
A: The Smart Education solutions offered by Abans are mainly comprised of devices, learning management, training and assessment, with the purpose of increasing connectivity, engagement and the education experience via innovation. The age-old blackboard is replaced by an All-In-One Smartboard and books are replaced by PCs, where teachers and students can engage in a more interactive manner via smart devices and software. The main focus lies in Smartboards which are connected to PCs, and enable the teachers to conduct lessons using any kind of software. The lessons can be in the form of images, text, videos, 3D and all types of multimedia, that can be viewed by students in real time via connected PCs. Be it in the same classroom or a remote location, all content can be viewed, saved and shared by the teacher to the smart devices of the students at anytime from anywhere. Within the Smart Classroom, connected student PCs enable teachers to give them assessments and projects that can be completed then and there and evaluated by the teachers. All activity on the PCs can be monitored and controlled by instructors, thereby making it a safe experience as well. The lessons can even be videoed or broadcast from another PC handled by the teacher.
Q: What are the Smart Education product brands offered by Abans? Tell us briefly about the different Smart Education products available at Abans.
A: We are proud to say that we have the largest number of international brands under our roof. HP, Acer, Apple, and MSI – ranked No. 1, 3, 4 and 5 respectively in the country, are the globally reputed names made available by us. We also have our very own Abans brand. Other brands include Lenovo, Haier, Fit Touch, BOE, Express Luck and Mythware. Our tactical positioning of these brands have proven quite successful, since we are ahead of the competition. We offer many diverse devices that support Smart Education such as Smart Boards, Interactive White Boards, Student PCs, Teacher PCs, Fully Functional Smart Classrooms, Learning Management Systems, Distance Learning Multi-Vision Solutions, Digital Education Content and 3D, as well as Smart Classroom Accessories which consist of charge trolleys, wireless network solutions, clicker devices, Smart Classroom furniture and document cameras.
Q: What are the aftersales services provided by Abans for Smart Education solutions?
A: Currently, we have over 400 Abans showroom branches, with well-trained sales staff, across the island, positioned in strategic locations. Our dedicated service centres around the island are unique to Abans, as we aim to provide the best aftersales services to our customers. These ISO-certified and accredited service centres are handled and operated by highly skilled and qualified teams who combine their dedication, hard work and industry experience to ensure speedy service and repairs.
Q: How has Abans used Smart Education to improve the learning experiences and horizons in Sri Lanka for education?
A: When we initially introduced Smart Education to schools in Sri Lanka, the foremost hurdle was convincing teachers to accept the challenge of trying out these Smart devices. Their dislike stemmed from fear that they would be shamed in front of their students – since the children of today are quite adept with technology and the digital age, compared to the older generations. They were not ready to shed their traditional teaching methods. Another huge obstacle we came to know was that the teachers were afraid to even touch devices such as the Smartboard, due to reasons like the fear of damaging it and being forced to forfeit their salaries because of that.
However, now the situation is completely different. COVID-19 brought about a huge and unexpected transformation, where teachers had to rely on other ways to conduct their lessons and thereby, Smart Education has taken major strides in the past two months or so. The challenge would now be to continue using the same, even after things go back to normal. We are hopeful that Smart Education solutions will be maintained, and the transformation will influence other schools to join the bandwagon.
Another huge misconception I would to point out is the idea that Smart Education is exorbitantly expensive. Not at all; Smart Education can begin with a simple Smart device, like a mobile phone. You have to start with what is available to you at that moment, not get the most high-tech equipment and then struggle to pay the price or handle the device. It is vital to begin with small steps, before gradually progressing to more sophisticated solutions. This is one reason why we have made it our objective to increase device usage in Sri Lanka for the benefit of the education sector.
Professional Teacher Training is a pivotal segment of Abans’ Smart Education solutions package. We conduct these programmes using various Smart devices such as the Smartboard or Interactive Whiteboard to enable teachers to get familiar with the technology. This training has proven to be exceptionally successful as return visits to many schools have showcased a vast improvement in the academic abilities of the students, as well as their enthusiasm and interest towards interactive learning – which facilitates them to understand and assimilate lessons faster and much easily.
Our future expansion plans include IoT and Artificial Intelligence based education solutions, to further enhance the classroom into a comprehensively digitalised learning environment.
Q: Are there any ongoing promotions at Abans for Smart Education solutions?
A: Yes, special laptop promotions are available for students and teachers at Abans. In comparison to our competitors, our promotions are a cut above the rest, as our main focus is to ensure everyone gets a chance to move to Smart Education. If they wish to purchase any laptop from us, we offer easy payment instalment schemes, free gifts and a certified warranty. They can choose from a variety of brands and models that fit their requirements and budgets. Schools also have the option of obtaining laptops from Abans and paying a reasonable amount monthly. This way, the school does not have to bear a heavy burden to update their curriculum and systems.
In addition, we offer devices as a service to schools, where they can request for any particular devices and a monthly amount is paid to Abans for the usage of these devices. These three options offered by Abans have been instrumental in paving the way to increase the IT knowledge and skills of students and teachers in schools, universities and other educational institutes. Abans also provides LMS (Learning Management Systems) and Professional Teacher Training, to make the transition into Smart Education easier, simpler and fun for everyone.
Q: What are the value additions offered exclusively by Abans for Smart Education?
A: We offer customised solutions to meet the different requirements of our customers. Our target markets are schools, universities, technical colleges and other educational institutes. An international portfolio of brands under one roof is a massive advantage we hold over our competitors. Abans has always strived to be at the forefront of introducing innovation to Sri Lanka, hence the technology we offer (4K quality, 3D software, Lifeliqe digital content application, Guru.lk government syllabus compilation, Artificial Intelligence) is guaranteed to keep you ahead of the rest. Our combined expertise of several years and the international service accreditations received by us (authorised service centre, authorised reseller, authorised agents) position us at the top of the Smart Education solutions industry.