At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Romania, we made a public call to lend a hand to our community. We wanted to help three local businesses shape a beautiful digital experience by creating a trustworthy and secure website. It was our way of showing that we care, and we want to lend a hand.
We already wrote an in-depth article about how we put our mission of helping people who want to impact their communities at the core of this initiative. We also did interviews with the owners (Carmen and Andreea) of the hospitality businesses that made the most out of this opportunity. Feel free to read them—these conversations are a breath of fresh air.
It’s time to reveal the third company we helped build an outstanding website with Rosa2, one of our most popular products. It’s an educational center where technology is used in a human-centered way to help kids develop various skills. Everything is being crafted with profound care and a clear goal in mind.
Read further to discover how Smaranda, a professor with a degree in Educational Policies, found a piece that’s missing in the Romanian educational system and turned it into a business opportunity and challenge. It’s refreshing to see that people working in the tranches love their work, and despite the weak system in our country, they are gutsy enough to question everything and find wise alternatives.
Walk with me in this genuine conversation and discover how a positive and strong desire to make it work is the best fuel to navigate these challenging times.
Who are you and how did the background influence your becoming?
I am officially a teacher associated with the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, “Al. I. Cuza” University of Iaşi and tenured teacher at “Garabet Ibraileanu” Nation College of Iaşi, and “off the record” I am “Mrs. Smari – Smarandi”, “Mrs. Smandi” or simply “Teach.”
I graduated the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, I have a master’s degree in Educational Policies, which made me want to research the use of new educational technologies by digitally native people, which turned into a doctoral thesis.
This last training, which brought me the title of Doctor of Educational Sciences, outlined the will to make education “different,” to use the potential of new technologies for constructive, educational purposes, to change their status from means of entertainment in learning tools.
What made you want to wear the heavy entrepreneur hat?
As I previously said, the will to educate young students without being constrained by a strict syllabus became stronger. I wanted to have the freedom to build the critical skills necessary for young people to enter the labor market. To emphasize their potential of digital natives, to turn new technologies into friends of education, to be perceived as a necessity in learning, documentation, structuring ideas, and so on.
I concluded that these things could be accomplished in a non-formal setting, emphasizing learning with the help of new educational technologies, educational software, and profile applications.
Therefore, the DigitalEDU Educational Center kicked-off, a center that encourages the integration of NET (New Educational Technologies) in the learning process and promotes “out of school” activities.
How do you mix both worlds: teacher and the owner of an educational center for kids?
I would dare say this is the perfect combination, which, in my opinion, any teacher would like to have at some point in his/her career.
It is beautiful to form and shape their behaviors, attitudes, key competencies, and moral values in the formal and non-formal setting.
I could say that this represents an everyday challenge, but also a joy to discover children/teenagers in various contexts: at school, at college, at our educational center.
What’s DigitalEDU, and what makes it stand out?
DigitalEDU is “a new digital experience.” Ever since it was just a project on paper, we proposed combining new educational technologies in the learning process in a sustained and constant way and turning them into partners in education.
We highlight every digital experience under the monitoring of certified teachers that could contribute to the future adult training, outlining the key competencies required by society.
The necessity for the controlled and unitary development of this segment became extremely obvious in the current crisis and pandemic. That makes us “stand out.”
How do you use technology to be human-centered?
With all its benefits, technology (software, apps, etc.) has occurred to solve people’s effervescent need for a world in constant digital evolution.
NETs are imposed as a means to refine intelligence, to see, to feel, to act. Having positive or negative valences, theoretical or practical, we can no longer ignore them. They become values through which we aspire to other values. Their creation reconfigured the whole culture and the way to reach it.
The learning process is supported by new cognitive amplification tools used in a controlled way and can take the form of a reliable partner. In the end, the “new technologies” – “man” advantageous partnership represents a challenge: it is a test of the extent to which we can preserve our humanity to technology, which is, basically, a creation of man.
What was the blocker of creating a website for your business?
When I created this project, designing a website was an essential step on the priorities list, a natural, obvious aspect in an era of digitalization. However, I wanted to convey more than just some basic information about digitally native people, new technologies, how to use them, etc.
I needed a partner to convert our ideas and story in an attractive and professional digital way. So, I waited patiently until I met you.
You were exactly what I needed! The right team at the right time.
How was your experience of using Rosa2?
I have to admit that, at first, I was afraid of the unknown. Before making contact with WordPress and your theme, I thought I had to turn into a programmer overnight.
That was not the case. The experience was enjoyable and engaging. The platform is easy to use, transparent, with effects that can immediately be noticed and, eventually, corrected if they do not match with what you wished to build.
I have to mention that Andrei’s constant and prompt tutorials whenever we asked for help made our work more manageable and shaped us as a visual identity for the entire world.
How would you define the impact of your business, and why does it exist in the first place?
There are many educational centers on the market that offer various services for children, but what we thought is missing, following the doctoral research, was a place for children to discover technology other than just as a means of entertainment.
I was eager to create a center where we can teach young people both the advantages and disadvantages of using NET, the risks of uncontrolled use, how to protect ourselves in the online environment, how to search and identify the correct information online, how to be digitally wise and how to transform technology into a partner in education.
In other words, DigitalEDU represents an answer to the young people’s needs that society and reality from schools still ignore.
What’s the most valuable lesson you learned so far?
Digitalization represents a challenge and continuous involvement, learning, and uninterrupted documentation to keep up with the field’s novelties. Education, since forever and worldwide, is also conditioned by context, by determinations exercised in the present moment.
An actual educational system is exercised to some value, procedural or content constants, which exceed the circumstantial and the accidental. In any context, it is desirable that a steady “compass lead education.”
The educated-educator binomial will never be excluded, the living relationship between two (or more) beings, the concreteness of relating to things, phenomena, states, the exercise of discovery, the joy of understanding ideas, knowledge, and feelings.
How did the pandemic influence your beliefs as a woman entrepreneur?
This pandemic was a test for me, a test that I managed to pass with work and strength to adapt to the new situation. Again, my belief that the digitalization of education requires a precise and continuous grounding, both in terms of materials used, teachers’ training, and appropriate platforms for age categories, have been strengthened.
We want a change of attitude and action at the educational policies level.
Of course, I do not embrace the idea of giving up the “face to face” education. Still, I encourage a balanced combination of the two options and offer a constructive, educational value to new technologies.
Is something you wished you did earlier or different?
I think it all happened at the right time! I would have liked to launch this project earlier, but, looking back, I appreciate that the 15 years of experience in education, the advantage of working with digitally native students within the university, and the doctoral research laid the foundations of what exists now.
It helped me better understand this generation of digital natives and their needs, identify what the school offers them and what society requires of them, and how I can be useful within the DigitalEDU Center and train them as future adults.
We are grateful to see that such initiatives help local businesses turn into great lessons and open vulnerable dialogues with our community members. This approach is mandatory in our journey of supporting people who want to impact their communities.
It’s such a joy to see that Smaranda chose to look at the human side of technology and adjust it in a way that brings real value to the kids coming at DigitalEDU Center. Even though her journey was full of ups and downs and risks of all kinds, the way she honors both her work and her community shows that there’s still hope out there to change the educational system.