Marc Castagnet
Marc Castagnet, Director of ICS, is a board member of different colleges of Groupe IGS and C&D, the largest French group of mainly non-profit French private universities specialized in professional academic studies, continuous training and vocational education for all kind of learners including the BoP.

He is also the representative board member of their training centres in Senegal, Morocco and Ivory Coast. Marc is the director of a Hong Kong foundation dedicated to digital learning. He holds MBA degrees from both France and USA.

After a career in banking in New York, he started SgT Group in the 1990s in Hong Kong and sold it in 2009. Since 2009, Marc has shifted his time and investments to social impact issues and organizations. He has invested in organic food in Thailand, empowering local hill tribes communities and has acted as a director and shareholder of Suntransfer (solar energy production and distribution for marginalized communities in Kenya, Ethiopia and the Philippines). He is also an advisor to Genashtim, an impact company only employing reduced mobility personnel, and he is a board member of a social impact incubator dedicated to rurality, territorial development and excluded populations.

How the pandemic accelerated blended learning

Interview with Marc Castagnet, Board member, Groupe IGS and C&D
Sub-Saharan Africa
18. Mar 2021

An umbrella group of independent non-profit associations and companies founded in 1975, Groupe IGS (IGS Group) and Réseau Compétences et Développement (C&D) provide educational solutions to the public with five different training options: core programs of study, continuing education, cooperative education, traineeships and professional integration. The IGS and C&D Groups are a major stakeholder in education in France thanks to their certifying training programs recognized throughout the business world. They work in close collaboration with 9,000 companies and many international universities in order to provide skills development in 17 expertise fields. The two groups are located in over 25 cities in France and over ten locations abroad (West/East/North Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China, and South America). They offer programs from undergraduate to postgraduate degrees to prepare students for jobs in multiple sectors, attracting over 28,000 learners a year; more than 15 percent cater to the BoP.

What do you see as the main challenges to reskilling and vocational training that arose as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Reskilling was in the cards way before Covid-19, but Covid accelerated the different options for reskilling, especially for distance and blended learning. It showed also the increased need for reskilling, especially for industries and jobs hit hard by the pandemic. In addition, the acceleration of intelligent automation (IA) and digital job developments are forcing all employers to revisit how they need to innovate and adapt to the new environment, increasing the need for reskilling and vocational training in specific areas and industries.

Do you think it is important to develop new tools and formats for learning as a result of Covid-19? Are there new opportunities that can be developed by changing formats?

Pedagogical engineering is a matter of putting together the learning blocks of the syllabus to make it as interactive and interesting as possible for students. For me, the divide between online and physical learning is wrong, and the focus now is on blended learning and on direct interaction between the coach, tutor, teachers and learners (singly or in groups). This can be delivered online or in person. We now have the tech and the tools for teaching online on interactive mode, but that doesn’t mean it has to be lower quality. With blended learning it’s as good as in a physical classroom. The shift to this type of learning should have taken ten years, but because of Covid it has already happened.

We have to help users to be connected, and it’s most important not to try to go high tech but go basic first; get the confidence of the learners, and then move step by step to new formats. For example, in distance pedagogy serious games are used, similar to video games but focusing on topics such as entrepreneurship. If a user does not have distance learning experience and knowledge he may be scared by the exercise. Today we have the tools and the formats, it is more about deploying them and making sure the users are comfortable using them.

students in a classroom
© Groupe IGS

How has EdTech changed education, particularly in Africa?

There have been several new EdTech projects coming up in Africa. Covid has been an accelerator, especially in South Africa and Nigeria. While on the one hand non-profit funding has dried up in some areas, some entrepreneurs have also used this situation as an accelerator. It’s the same for us at IGS and C&D. We have found that students can now do an accelerated MBA in only twelve months. The full effects will be felt not right away, but in about a year’s time.

Have you identified skills shortages in key sectors caused by the Covid-19 pandemic? For example, were there shortages in the health care sector or a need for more ICT professionals?

I am not a health professional, and therefore I cannot provide any specific comments, however what we have observed is that the total lack of mental preparedness for learners has been huge during the Covid pandemic. This is perfectly normal under the exceptional circumstances of lockdown and lack of real social interactions. Mental health is a very important issue for the future; meditation, rapid transformational therapy, hypnosis, healing, and positive emotional intelligence will all be skills needed for the future and will be important to teach and to acquire.

How do you think inclusive businesses could adapt their training models to reskill/upskill the unemployed or underemployed?

Inclusive businesses need to be in constant contact with employers since they will be the ones hiring in the next months and years. Very often there are huge disconnects between inclusive businesses offering services and the future employers. At IGS and C&D groups based in France, with 11 offices in Africa, India and China, we work with ten thousand companies, and 70 per cent of the programs we do are in sync with the companies. Ninety per cent of our students get jobs within six weeks. This is also partly because the teachers are still working in the fields they teach. Reskilling or upskilling is only valid if there are jobs at the end. It is important that training organizations focus on this first.

Another key element to work on is to give government educational accreditation value to the work experience of an individual. Many countries recognize that work experience can count to help acquire a certification linked to specific training. In our programs now, if you have a specific skill, you can encapsulate that skill, together with a company, and be certified by education authorities to make this part of your diploma. Recognizing past work experience in this way will mentally uplift a learner in search of a new start and will motivate him or her further in a reskilling program.

Inclusive businesses need to work closely with local governments and certification bodies to make sure there are flexibilities and capabilities to build learning blocks (online or not) that can be acquired throughout the life of a learner in order to give him or her the academic degree that will recognize his/her skills, learning and experience, uplifting them professionally and emotionally.