By Sahana Betschen
BLURB: Where has Ed Tech in LICs triumphed and where has it gone wrong?
Ed Tech has the goal to close the education gap between low-income countries and high-/mid- income countries. Despite the efforts, several pilot programs, and large amounts of money invested. Ed Tech for LIC has yet to make a significant difference. So, let’s talk about some of the things that have gone right and some of the things that need to improve.
Let’s start of with the positive aspects seen in Ed Tech for LIC.
For the kids…
These programs work towards improving the quality of education where it is sparse and underfunded. Ed Tech in the classroom leverages existing skills the students have from encountering tech in their everyday life. Additionally, it helps kids build and improve upon their technological skills that they can then use at home, in their future workplace, etc. These students are more competitive against students with educations from high-/mid- income countries as they are not strangers to software, technology, using computers, etc.
When NGOs come into a community to launch a pilot, it is tailored to that specific communities needs and their students. Research and discussions with the community allow the organizations to understand what is needed and how best it can be put in place. Some pilots use pre-existing software that was not necessarily built for education. This saves considerable amounts of time and money as no software must be developed. When the pilot is trialling, the organization goes through constant cycles of continual evaluation and iteration of the product. This allows the project to evolve in real-time, giving the best for the students at every moment.
The boom of the pandemic
With the pandemic, schools in countries all over the world were shut down, including in LICs where infrastructure for education is already sparse. Whatever the level of income a country had they faced hard struggles transitioning to a virtual education system. This forced Ed Tech for LIC to step up and bring quick, easy, and affordable ideas to schools to ensure that students continued their education.
Now let’s discuss some of the downfalls and what can be done.
A big mistake for pilots is forgetting to involve the teachers. A classroom is an eco-system and technology needs to be implemented to fit that. When the teachers aren’t trained to use the technology they receive or they aren’t taught how to implement it on a pedagogical level, the technology is not used or incorrectly used in the classroom. The students are then missing out on its full potential. It is also important to have a support system for the teachers so they can help their students in using the technology.
A big flaw seen is the lack of input of pedagogical experts when NGOs are developing software. Engineers don’t have the skills to make design decision to get the best educational output. They are good at coding and developing. This leads to software that doesn’t meet the students' needs, as it is not made to fit how a person learns.
To battle these problems teachers should be considered as much as students in the design. Without the teachers, the classroom won’t run. Pedagogical experts should be brought in to help with the project, so that the design makes sense.
Accountability isn’t something one often sees in the Ed Tech circle, consequently slowing down the general progress of bettering education and wasting money. No companies, with a few exceptions, publish about their failed pilots. We just don’t hear about them. This leads to us not knowing how effective these NGOs are and mistakes are often repeated, as no one can learn from another NGO’s failures. On top of this, internally, a failed pilot has little to no consequences for those running it. If I worked for a big tech corporation and I failed in multiple projects, my firing would be up for discussion. This concept leads to no one feeling pressure to succeed.
Funding is the core of the work these NGOs do and is one of their biggest hurdles. Getting funding and even more maintaining that funding takes up a large part of a NGOs time. Funding is generally found in the country’s government, but as they are LIC it is difficult to find large, steady amounts.
Some solutions would be to find a way to encourage NGOs to publish about all their projects, even the failures and Ed Tech should be brought forward around the globe as a problem, to attract more funding.
These downfalls have led to us seeing no pilot successfully scale. The important thing to remember is that everyday we push towards progress, and that we shouldn’t give up on this fight to bridge the education gap.
Talk & Slides: Education technology for low-income countries - Ghislaine Megha-Bongnkar