Unleashing the power of technology: overcoming challenges and maximising impact in education for low-income countries

By Lara Wieland


Photo by Epicurean, Source: Link, Free to use under the Content Licence, No attribution required (iStock image)]


How should we implement technology in an education system that’s broken? The answer to this question seems unsolvable, and many challenges remain, but as the power of technology increases, it has the potential to revolutionize education in low-income countries. To maximise its impact, technology needs to be implemented with the right strategy and the solutions need to be sustainable and scalable.


In her presentation at the ETH, Ghislaine Megha-Bongnkar, talked about the use of EdTech in low-income countries. She stated that the quality of education in low-income countries is poor due primarily to limited government funding. In 2020, the per capita spending on education in low-income countries was 150 times lower than that in high-income countries, resulting in a difference of around $8,000 vs. $50 per child per year. This lack of funding over many decades has resulted in a significant education gap. Technology can play an important role in closing this gap. There are however significant barriers, such as limited access to technology, lack of digital literacy and the lack of qualified teachers, that make it challenging to implement a sustainable, scalable EdTech solution.


The starting point for the implementation is to understand the local context by talking with experts, researching and reviewing relevant ideas and data. Research shows that students struggle to use products that are not in their native language, are not at the right level or part of their schools’ curricula. It is therefore important to introduce the technology within the existing framework and understand how and when it will be used in the classroom. The correct infrastructure is necessary, and it's not just about the device. An interesting article stated that in Peru, over 900,000 laptops were distributed about 15 years ago with the intention of improving education for the poorest students. However, most schools lacked internet access, and many laptops remained unused due to fear of breakage. This example perfectly illustrates the importance of considering the context and infrastructure requirements before implementing technology in education.


Funding is everything.


Financing is an essential factor that cannot be ignored. You need to consider how to finance the development of the EdTech idea, which for low-income countries is primarily from investors or donors. For the solution to be effective you also need to consider the costs of implementation, which can be significant, and there are often hidden costs to consider. For example, developing a game to improve English writing and reading skills will require internet access and tablets. These costs need to be funded by both public, i.e. governments for the infrastructure required in schools, and private, representing the financing required by households for personal devices. 


To ensure success in the long run, it is crucial to view the whole project as a continuous learning cycle, especially after the implementation of an EdTech intervention. The process should be iterative, starting with the implementation of an original idea, followed by a structured approach to measure the impact of the technology. In conclusion the results should be analysed to assess the changes and adaptations that need to be made to improve the impact of the EdTech idea in the future. Even if the technology is not successful, publishing your findings is important so others in the field can learn and build on this. 


Image: Education_system_6Ps(EdTech Hub).png (uploaded separately)

[Photo by Edtech Hub, Source: Link]


The 6Ps: our shorthand for the education system 


EdTech Hub, a global research partnership, nicely summarises the six key factors that must work together to achieve large-scale impact through EdTech implementation, commonly known as the 6P's. These are product, people, provision, place, policy, and pedagogy. To develop a successful EdTech idea, it's essential to ask the following questions: What is the product and how will it be delivered? Who will be responsible for implementing and using the product? How will the intervention be funded and supported? Where will the technology be used, and what local infrastructure and resources are available? What is the government's position on education technology, and are there any policies that need to be considered? Finally, what training and pedagogy will be required to use the product effectively? These are all crucial questions that need to be considered carefully and answered clearly to ensure the successful implementation of any EdTech project.


Although some progress has been made in introducing EdTech in low-cost countries, we still have a long way to go. To speed up progress multiple stakeholders, including governments, academia, product development companies and parents need to work closely together. The outcome can be transformational, it can help us reimagine traditional ways of learning to positively impact the education of children in low-cost countries. We can make a difference!


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