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EdTech’s three promising approaches to #SaveOurFuture

By Susan Nicolai and Björn Haßler

Covid-19 has led to the biggest upheaval to daily life that many of us have ever seen, including for education. Even before schools shut in early March, there was a recognised global learning crisis and some 260 million not in school. The pandemic has further interrupted education for 90% of children around the world, exacerbating inequalities for marginalised learners. Given the nature of this crisis, EdTech and distance learning have never been more significant, with some 186 countries and territories using radio, television, or online platforms to provide children with learning continuity.

In light of the pandemic, an unprecedented coalition of international organisations working on education has come together to produce the #SaveOurFuture White Paper in order to raise critical awareness and attention to urgent learning needs. This paper sets out a clear-eyed view of Covid-19’s impacts on education along with an evidence-based roadmap to build education systems back better. Among its calls to action, the White Paper includes as Action Area 4:

Focus education technology where it is proven to be effective and most equitable.

Here at the EdTech Hub, we are pleased to have contributed to the overall White Paper. In addition, analysis regarding EdTech evidence and proposed action — by working group colleagues and ourselves — was captured in some depth as part of our background paper on EdTech and Covid-19 response exploring what evidence shows on EdTech’s potential role in creating more resilient and equitable systems. We looked at several levels — across education systems, teachers, and learners — with findings pointing to three key opportunities:

1. Use digital approaches to collect and analyse school- and learner-level data to better understand needs and address inequity.

The use of data can act as a ‘lever of change’, providing greater accountability for progress and monitoring improvements for marginalised learners. In Pakistan, for example, real-time school monitoring systems feed governance data back to policymakers who can direct funds to struggling schools. Without robust data on workforce management, it is difficult to direct resources to address the needs of rural children. Studies on the Tusome program in Kenya suggest that high-quality data enabled teachers to quickly adapt and improve their teaching model by providing rapid feedback. 

2. Education decision-makers should use technology to support — and not replace — school-centered approaches to teacher education.

The education workforce and learning teams — consisting of school leaders, teachers, trainees, support staff, and community members — play a central role in addressing the learning crisis; however, many teachers in low- and middle-income countries are underqualified and unsupported. In Indonesia, research compared a wholly online approach to teacher professional development (TPD) with models that used online learning to supplement school-based coaching. While less than a third of participants completed the online course, no teachers dropped out of the hybrid school-based programs. By drawing on appropriate and cost-effective technology, the quality, reach, and flexibility of school-based professional development for teachers — focusing on student learning — can be expanded. 

3. EdTech needs to be sensitive to local contexts, languages, and cultural differences if it is to empower conflict-affected, displaced, and vulnerable children. 

Education providers have adopted multiple modalities intending to reach a higher proportion of learners; however, significant gaps remain due to the limitations of different technologies and the challenges that different groups of learners face. For instance, EdTech may have potential for marginalised groups, particularly girls. In sub‑Saharan Africa and South Asia, girls and women spend more time reading on their phones than boys and men even though there is a higher number of male mobile readers. In India, the Technology Tools for Teaching and Training program used interactive radio instruction and educational television to support hard-to-reach students and girls, reaching 40 million learners and leading to improved learning outcomes in English, numeracy, and environmental science.

The #SaveOurFuture message could not be clearer: if urgent action is not taken, the education crisis could be catastrophic, with millions of learners never recovering. Evidence shows that the most promising use of EdTech as part of this response is to focus attention and investment on addressing the root causes of the learning crisis to create a more resilient and equitable system.

Links and further reading

From the White Paper:

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