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EdTech and Covid-19: lessons from around the world

Arnaldo Pellini, Susan Nicolai, Moizza Binat Sarwar, Sam Wilson, Akanksha Bapna, Chris McBurnie, Adedoyin Adesina, Oladele Akogun, Ernest Ngabo, Hind Al-Hindawi, Ni Wayan Suriastini, Vollan Ochieng, Moses Ngware, Asma Rabi , Abdul Musawir, Clement Sefa-Nyarko, Edem Agbe , Rabia Tabassum, Amna Zaidi, Jeroen Groenewegen, Harish Doraiswamy, Sudhansu Sharma, Liangdi Xu

In this blog we summarise four takeaways from a reflection workshop held in December 2020 with teams from 10 countries that collaborated with the EdTech Hub to document the education response to Covid-19 and the use of EdTech through these case studies. Read and download the case studies on the countries involved: China, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ghana.  

You can also read our blog post How India responded: distance learning in the time of Covid-19.

1. Across the 10 countries there were considerable differences in both investment and plans to move towards EdTech solutions pre-Covid-19

Although currently all 10 countries have an ICT policy and plan in place, there are differences in the extent to which investments in ICT are linked to plans to expand the use of EdTech. 

For some years, countries such as China and India have been investing to expand the use of EdTech. However, not all countries have implemented their plans fully. For example, in China, rural areas still have limited access to internet infrastructure which limits the adoption of EdTech, while in India, due to the decentralisation of education provision, some states have invested more than others in the development of digital teaching and learning.  

Before the pandemic, all countries had invested in developing educational content for radio and television in an effort to reach rural areas and marginalised learners. However, the content of these programmes is now often regarded as out of date and not useful. 

In some countries, such as Kenya and Rwanda, content was supplied by local NGOs who provided open source material for governments adapting learning for radio, television, and the internet during the pandemic. In a few of the countries, learning content was also meant to be available for teachers in order to facilitate their transition to online/remote teaching; however, interviews showed that often these platforms were not always accessible or easy to use for teachers. 

Pre-Covid-19 experience from the 10 countries shows that often the collaboration with EdTech providers takes place at a very local level, involving individual schools (especially private schools in urban centers) rather than engaging with government agencies at the subnational level.

2. Rapid response was enabled by a range of factors
Prior experience with emergencies, investments in technology infrastructures, partnerships with private sector, and political structures.

All 10 countries had context-specific factors that influenced the speed of their transition to distance education and the use of EdTech in Covid-19. For example, in Nigeria the education authorities had prior experience of delivering education during the Ebola crisis which provided valuable lessons. Countries where education authorities had historically invested in educational content for TV, radio, and computer rooms in schools (for example Kenya, Rwanda, and some states in India) were able to respond quickly. In countries (such as Indonesia and some states in India) with large mobile networks and connectivity, teachers and learners have been able to communicate through mobile phone apps which have helped learners who had no access to digital platforms or video conferencing software. Historical investments in communication and digital infrastructure have made a real difference to whether countries can reach children at scale.  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the education response to the pandemic reflected political structures. In China, for example, government agencies utilised existing partnerships with the private sector and EdTech providers, whilst keeping highly centralised overall control. In India, a highly populated, federalised democracy, the educational response was delegated to the state level. This allowed for localised interventions, but these involved coordination challenges. In addition to political will, national attitudes towards technologies and bureaucratic skill may all have contributed to countries’ responses. 

3. Low-cost data “bundles” and smart-phone technology facilitated better access to technology for distance education

In all 10 countries, marginalised learners suffered disproportionately. The Covid-19 response also exacerbated the gender divide. Girls were often diverted towards helping with household tasks whereas boys were often prioritised when it came to accessing technology. Similarly, during the lockdowns, many of the poorest households were grappling between the choice of spending on essentials such as food or spending on technology to enable their children to have access to distance education. This was, in some cases, exacerbated by the further loss of household income. 

More often than not the challenge in multi-children households was that it was not always possible for all school-aged children to access devices for schooling because content was in real-time. Lessons not delivered in real-time facilitated better access for households with multiple school-aged children who needed to access technology in their own time. If this was the sole device for the household it was also the case that the head of the household would need to use it for non-educational purposes. Finally, language created barriers in accessing technology; learners, parents, and teachers who did not speak English or the dominant national language were unable to use platforms and online resources designed in these languages.

The low cost of data “bundles” and smart-phone technology in some countries, facilitated better access to technology during the lockdown period. The type of technology also made a big difference to whether the most marginalised could access education. Mobile phones often seemed well equipped to reach the most disadvantaged, and in the case of some countries, development partners working in-country assisted in scaling up mobile coverage to the most marginalised areas of the country.

4. Government agencies have relied mainly on just-in-time data when managing school closures and distance learning

In all countries, the decision to close the schools and move to distance learning was taken very rapidly. Initially, the priority for educational agencies was to reach as many students as possible because the length of school closure was uncertain. The main source of evidence at this initial stage to inform government decisions were national household surveys and censuses. These datasets provide sufficient information about household access to the internet, TV, radio, and mobile connectivity which helped to identify different channels and methods for delivering teaching material and helped teachers to communicate with their students. In some countries, educational agencies complemented these data sets with phone surveys with households and/or teachers. Though the data collected was incomplete it helped to better understand how many students were left out from distance schooling.

Evidence from EMIS systems, particularly regarding internet coverage, has been a central factor in informing education agencies’ decisions on EdTech during Covid-19. EMIS systems, however, did not provide the type of information that many government agencies needed at the start of the lockdown of schools: officials needed quantitative data about the number of learners who could access classes through technology and those excluded from it.. This data was also considered the easier form of evidence to communicate during the emergency. 

Evidence about global education responses to Covid-19 and EdTech has been produced mainly through and by development partners. The use of this evidence has been mixed. Large countries such as China, Indonesia, Nigeria, and India have relied on quantitative data, evidence, and guidance from national and/or sub-national levels and not so much on international experience or evidence. Smaller countries, in which the influence of the development partners is stronger, established a close coordination with donors working groups to support the decision-making processes of ministries of education. In these countries, international evidence was more of a factor in policy decision-making. 

Conclusions

Will increased access to distance learning last? The case studies have shown that, in some countries, education through mass media (TV and radio) may cease (such as in Ghana and Rwanda), whereas in others it may continue but in a more specialised form (such as on dedicated TV channels in India). Potentially, countries may keep using technology for teacher professional development (Indonesia, Ghana, India) and to reach out-of-school children (Pakistan). EdTech, in some form, is here to stay.

The 10 case studies have confirmed that, although there are common features in responses around the world, context matters. Each country has been influenced by a number of specific factors which together determine the extent to which the education system has been able to respond to the crisis and reach students forced to learn from their homes. 

Read and download the case studies on the countries involved: ChinaIndonesiaIndiaPakistanAfghanistanJordanKenyaRwandaNigeria, and Ghana

You can also read our blog post How India responded: distance learning in the time of Covid-19.

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