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Embracing EdTech: four critical questions answered through a rapid prototype programme on teachers’ professional development (TPD)

Photo Project Onneshon

Seventy-one teachers participating in the ‘Onneshon’ prototype were flooding the WhatsApp group with messages about the challenges and hiccups they were experiencing, either with watching the video content or with taking a quiz in the first two weeks. Problems were pouring in and so were solutions being innovated and offered through diverse channels. In the space of two weeks, the conversations in the WhatsApp group shifted from being about frustrations using technology platforms to expressions about the growing confidence of the teachers — “I’ve completed the designated course in time, so what’s next?”

Onneshon is a Bengali word that means ‘in pursuit of knowledge’. At the Social Innovation Lab (SIL), we designed the Onneshon rapid prototype project in partnership with the BRAC Education Program (BEP) with the aim of designing a one-stop digital learning platform for building the professional capacity of teachers.

Taking stock of challenges relating to access and connectivity, we designed and implemented a two-month-long rapid prototype with 71 teachers from eight districts in Bangladesh. Here’s what we learned from it.

1. Can teachers from rural or peri-urban areas receive training through a digital learning platform?

Yes. We assumed that the biggest obstacle to implementing such a model would be the unavailability of smartphones and their lack of flexibility but our teachers proved us wrong. We intentionally selected some teachers who had never used smartphones and provided them with smartphones to participate in the prototype. Most teachers were found to have at least one smartphone at home, and some of them also purchased one to attend the programme.

Remarkably, the teacher who came first in the overall assessment of this prototype had never used a smartphone before attending this training programme.

Many of the family members — husbands, brothers, sons and even neighbours — stepped in to support the teachers when needed. We used three digital platforms: one learning app (called Onneshon), WhatsApp, and Google Meet. We discovered it took only 10–14 days for the teachers to get acclimatised and familiar with the core features. That said, 45% of teachers said that they faced technical hiccups almost every week. However, there was a gradual decrease in complaints from the second week on, which showed that the teachers had found their own solutions to tech-related problems.

When it comes to internet usage, we found more than 50% of teachers had seamless connectivity at home, and 38% faced occasional disruptions.

A comprehensive digital literacy curriculum should be designed for educators so that they can use technology with confidence. There are opportunities to offer flexible Equated Monthly Installments  (EM)I / loans to teachers to buy reliable smartphones. We can also consider bringing connectivity to schools as we found many of the teachers attended courses from school when they faced internet problems at home.

2. Can technology level the playing field in building the professional capacity of teachers?

Yes. Course contents are the most essential ingredient for running a successful TPD programme.

Favourite elements of the most liked courses were ones that are relevant to everyday activities in the classroom — more than 90% of teachers highlighted these.  One of the courses we used, called Classroom Management, highlighted the difference between sympathy and empathy. Often, we take it for granted that teachers are aware of such fundamental differences but we found teachers have limited understanding in applying those concepts in the classroom. Teachers also learnt ways they can develop creative teaching materials on their own following very basic contents. 

They also liked the fact that the course delivery used very clear language and tone. When we asked about future course preferences, teachers expressed an interest in attending courses on public speaking, digital literacy and speaking in English to help them develop their professional skills.

Some of the contents that immediately caught our attention included game-based teaching, community leadership, basic English, problem-solving, outdoor activities, climate change, storytelling, inclusive assessment techniques and so on, as these can be hosted in a digital learning platform to help quality educational contents reach that last mile. 

3. Is it enough to only offer self-paced content to teachers to strengthen their professional capacity?

No, it’s not enough. We require a ‘human touch’ to leverage technology successfully, and also link rewards with proper performance assessment processes.

As part of our prototype, we held debrief sessions in small groups of 8–15 teachers.  These enabled teachers to share their learning on self-paced contents with their peers while being facilitated by a mentor who also assessed the performance of the teachers.

When we hosted the first live class session for all the participating teachers via Google Meet, it was complete chaos. Not only were we listening to a multitude of human voices but some domestic animals (ducks) also joined the call with their distinct sounds! However, thanks to the superb facilitation skills of our partner organisation, it took only 10 minutes to restore calm, and the teachers completed the class with rapt attention. 

We have factored in online assignments and performance and evaluation quizzes so that mentors can assess teacher performance. We found many teachers came up with creative solutions inspired by attending the courses. 

After aggregating the performance of each teacher, we found that 77% of teachers successfully completed all four courses in eight weeks, and 10% of the teachers received a score of over 80%. The rigorous data collection and analysis conducted during the prototype gave us great insights into the connection between learning behaviours and the socioeconomic backgrounds of the teachers. Based on the assessment framework developed for the prototype, there is scope for incorporating rewards and gamified features in our next pilot. 

4. Can we build synergies between ecosystem players to address the core problem of teachers’ lack of professional skills 

Yes, absolutely.

For this prototype, we worked with three social enterprises: Alokito Teachers, Teachers Time, and 10 Minute School to design and execute the prototype. We sought professional development contents from both Alokito Teachers and Teachers Time, and used the online learning management platform of 10 Minute School. We used Samsung smartphones and tablets. During the prototype programme, we provided teachers with a monthly stipend of BDT 500 to cover their internet bills via bKash — a mobile financial service platform. These partnerships showed us clearly that a challenge of such magnitude can’t be met alone — we need to proceed collectively to bring such solutions to scale.

Our education community must adopt such action-driven prototypes to generate more evidence and debunk many myths. However, we need to be mindful of the impact of gender. We had cases where teachers faced discouragement from family members for spending more time online at home.

No doubt we will face many more challenges as we introduce EdTech solutions, but we should not ignore its true potential as a viable medium for spreading quality education as widely as possible. Let’s focus on the benefits of EdTech.

Salman Sabbab is a Manager at BRAC Social Innovation Lab. Faria Alam is a Deputy Manager at BRAC Social Innovation Lab. Abdullah All Shakil is a Research & Insights Lead at BRAC Social Innovation Lab.

Contact details

Salman Sabbab
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/salman-sabbab-08140a75/
Twitter – @SalmanSabbab

Abdullah All Shakil
LinkedIn-https://www.linkedin.com/in/aashakil-31/
Twitter-@AllShakil

Faria Alam
LinkedIn-https://www.linkedin.com/in/faria-alam/

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