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Cost-effectiveness and EdTech

The challenges of school closures over the past year, and potential of EdTech to address them, are currently amplifying questions about the value of EdTech at a global scale. While ‘What is cost-effective EdTech?’ is a simple question, the answer is highly nuanced, given dependency on the initiative design, implementation, audience, context and time frame. This blog highlights the findings of an EdTech Hub brief that provides key considerations and case studies that can support decision-makers in answering this question.

The brief surfaces findings on cost effectiveness and EdTech, building on insights from the work of, and consultations with, FCDO, UNICEF, the World Bank EduTech and SIEF teams, USAID, and a former government official. Leveraging resources such as BE2’s cost measurement guidance note and the GEEAP’s report on cost-effective approaches to improve global learning, the brief applies existing knowledge on cost-effectiveness to EdTech initiatives and also identifies areas where cost-effectiveness considerations might differ for an EdTech versus a general education initiative.
One section of the brief covers six high-level considerations for individuals engaging with cost-effectiveness and EdTech. Here we highlight three of them, which are good starting points for future conversations about cost-effectiveness:

1. Define EdTech costs carefully;
2. Compare impact across interventions; and
3. Promote intersections of equity and cost-effectiveness.

1. Define EdTech costs carefully

Detailed data matters! Costs associated with an EdTech initiative can often be overlooked, especially those that indirectly support the implementation and longevity of the technology. In some cases, these costs occur after the lifetime of an implemented project, due to hardware maintenance, tech support, etc. Examples may include: 

  • Cost of repairing or replacing broken hardware;
  • Costs of piloting and testing software or other innovations through ‘test beds’;
  • Connectivity costs;
  • Required investments in school building infrastructure to increase security and securely house expensive new equipment; and 
  • Costs associated with support teams.

A recent report released by UNICEF examined the cost drivers of the online Learning Passport portal. While the portal itself is free for all to access, the report notes additional costs linked to infrastructure, staff training and content adaptation, depending on the local context. These findings are likely to apply to other online learning platforms as well.

2. Compare impact across interventions

Cost-effectiveness analysis enables decision-makers to make comparisons across initiatives. However, comparison can only take place if the initiatives are assessed using the same methodologies. Depending on the question(s) linked to an initiative or study, various metrics can be used to measure effectiveness, such as:

Using the LAYS metric, a working paper by the World Bank, FCDO and the Center for Global Development compared 150 education interventions across 46 LMICs. By calculating LAYS per USD 100, the authors were able to compare the cost-effectiveness of different programmes (see Figure 1).

Reference: Figure 4, Learning Adjusted-Years of Schooling, (Angrist et al., 2020, p.35).
3. Promote intersections of equity and cost-effectiveness

Some EdTech initiatives characterised as cost-effective may exclude learners with limited or no access to technology, or fail to meet their unique needs. However, this does not mean that all equitable initiatives are not cost-effective or vice versa. Focusing on equitable learning outcomes for the most marginalised can enhance the educational experiences of other learners. Decision-makers should employ an equity lens where possible to build more diverse and inclusive education systems. For example, a cost-effectiveness analysis for Camfed’s programme in Tanzania, targeted towards marginalised girls at the secondary education level, was found to have high cost-effectiveness compared to other interventions in Africa. Focusing on equity and inclusion for the most marginalised helped to ensure that the needs of all learners across Camfed-supported schools were met.

What’s next?

While the brief covers these key considerations and more, it is clear that further research is needed to develop a good understanding of cost-effectiveness and EdTech. The role of technology in education is continuing to grow in importance as a means for learning within a post-Covid world.

For additional resources on measuring costs and impact, you can check out the following links:

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