Our Strategy, Part 2: Deep dive into our approach, focus countries, and theory of change
In Part 2 of our strategy, we go deeper into EdTech Hub’s integrated approach to how we work, where we work, and how that comes together with our topics to inform our theory of change.Verna Lalbeharie, Executive Director
The EdTech Hub integrated approach
We do research because it is imperative to build deep quantitative and qualitative insight regarding how and why technology can be used effectively in education.
But research alone isn’t enough. Even the best research can leave unanswered questions about the nitty-gritty of implementation and how various factors contribute to success.
So we add the lens of innovation, working directly with EdTech implementers iterating on these EdTech interventions in the form of ‘sandboxes’—real-world environments where we troubleshoot constraints and support continuous improvement. This implementation evidence is crucial for a well-rounded body of evidence to serve decision-makers: efficacy (are learning outcomes improved?), cost effectiveness (is it affordable at scale?), and implementation (is it feasible?)
But research and sandboxes aren’t enough. They don’t tackle the systemic constraints to scaling-up to reach the most marginalised.
So we provide technical assistance to government partners, working side-by-side to design and implement policies and programmes, and just-in-time support to key stakeholders through our Helpdesk. And the evidence generated by our research and sandboxes informs the assistance we provide.
Our hypothesis is that this integrated approach will give us a previously unachieved depth of understanding about how EdTech can support the acceleration of learning at scale for the most marginalised. It also provides a mechanism for continuously feeding evidence into practice, and ensuring that evidence-generating activities address authentic problems of practice.
But an integrated internal approach alone won’t break down silos that can exist between stakeholders in a fragmented ecosystem.This is why we take our model and apply it to our work through partnerships between civil society, governments, and the private sector to amplify the impact of evidence-based approaches and honour the power of cross-sector collaboration.
And we synthesise what we are learning across all areas into global public goods (resources that are open-access and broadly applicable). As well as being robust, evidence needs to be contextually relevant, timely, and in a format that can inform decision-makers.
EdTech Hub represents the single largest research investment in EdTech evidence in low- and middle-income countries. EdTech Hub’s research portfolio was commissioned to address high-potential evidence gaps that decision-makers grapple with when choosing EdTech implementations to support children, teachers, and school communities.
The central component of the research strategy is to generate a critical mass of high-impact academic outputs — plus accessible versions of them for a range of audiences — focused on specific evidence gaps within EdTech. The overall objective is that these outputs make a substantive shift in what is considered effective practice, and, therefore, influence decision making, improve practice, and ultimately enhance learning outcomes and help address the global learning crisis.
To have maximum impact, the rigorous research of the Hub does not try to work across the whole sector but instead groups studies around particular education issues aligned with the five technical priority areas of the Hub, where evidence can be generated that will amount to more than the sum of its parts.
Examples of how this is done are as follows.
- Decision making around Teacher Continuous Professional Development (TCPD) is currently rarely driven by evidence, especially robust evidence of improved outcomes for students. EdTech Hub studies provide evidence on how to support teachers to improve pedagogy and subject knowledge expertise through the effective use of technology — leading to increased learning outcomes (current studies in Bangladesh, Tanzania, and related work in Sierra Leone).
- Digital Personalised Learning (DPL) has received significant attention, but there is limited evidence of how it can be contextualised and scaled effectively. Hub studies provide evidence for how this can be done in a way that is pedagogically appropriate and cost-effective (current studies in Pakistan and Kenya).
- Messaging for increasing participation in education and improving learning outcomes is viewed as a cost-effective way to increase Learning Adjusted Years of Schooling (LAYS) — but the current evidence can be misleading. Hub studies provide evidence for how messaging can be effective in multiple contexts and have a meaningful long-term impact on participation and learning outcomes (current studies in Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Ghana).
EdTech Hub is investing more than GBP 5 million into the initial research portfolio. The EdTech Hub research portfolio currently includes 13 primary research studies. All of the studies take place within the Hub’s six priority countries, address high-potential evidence gaps, are focused on learning outcomes for marginalised children, and respond to government needs.
The studies are being conducted by and in partnership with more than 20 institutions, including universities, nonprofits and foundations, private enterprises and governments. We prioritise working with researchers based within the six focus countries. All studies are designed to remain flexible and able to pivot to respond to evolving demands and priorities. Most studies involve mixed-methods research and incorporate both quantitative and qualitative approaches. The studies range in size (GBP 60,000 to GBP 750,000) and duration (six months to three years).
Working in close collaboration with implementing organisations is central to our research approach. Identification of appropriate implementing organisations is crucial for conducting effective applied research on EdTech. We at EdTech Hub, work with leading-edge EdTech implementing organisations that are already engaged in good practices, have pedagogically robust approaches, and are open to ongoing improvement. Conducting independent research with leading implementers helps to maximise the use-value of the outputs of the research studies. Examples of implementing organisations that we partner with on rigorous research include: EIDU, M-Shule, Eneza, Haki Elimu, and many more.
As of January 2022, we have 13 academic journal articles published or under review. By the end of 2024, our initial research portfolio will generate at least 18 additional academic articles. Of these, it is anticipated that at least six will be published in high-impact journals and contribute directly to the Smart Buys.
In addition, the Hub’s rigorous research is committed to ‘learning out loud’ and sharing research tools, data-sets, and early-stage findings widely for the benefit of the sector. We do this through the Hub website, working papers published with partners, blogs, and contributions to strategic global gatherings on evidence in EdTech. The Hub’s rigorous research informs and is informed by our related work on sandboxes and technical assistance.
EdTech Hub applies innovation through our ‘sandboxes’ approach. Sandboxes fast-track the scale-up of promising EdTech interventions by testing approaches to bring costs down and drive up impact — providing the tools, access to experts, and funding to make that happen.
Within sandboxes, we can test and trial technology products, pedagogical approaches, and even ways of funding or policy to understand what works, when, and in what combination.
For example, we might test a new intervention in a small number of schools first, improving its cost-per-user through experimental sprints, increasing its impact by supporting the organisation with pedagogical expertise, or even trialling new ways of procurement, at a small scale, before rolling it out. The idea is that we increase our scale in line with confidence that the intervention works.
Our sandbox innovation approach involves:
- Being problem-centred, with a clear focus. This enables us to work alongside the Hub’s other in-country offers to change the way decisions are made about technology in education. The first step for each sandbox is to outline a clear problem statement for our work, for example ‘how might we decrease the cost of personalised learning tools by X% so that it is accessible to marginalised populations?’
- Systematic experimentation, through real-world implementation. Through quick ‘build, measure, learn’ cycles, we test our assumptions on how we might configure a solution, learning what works (or doesn’t), adapting and scaling as we go. User-centred approaches and lean methodology enable us to test in the real world, with real people, increasing the certainty that the intervention will work.
- Narrowing the distance between theory and practice. Evidence in: Sandboxes surface and share existing evidence on a topic by bringing world-leading researchers into the sandboxes to work as part of the team. Evidence out: the practical implementation evidence we generate will also contribute to the body of knowledge.
- Treating the system as the unit of experimentation. Experimentation in a sandbox happens across any part of an education system; people, product, pedagogy, policy, place, and provision. We might use a sandbox to refine implementation models, to test supply chains, or to simulate new education policies. It could focus on finding instruments, technologies (plural and in combination), adapting pedagogy and involving the people or ‘human infrastructure’ that are crucial for making sure we don’t scale technology without scaling positive impact.
- Giving a mix of actors a seat at the table and holding space for their collaboration. Our approach is to provide a dedicated team tailored to the needs of each sandbox, drawing on expertise in innovation, technology, education, pedagogy, and more.
- Partnering and building on what is already out there. We start by asking the question ‘What’s working, and how can we do more of it?’ We prioritise support to take innovation to scale given that there are many programmes already focused on generating new ideas. We partner with early-stage incubators and accelerators to build a ‘pipeline of pipelines’.
The sandbox community of practice is comprised of current EdTech sandbox implementers as well as sandbox alumni.
The goals of the community are to:
- Foster peer learning: build one another’s capabilities in sandbox methodologies.
- Nurture collective potential: facilitate opportunities for the Hub and implementers to connect and collaborate.
- Facilitate collective action: set the foundations for participatory grantmaking.
We’re also opening up the community, and the sandbox method to new partners to influence others to implement in more iterative ways. We’re calling this SandboxX – a franchise approach to enable others to set up sandboxes themselves.
EdTech Hub’s technical assistance includes short-term support through our Helpdesk service and long-term collaboration with government partners.
Short term: EdTech Hub’s Helpdesk provides decision-makers in over 70 countries access to ‘just-in-time’ evidence-based advice to inform their policy and planning. It also helps us to keep our ear to the ground, understanding trends in countries’ evidence needs that can then inform future research agendas. The Helpdesk also enables the Hub to deliver evidence, examples, and advice to decision-makers at the moment they need it, reducing friction in evidence uptake. The Hub has responded to over 70 Helpdesk requests, publishing over 35 of these responses, since its launch in April 2020.
Long term: This entails close collaboration with governments, led by in-country team members who work alongside government teams to design policies and programmes.
We worked with more than 100 education stakeholders to develop a Theory of Change (TOC) for a Technology-Enhanced Education System. We are currently leading the development of a TOC for the use of EdTech by teachers in Bangladesh.
EdTech Hub is beginning conversations with multiple government agencies including the National Education Reform Secretariat and the Centre for Distance Learning and Open Schooling, as well as various development partners, and will be working with them to co-design and implement technical assistance in the coming months.
We supported a government SWOT Analysis of the Kenya Education Cloud, the country’s flagship virtual learning environment. We also worked closely with the Keep Kenya Learning (KKL) initiative to mainstream their support to parents through the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development. We will conduct a gap analysis to identify any preconditions to support EdTech deployment.
We have supported the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training as it rolls out our blended learning pilot. We also developed an M&E framework for the initiative and provided training to the M&E team. We are supporting the Ministry to develop a distance learning strategy and set up a new distance learning wing.
We have worked closely with the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education to identify ways to optimise the Education Data Hub to promote data-driven decision-making in Sierra Leone. We also supported the government to design and test a One Tablet Per School programme in 80 schools. We are supporting an audit of the quality of content for an in-service TCPD programme; mapping the flow of data and information within the education system.
We have worked closely with the government and other partners to design and test a new national TCPD model — which will be researched through a 3.5 year study led by the Hub. We will continue to support this work, assisting with the delivery of initial training to school leaders and peer facilitators and the implementation of the TCPD model in the first cohort of schools in March 2022.
Our technical assistance is made possible by EdTech Hub’s Specialist Network, a group of 30+ EdTech experts with diverse geographical and content experience. They allow the Hub to quickly and flexibly respond to a range of country needs that require both country-specific knowledge and global expertise.
At EdTech Hub, we aim to increase collaboration, redirecting resources from duplicative activities toward activities that leverage others actors’ experience and expertise. We see partnerships as having five main purposes, namely, to:
- Engage in the technical work of the Hub (e.g., with research partners, sandbox implementers).
- Connect the Hub to in-country stakeholders for greater impact (e.g., with partners, such as the World Bank, who can bring EdTech Hub to the table as a trusted partner to the government).
- Promote EdTech evidence (e.g., with partners with large dissemination channels to our target audiences — they can help promote our work and we theirs).
- Influence other institutions’ own work on EdTech (e.g., with partners developing EdTech frameworks / programmes that we can help inform).
- Finance or co-finance Hub activities (e.g., with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF).
Some examples of our partnerships
- We are supporting the Unlocking Data initiative which is driving forward progress on how education data can be more widely accessed, used, and shared to inform evidence generation and evidence-based decision making.
- Another partnership is with Neil Butcher and Associates (NBA), global experts in the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) to enhance quality education — EdTech Hub is linking NBA with government partners in our focus countries to understand government efforts that could be enhanced through careful use of OER. NBA will then provide technical assistance to these government partners as they design and implement policies and programmes.
- After initial investment from the FCDO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we have also partnered with UNICEF who are enabling expansion of the Helpdesk to serve all seven UNICEF regional offices and the country offices they support.
- We are also bringing together partners to curate a course for EdTech entrepreneurs to help them apply evidence to the design of their products. Rather than start such an effort from scratch, we are bringing together partners who have previously been working in silos:
– Academics who have developed content on how children learn and best practices in early learning
– Accelerators and peer learning communities that bring together cohorts of entrepreneurs
– Experts in the scale-up of high-quality innovations in low-income contexts.
We will curate existing content and package it into a publicly available modular course with human touch points through existing communities of entrepreneurs.
Global Public Goods
We take existing evidence and our own learnings from research, innovation, and technical assistance, and put them in accessible formats to increase uptake by different audiences. For example:
- We have created a resource that shares teacher professional development tools that are aligned with evidence-based approaches.
- We created a tutorial on how technology can enable structured pedagogy to improve classroom instruction.
- We are working with a number of partners to develop a course for EdTech entrepreneurs on applying evidence.
- We also host a searchable EdTech Evidence Library that contains all EdTech Hub outputs (from Helpdesk responses to sandbox reviews to research papers) as well as thousands of EdTech resources from actors in the field.
Our open-source Sandbox Handbook includes tools and methodology to support the implementation of EdTech.
Our focus countries
Our goal is to expand the global evidence base and we do this by focusing deeply at the national level in six countries: Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. Each of these countries has:
- Potential to influence major upcoming investments in EdTech if relevant evidence is applied.
- High level of government and donor interest in how EdTech can accelerate progress.
- Varying levels of EdTech maturity in different regions, making it possible to draw on and share applicable lessons.
Our approach in each Hub focus country is tailored to the authentic education needs and priorities of the country. We collaborate with major stakeholders and initiatives to increase the uptake of evidence and catalyse more interest, research, and investment in EdTech to improve learning outcomes.
- Government committed to applying Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in all spheres of public life, including education.
- Education sector plan highlights a focus on improving teacher quality, ensuring students can access quality education, and updating curriculum to align with needs of the 21st century.
EdTech Hub’s work:
- Developing multiple theories of change to articulate the ways in which students, teachers, and parents interact with technology to support learning.
- Researching how mobile learning can be used to empower marginalised mathematics educators to determine whether Mobile Learning for TPD improves teaching practices and student learning outcomes.
- Supporting a2i Bangladesh and the various ministries and directorates of education to design a world-class approach to blended learning.
- Government prioritising reforms aimed at increasing access to formal schooling, improving the quality of basic education, and improving teacher attendance and deployment.
- There is a recognition within the government that technology can help improve service delivery, strengthen education management and governance, and increase process efficiency.
EdTech Hub’s work:
- Researching how messaging be used in a cost-effective and contextually appropriate way to provide positive messaging about access to education and support the return to school, especially among girls and marginalised learners.
- Working closely with government and development partners to determine how best to bring EdTech Hub’s approaches to support EdTech research and uptake in Ghana.
- Supporting the government to showcase some of the innovative EdTech initiatives that are already being deployed in Ghana.
- Government of Kenya is prioritising the use of technology in teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools.
- Investments are being made in infrastructure (energy, security, and connectivity), devices, content, and capacity building for teachers through the Digital Literacy Programme.
EdTech Hub’s work:
- Researching a wide range of topics including digital personalised learning in early grade mathematics and literacy, adopting digital personalised learning at scale, the use of digital books at home, and SMS-based learning, among other initiatives.
- Analysing Kenya’s readiness to implement EdTech-focused reforms through a gap analysis examining whether preconditions to support EdTech deployment are in place.
- Collaborating with Keep Kenya Learning and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development to mainstream programmes that build caregiver confidence and capacity to support learning at home.
- Pakistani education services are provincially managed, though the focus on national level policy development is increasing.
- The Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT) is creating a distance learning strategy and building a Distance Learning Wing to support EdTech-enhanced learning.
EdTech Hub’s work:
- Researching how digital personalised learning technology can empower actors across the learning ecosystem to generate better learning outcomes.
- Undertaking an analysis of Pakistan’s digital learning landscape and working with government and development partners to determine how technology can best support learning in Pakistan.
- Supporting the MoFEPT in various ways including developing their new distance learning strategy and policy, designing and implementing a pilot of blended learning in 80 schools, and developing EdTech monitoring and evaluation (M&E) frameworks.
- Government committed to bringing global evidence and innovation to the education sector.
- Hundreds of millions of dollars in donor investments in primary and secondary education have the potential to transform the sector.
EdTech Hub’s work:
- Research study on using GIS data to improve teacher allocation
- Testing technology-supported peer to peer teacher professional development through a sandbox, to inform scale-up of a World Bank programme, with the Sierra Leone Teaching Service Commission (TSC) and the Education Development Trust (EDT).
- Providing technical assistance to map all education data sources across the country and improve the use of data for decision making.
- The government has two main education reform programmes: the Education Programme For Results focuses on primary education, while the Secondary Education Quality Improvement Program(SEQUIP) focuses on the secondary level.
- The two key EdTech-related initiatives include the creation of an ICT in Education Strategy and a new technology-enhanced teacher continuous professional development (TCDP) program.
EdTech Hub’s work:
- Supporting the government to design and implement technology-enabled TCPD, which will be delivered in the first cohort of schools in March 2022.
- Assessing the implementation of technology-enhanced TCPD through iterative cycles of implementation and redesign to identify enablers and barriers at the national / district system, school, and classroom level.
- Evaluating the impact of the technology-enhanced TCDP programme in 210 schools to ascertain the most effective, cost-effective, and sustainable, context-dependent models for technology-supported, school-based TCPD.
The EdTech Hub theory of change
There is a lack of evidence on the effective use of EdTech in LMICs regarding what works, why, and how in different contexts. If rigorous and relevant evidence is generated, shared with decision-makers, and owned by them, it can be instrumental in improving decisions about the use of EdTech. This can lead to increased adoption and scale-up of effective, equitable, and affordable EdTech to strengthen education systems and teaching and learning practices. Ultimately, this has the potential to result in improved learning outcomes for marginalised children and could help address the global learning crisis. This is the EdTech Hub theory of change.