Using Technology to Improve Education for Marginalised Girls: Lessons in Implementation from the Girls’ Education Challenge

The Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) was launched by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in 2012 as a 12-year commitment to reach the most marginalised girls in the world and is the largest global fund dedicated to girls’ education. Within the GEC’s second phase, a second cohort of girls is being supported through Leave No Girl Behind, which consists of interventions for highly marginalised, adolescent girls who are out of school — either because they have never attended school or have dropped out without achieving basic education.   

Many projects within the GEC’s portfolio have used technology within their interventions, whether as a planned component from their inception or in response to Covid-19 and associated school closures. However, existing project evaluations suggest that some of the technology-based aspects of these interventions have been more effective than others. While a number of these evaluations touch on the effectiveness of EdTech usage within these projects, exactly how and why these technological aspects achieved — or failed to achieve — the anticipated results, has not yet been explored in sufficient detail.  

It is within this context that the EdTech Hub is now collaborating with the GEC on a new project to closely examine the factors (implementation components, organisational components and external influencing factors) that have facilitated the effective delivery of EdTech interventions and contributed to successful outcomes across the GEC portfolio.

Girls’ education and EdTech: what we already know

According to a report by the FCDO in 2021, two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are female. The use of technology within education may offer alternative means for girls to access and make progress in education; EdTech has been associated with a range of general educational benefits in LMICs, including increasing student–teacher interaction, disproportionately benefitting low-attaining pupils, facilitating personalised learning, and promoting out-of-school learning.   

A small number of studies have considered the impact of EdTech solutions specifically on girls in LMICs. A recent rapid evidence review conducted by EdTech Hub found that access to technology in education has been disproportionately more empowering for girls than boys and that girls may even engage more with EdTech when presented with the same opportunities for access as boys. A guide on designing and monitoring distance teaching and learning (DTL) initiatives, supported by EdTech Hub’s Helpdesk, provides a structure for DTL approaches and showcases case studies from GEC projects to suggest a practical course of action for operationalising DTL. Another recent study on EdTech use with girls in Uganda found radio to be the most beneficial form of EdTech for girls’ academic learning, and that girls had significantly more interest in tuning into radio broadcasts than did boys. A 2019 study into the use of interactive apps conducted in Malawi also found that EdTech may be an effective means of mitigating gender differences in educational attainment in countries where standard pedagogical instruction may be biased in favour of boys.

However, available evidence suggests that there is an ongoing significant and complex set of gender digital divides in LMICs, which are often rooted in cultural gender bias and result in girls having significantly less access to technology compared to boys. Evidence is also steadily building to suggest that inequality of access to education for girls intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic. This was arguably in large part due to the increased reliance on technology for learning access, from which girls in low- and middle-income contexts (LMICs) are often disproportionately excluded.

The pandemic has also provided diverse learning opportunities for the sector regarding the use of technology in improving education for marginalised girls. A recent Young Lives report noted the success of teacher-led online classes in Vietnam, finding that participation was even higher for girls than it was for boys. Across the GEC portfolio, numerous projects either adapted or adopted tech solutions in response to school closures during the pandemic. For example, iMlango in Kenya developed a mobile phone app to be used on parents’ mobile phones, to ensure girls and boys could continue learning from home. Other GEC projects also made use of existing project infrastructure whilst integrating new tech components, such as teachers using telephone calls to answer student questions or monitor learning.

What and how our research will contribute

Our study aims to build on this body of knowledge, focusing on helping decision-makers and practitioners understand the how and why behind some of the more effective interventions involving marginalised girls and EdTech across the GEC portfolio. It will enable EdTech Hub and the GEC to build evidence by spotlighting critical factors that have enabled (and impeded) the successful delivery of EdTech interventions within the GEC. This will be of benefit to the GEC programmes themselves, but also to all those implementing girls’ education programmes using technology in the sector more widely.     

Within education research, there is a growing acknowledgement of the vital need to engage with questions of process and implementation in relation to educational interventions. There is also a pressing need for detailed research that focuses on EdTech that is effective in reaching the most marginalised girls who face the greatest barriers to accessing good quality education, and that explores how and under what conditions this happens. The GEC, as a portfolio with the primary aim of reaching marginalised and highly marginalised girls, including through the implementation of targeted EdTech solutions, contains significant insight relating to both of these important avenues of research. However, the wealth of knowledge contained within the GEC portfolio regarding the effective implementation of EdTech interventions in marginalised girls’ education is yet to be fully harnessed. This research study will ensure that the learning from the GEC (particularly regarding how technology was implemented to try and sustain learning for marginalised girls during the school closures associated with Covid-19)  is captured and communicated so that future technology-related investments in girls’ education can be more effective and have an increased impact on learning outcomes.

To achieve its objectives, the study will combine analysis of existing GEC project documentation and evaluation datasets with a series of key informant interviews conducted with both project stakeholders and GEC management staff.  

The GEC’s forthcoming Value for Money (VfM) report on EdTech within the GEC will be used as the basis for selecting GEC studies for in-depth implementation analysis, prioritising programmes that are identified through the VfM analysis as providing ‘good’ or ‘promising’ value for money. Whilst acknowledging the challenges faced by many EdTech interventions across the GEC, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, the study will follow a ‘positive deviance’ approach to improvement by exploring how specific GEC programmes have managed to overcome the complex problems inherent to administering EdTech interventions for marginalised girls, in order to produce successful outcomes. 

The study will use insights from the field of implementation science to explore the range of factors (implementation components, organisational components, and external influencing factors) which have facilitated the effective implementation of EdTech within the chosen interventions. 

The GEC portfolio presents a wealth of learning opportunities that have not yet been fully exploited. By exploring not only the what, but crucially the how and why of EdTech implementation within these projects, this study will provide lessons that can be used to optimise the development and implementation of future EdTech-supported programmes for marginalised girls.

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