activating local study-groups for children’s learning—an equitable EdTech response?

By Tom Power, Open University

An equitable educational response to the COVID school closures must recognise that, in low and middle-income countries, as shown by UNICEF data most children affected by such closures do not have access to the internet. Policymakers and educators must then find ways to provide learning opportunities offline. Learning does not happen just by giving children educational materials—children also need time, space and support. 

For example, examining the educational response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, PLAN International found that ‘study groups provided much-needed space and time for girls—in fact, it was often the only time girls got to study outside of the school’. Without such support, most children did not have sufficient literacy and numeracy skills, confidence, motivation, or time for self-study. Without the help of adults or peers, children struggled with the language and pace of educational resources. Can we activate similar support for children’s learning, through local educators and caregivers, using available technologies and building upon existing relationships?

IGATE-T is a Girls Education Challenge project, funded by UK Aid and developed in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, to improve literacy, numeracy and life skills for over 70,000 marginalised girls from 318 schools across Zimbabwe. While schools are closed during the COVID crisis, IGATE-T project partners—World Vision, CARE and The Open University—are exploring how they can use adults’ mobile phones to activate local study groups for children. 

Building on existing relationships, they are using WhatsApp to recruit and support local Community Learning Champions who can share Daily Learning Activities with children and caregivers. This approach, developing support networks for the informal study of basic literacy and numeracy skills, is currently being trialled in four of the nine project districts with approximately 100 champions reaching over 1,000 children. In-depth research is about to begin. You can find more information and early examples of practice here.

The Daily learning activities, set up as simple games or challenges for use by community volunteers. Activities are made to benefit a wide range of learners—being ‘low threshold and high ceiling’—and to prevent regression by actively maintaining existing knowledge and skills. 

Figure 1, Example numeracy activity—Imagine you only have 1c, 5c, 10c and 25c coins. Can you find 3 or more ways to make the amount of money below? 88c…

Identifying the right community learning champions

To explore what was possible, field staff identified volunteers with strong ties to the local community who were known to the programme and were reachable through WhatsApp—people who were literate and numerate, passionate about learning, and willing to help. The first group of 46 champions—including teachers, school committee members, community educators, and girls’ education champions—were identified from 8 schools in 2 districts. They were given ‘airtime’—a 220MB monthly data allowance—and formed into support groups, all accomplished remotely through their mobile phones.

Disseminating activities

Over the last five weeks, daily activities have been shared with the community learning champions. Champions have used their community networks to share activities with parents and caregivers via WhatsApp, SMS or by copying out small handwritten notes for those without phones. Some have posted notes in public areas like boreholes and other meeting spaces. Older siblings have also been encouraged to help support children who are unable to read and write. Additionally, champions are doing daily activities with children who live nearby—particularly supporting children who don’t have literate parents to help them. Group sizes have been limited to four or five children and champions are identifying solutions for reaching more learners within the constraints of the lockdown.

Figure 2, Example literacy activity—Choose an animal or bird. Imagine that you are that animal or bird. Write about your day. What do you do? What do you like…

This approach is one example of how The Open University’s International Teacher Education for Development (ITED) programme is working towards Retention of children as learners. The ITED programme is helping frame an international education response to COVID-19 around five interlinked priorities: Retention, Relationships, Refocussing, Reflection and Resilience.  We are sharing ideas and ways of working that might be helpful for other education initiatives moving into–or adapting–Open and Distance Learning modes of delivery through the COVID-19 crisis

An inclusive approach to searching for evidence on EdTech in low- and middle- income countries

A blog post by Meaghan Brugha and Katy Jordan.

A searchable database

The EdTech Hub has undertaken a large-scale search for publications on technology use in education in low- and middle- income countries. During this process, we created an internal research database. This is searchable through the use of a variety of filters, such as country or intervention of focus. Analysis of the database helps us to ground our wider research, innovation and engagement activities as a Hub within the scope and quality of the evidence base.

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Sandboxes: My experience participating in the sandbox alpha

Written by Pilirani Kumasewera, Padziwe

This is the third in this series about our sandboxes. If you haven’t already, read about our approach to experimentation and how we tested our sandbox strategy out in Malawi.

One of my happiest moments in 2019 was when I received an email with notification that Padziwe, an EdTech startup which I founded, has been selected by the EdTech Hub to test one of our applications in a sandbox. We felt exceptionally lucky considering that out of all the 195 countries in the world the Hub chose Malawi and, more specifically, Padziwe. This sandbox focused on Teachers Desk, an application which Padziwe developed to offer continuous professional development (CPD) for teachers. 

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Sandboxes: Testing the strategy in Malawi

Written by Alice Carter

This is the second in this series about our sandboxes. If you haven’t already, read about our approach to experimentation

Across the Hub, we’re proponents of using our tools and approaches on our own thinking. For innovation, that meant testing the assumptions we were making about how and if the sandboxes would work. Continue reading “Sandboxes: Testing the strategy in Malawi”

Sandboxes: our approach to systemic experimentation

Lea Simpson
Director of Innovation, EdTech Hub

What’s a sandbox you ask? First in the series, this blog explains what you need to know about the Hub’s approach to experimentation and innovation.

A sandbox is a real-life location used for experimentation. As you might have imagined, a sandbox creates a small and contained space to test with a proposed intervention. It allows us to safely learn and adapt in a small space before rolling out promising ideas more widely. The term itself comes from software engineering and was originally used to describe a space that allowed developers to safely test new code before using it across the board.

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15 EdTech research papers that we share all the time

We hope you saw our recent blog post responding to questions we often get about interesting large-scale EdTech initiatives. Another question we are often asked is: “What EdTech research should I know about?” 

As Sara’s blog post explains, one of the Hub’s core spheres of work is research, so we ourselves are very interested in the answer to this question. Katy’s latest blog post explains how the Hub’s research programme is addressing this question through a literature review to create a foundation for further research.  While the literature review is in progress, we thought we would share an initial list of EdTech papers that we often reach for. At the Hub we are fortunate enough to have authors of several papers on this list as members of our team. 

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18 large-scale EdTech initiatives on our radar in 2020

During the EdTech Hub’s inception phase so far, one question we hear a lot is: “What interesting or notable EdTech initiatives are you seeing?” Another question usually follows: “Which ones are reaching scale?”

This week we have joined the global education community in London for the Education World Forum and BETT meetings. This is a chance for education leaders and decision-makers to come together to discuss and share how best to improve and accelerate learning outcomes. In the spirit of sharing ideas, we thought we would put forth some examples of large-scale EdTech initiatives that are on our radar. 

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The EdTech Hub’s approach to amplifying impact through engagement

Molly Jamieson Eberhardt
Director of Engagement, EdTech Hub

If you have spent time working in the education sector, you’ll know that even marginal gains are worthy of celebration. Those of us involved in launching the EdTech Hub know this well — from our experience as teachers, researchers, advisers, programme implementers, and civil servants. Nevertheless, we have the ambition to help accelerate progress toward quality education at an unprecedented rate.

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Five starting points on innovation for the EdTech Hub

Lea Simpson
Director of Innovation, EdTech Hub

As the Director of Innovation for the EdTech Hub, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to how we’re building innovation into our work, with the aim of accelerating the scale of the best education technology… and showing others how to do the same.

If you haven’t read them already, check out Sara’s post on our approach to research and Susan’s overview on the Hub’s work as a whole. 

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Introducing the EdTech Hub’s programme for research in low-income countries

Sara Hennessy
Director of Research, EdTech Hub

Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.

Diana Laurillard, 2008

Our first blog post introduced the EdTech Hub as having three main, interconnected spheres of activity: research, innovation and engagement. This blog spotlights the research work. We’re keen to share what we’re doing and get feedback as we go along. Constructive input from the global community is immensely valuable.

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