What do we know about the use of low-tech options for education?

Radio, TV, mobile devices

The evidence-backed advice below is one in a series of topics from the EdTech Hub Helpdesk. Here we summarise recommendations from our work with governments, ministries of education and partnerships with other organisations through the World Bank and FDCO.

A multi-modal and data-driven approach is well aligned with effective distance learning approaches recommended by EdTech Hub (see Question 1). We at EdTech Hub are passionate about taking a learner-focused, rather than technology-first, perspective to our work. For many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), radio, television, and mobile devices present themselves as likely channels to reach a higher percentage of learners. 

In addition to reading through this FAQ page, we also recommend that you check out our rapid evidence reviews on: 

Radio

Damani and Mitchell (2020) highlighted the use of radio to promote problem-solving and student engagement during disruptions to schooling. Radio can have advantages in rural areas with limited electrical infrastructure since these devices can be operated using batteries and distributed at a low cost. However, the disadvantages of radio often include a lack of access to coverage in rural regions (i.e., lessons broadcast on a national station will not reach children in communities that cannot access the signal); this use case varies widely based on the country and is crucial to consider for the local context. While radio programming can be a cost-effective approach, especially when compared to other EdTech initiatives, it still requires significant implementation and maintenance costs. 

For more information on radio, check out EdTech Hub’s slide summary of interactive radio instruction (IRI). Examples of IRI are also included in this curated resource list, covering resources from Rising Academies, the Education Development Center, and others.

Television

Research supports the view that educational television can produce positive learning and socio-emotional outcomes and improve social reasoning. A study on Ubongo Kids, a Tanzanian television show, demonstrated positive learning outcomes for mathematics among children aged 7–16. The evidence suggested that Ubongo Kids was highly cost-effective due to low costs per viewer and a large viewer base (Watson, 2019). Moreover, educational television can support stigma reduction. Several studies point to the use of television to promote positive attitudes in children towards others with different backgrounds and cultures (Watson, 2020). 

For more information on television, check out the World Bank’s note on educational television during Covid-19.

Messaging apps and SMS

Messaging can be used across a range of learning activities, as a channel to both foster interactions and deliver content. A scan of relevant studies points to the important role that caregivers play in enabling mobile phone access (Jordan and Mitchell, 2020). Angrist et al. (2020) conducted a preliminary study on the effects of mobile-based interventions on learning outcomes for students in Botswana in the context of Covid-19 and minimizing learning loss. Early evidence supported that SMS text messages and phone calls were linked with learning gains of 0.16 to 0.29 standard deviations. 

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