Brookings recently released a paper on international education. A New Face of Education: Bringing Technology Into The Classroom in the Developing World was written by Rebecca Winthrop from Brookings and Mike Smith, a four-timer at US ED and former education director at Hewlett Foundation (where he made a substantial contribution to launching the explosion in open education resources). Smith spend a lot of time in Pakistan over the last two years working with UNESCO.
The study attempts to understand why and under what conditions technology improves educational outcomes. They concluded that “if smartly and strategically deployed, modern information and communications technology holds great promise in helping bring quality learning to some of the world’s poorest and hardest-to reach communities.”
Winthrop and Smith note significant progress toward universal primary but “While many [students] enter school, few stay enrolled, and even fewer are mastering the basic skills needed to progress in their education.” They note “There is an increasing need to pay attention to formal and non-formal secondary education opportunities.” And, “Few governments are able to provide the number of secondary school seats for students and also provide the teachers needed for the increasingly larger cohorts of primary school graduates—which is another potential area for technology to help transform.”
The authors note numerous barriers including distance and cost, teaching, materials and languages, and management. “While internet access in the developing world still reaches only the few” they note, “As access to electricity has increased, demand for and access to the internet—particularly to wireless internet—has expanded dramatically in the past several years in the developing world.”
Bridge International Academies, a low cost private school network in Kenya (and a Learn Capital portfolio company) is a great example of making the most of a school with no electricity but growing ubiquity of cell phones. Administrators use smartphone apps to run the school and administer the payment system. But the primary improvement, compared to the government schools, is that teachers show up and implement a standard curriculum.
The study considered enabling factors for further edtech deployment including access to electricity, connectivity, human resource capacity,and political will and management, fiscal resources, and the link between infrastructure availability and ability to integrate.
“Blended learning…has great potential to be useful in the developing world, particularly in regions that have a lack of qualiﬁed, content-area-trained secondary and tertiary teachers.” The report continues, “Blended learning has the added value of offering specialized content information that may not be accessible otherwise, with teachers acting as facilitators.”
The authors offer seven principle for smart use of technology in education:
1. Educational problem first. Start with the problem, not the technology.
2. Added value. Make sure that the technology will add value to other existing solutions.
3. Sustainability. Will the project be relevant and accessible with the passage of time, or will external factors or lack of relevance eventually lead those involved to abandon it?
4. Multiple uses. Select a technology and design an intervention so that the technology
can be used for multiple purposes/classes.
5. Lowest cost. If a lower-cost technology is available to solve a particular problem, even though it might be less “politically sexy,” it should be used.
6. Reliability. Ensure that the technology is reliable and will not rapidly break down.
7. Ease of use. Excessively complicated technologies present barriers to implementation and the ultimate success of the intervention.
That’s a pretty good list, but it seems to presumes adding tech to existing school formats. The big breakthroughs will start with new technology and create new delivery systems and formats. In particular, I’m pretty sure that low cost private high schools that utilize cheap tablets, open content, and blended formats will be an important developing world breakthrough. (See more on Flex Schools).
The conclusion is right on, “In the next several years a range of strategies that we can only dream of today may become common place, and the developing world may well be the source of some of the most cutting-edge uses of technology within the education sector.”