Reflections on the mEducation Alliance Symposium: Using Technology to Scale Support for Teachers and Community Educators in Low-Resource Environments by Institute for Global Prosperity

US Institute of Peace, Washington, 6-8 November 2018

Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technology, UCL, Co-Investigator - Future Education, RELIEF

Dr Eileen Kennedy, Senior Research Associate, UCL - Future Education, RELIEF

The mEducation Alliance is a group of international development organisations, such as the British Council, DFID, IDRC, USAID, UNICEF, FIT-ED, World Bank, and many others. It is “committed to reducing barriers to access appropriate, scalable, and low-cost mobile technologies to help improve learning outcomes in formal and non-formal education across all levels, especially in low-resource and developing country contexts”.

The Symposium focused on teachers and community educators in Low-Resource Environments, and set out to address ‘how technology can provide greater support for their professional development, motivation, networking, and delivery of instruction in traditional and non-traditional educational settings’.

Last year’s Symposium was on “learning@scale”, where we reported on our study of this for the global South. It sparked discussion of one of our proposals: to use digital learning for “scaling up co-design of innovation and knowledge building for teachers”.

TPD at scale.png

By January 2018, FIT-ED, IDRC, and USAID had organised a meeting of international development agencies to discuss a ‘[Teacher Professional Development] TPD@Scale Coalition’ in Hong Kong, so this year’s Symposium set out to build on that momentum.  

The Symposium participants came from many of the countries in the global South, with especially challenging environments. Some teachers here work with populations who are migrating due to conflict or climate, or in remote and rural locations with traditionally low levels of resource. They often have little training. Technology infrastructure is usually very limited. But participants at this Symposium were reporting on new ways of tackling these problems, using technology to support local organisation solutions, for example:

  • Jigsaw Connect uses mobile phones to connect teachers and coaches across schools in remote areas (see their EdTech Evidence Mapping report);

  • ICEFIL provides a collaborative sharing platform to members to deliver innovative products and services across countries, to scale up innovation. They ask “How well can different African countries align to make accreditation affordable?”;

  • World Learning uses Sabaq in Pakistan to provide tutoring videos alongside teacher training support, contextualised to the locality, funded by DFID, and running in local centres and schools. Families pay a very low fee, to encourage commitment. Centres collect and share data on performance;

  • The Open University provides a YouTube channel for TESS-India, to provide personalised professional learning using tablets and OERs, with organised contact classes in local colleges, working in partnership with State structures, and integrated into a BEd degree programme.

and digital approaches to learning in challenging contexts:

  • Vodaphone’s ‘Instant Classroom’ provides charged tablets in a box, for classrooms without electricity, with UNHCR, for refugees in Kenya, Tanzania and DRC.

  • The Ideas Box is a mobile “pop up” multimedia center and learning hub that provides educational and cultural resources to communities in need, including refugees and displaced persons in camps around the globe, and underserved communities in developed countries.

  • Koombook is a mobile digital library, which recharges via a solar panel and works without internet connection. Its resources are curated locally, or created by teachers.

  • The Open University uses 360mobilevr (360-degree video recording and smartphone-driven mobile VR viewing) to improve the quality of teaching practice, pedagogic understanding, and engagement with professional development, in remote locations.

There were many other examples reported over the three days.

What we learned, was that discussions around teacher professional development include universal themes, whether we speak about the global South or North:

  • teachers lack time to innovate and explore new approaches

  • teacher professional development is only slowly moving away from top-down provision, and towards co-design and collaborative approaches

  • many teachers are ready to embrace digital methods, and have acquired informal digital skills, but are critical of the tools and resources being offered to them

  • digital learning resources in general are didactic, non-adaptive, non-customisable, and there is still a predominance of multiple choice instead of constructivist interactions for learning

  • digital solutions need to be systemic to fulfil their potential – engaging all the local stakeholders in owning the new approaches: teachers, and education leaders and policymakers, and families as well

  • digital tools and resources must be contextualised to the locality to be useful, but most provision is generic and unadaptable by the teachers

  • education leaders and policymakers are neither skilled nor knowledgeable about optimising the range of digital technologies in any educational context.

The themes peculiar to the global South are more likely to relate to technology access, gender and demographic discrimination. The challenges to innovation of languages, pedagogy, assessment and accreditation are universal. Of course, the discriminate use of digital technologies can ameliorate all of these.

The passion for change is clear. There is an increasing recognition that teachers themselves have a lot to contribute to the development of digital education: they are not necessarily opposed to change; they are now more interested in creativity and collaboration through digital means; they are beginning to be trusted to collaborate and be the owners of their own development and innovation.

This was the theme of our own presentation at this year’s Symposium on “TPD@Scale: A ‘local inclusion’ model for education without infrastructure”. The contrast is with the now discredited top-down ‘cascade’ model. For our work in the RELIEF Centre, on the Future Education theme, we are exploring an alternative model we call ‘local inclusion’. The MOOCs we are building, with our partners and contributors in Lebanon, will reflect their needs, and share their methods and successes.

filming for moocs.png

The MOOC is a social environment, where teachers and community members collaborate and contribute their own solutions. We can then curate the best case studies, and recruit the enthusiastic alumni, to enrich and support the next run of the MOOC. Gradually we hope this iterative approach will become localised to the needs of all participants, wherever they are, and thereby sustainable in the long run.

The TPD@Scale Coalition, supported by the IRDC, DFID and FIT-Ed, now has the forward momentum to consider developing all these ideas from the conference – learning from the local solutions that use digital to go beyond the classroom to state or country level, and from the global solutions that use MOOCs to go beyond country level to find the common themes that bind us all together in ‘using technology to scale support for teachers and community educators in low-resource environments’.

Reflections on the No Lost Generation Tech Summit by Institute for Global Prosperity

21-22 February 2018, Amman, Jordan

Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technology UCL

Dr Eileen Kennedy, Senior Research Fellow, UCL

The NLG Tech Summit for 2018 set out to be ‘an innovation forum with and for youth and adolescents impacted by the crises in Syria and Iraq, to highlight how technology can support education, employment, participation and representation’.

And it succeeded brilliantly.

Youth Perspectives on Participation and Representation Panel

Youth Perspectives on Participation and Representation Panel

It lived up to this ambition by the simple trick of bringing young people to speak on behalf of their peers in short sessions throughout the conference. Their eloquent voices continually punctured the formal presentations and panel sessions. Young men and women with extraordinary stories spoke with passion and commitment to their desperate call for the opportunity to learn and engage. One young woman exhorted us to “give them more facilitation and you will see the energy that is coming out of them”. They all exuded that energy – here are some of the young voices we heard:

Help us learn English so that young people have access to the internet for courses we can use.
I would feel honoured to register in a public university, but we do not earn enough. Now I am 29, too old for a grant. So I would appreciate a practical solution. We will lose a generation now, and we will face a bigger disaster, of Syrian uneducated men.
Employers need skilled staff, but business owners do not even speak to us. We are very skilled. I am a graphic designer but have no employment to use those skills.
One employer had 32 jobs but no connection to the young people who need them. He uses family and friends because there is nowhere to train young people, or link to them.
What is your priority? Education. Education, education. Without that how can we rebuild Syria when we go back?
The NLG Tech Task Force Panel

The NLG Tech Task Force Panel

There were answers too, from the speakers and panellists – all of them from organisations and companies deeply engaged in finding ways of giving young people the chance to flourish. At a Tech summit about educational technologies of course everyone understands that technology has a vital role to play – including some of these great examples:

PluralSight with UNICEF work to reduce the gap in digital skills development, bringing young people into designing robotics, giving them access to the market, connecting youth with digital and online jobs, and incubation.

Kiron, through UNHCR, overcomes barriers of costs and legalities in Lebanon and Jordan through MOOC providers and online tutorials, with 250 module completions leading to 75 transfers to partner universities.

The Digital Opportunity Trust empowers youth and women to solve challenges through digital skills, giving them the 21st c skills to deal with their challenging environment

These solutions have led to entrepreneurial successes – and young entrepreneurs and their supporters were very happy to tell us about them:

We developed an e-learning program for Syrians in the construction sector, designed to target 1000 people to help them understand labour rights, conditions and labour rights security. So tech is helping us to promote labour rights.
We have Syrian craft products to export to Saudi Arabia and EU to support the Syrian community. A Syrian restaurant here and in Doha, is supplied with these customised products. One man got approval to migrate to USA but said: “I do not want to go now, as I will have to give up my traditional industry there. It is impossible to get the right materials. If I move from Jordan I will lose my business”.
Tech is the main key for the entrepreneurs to grow. People in Gaza may be trying to get the basics, but we also want to be more open to the world. So even if they cannot go out of Gaza, this can be the way to help them solve this. So now we can use tech to practice those things. Open your laptop and you are open to the world.

Everyone at this Tech Summit about education technologies understood the importance of scaling up the educational interventions, and that only digital technology could help them reach the 100,000s still being neglected.

So, what does our ‘Future Education’ project at the RELIEF Centre, at University College London, contribute to these powerful initiatives? We contribute in three ways, I think: by (1) scaling up, (2) harnessing the energy of the teaching community, and (3) designing edtech for active learning.

1. We are co-designing a series of open online courses, with local teachers and NGOs. A MOOC (a Massive Open Online Course on the Edraak platform) can reach anyone with online access. It complements local face-to-face groups of 10s and 100s with online access in a blended learning solution that could reach 100,000s. Its resources, activities and forums could link to all these great projects.

2. We focus on the teaching community, and adult professionals, because they know their local contexts, and have professional skills and experience. From an online collaborative community, they can pass on to their local groups the new techniques they learn, testing and sharing their innovations. Too many EdTech solutions bypass the teachers and talented adults whose energy and experience we need. A MOOC brings them together.

3. EdTech solutions tend to rely on access to resources, but knowledge does not develop by watching videos alone. EdTech can provide active ways of learning – through forum debates, digital tools and games, shared digital making, etc. We will demonstrate how active digital learning can be used in all curriculum areas, not just in the context of learning digital skills.

This great conference had a real sense of pent-up energy about to burst, through the outlets being fashioned by all these innovative projects and initiatives, to make a new kind of impact, and release those young minds to achieve their full potential. What a huge responsibility we have to make that a reality.