Technologies available today equip us with tools to finally close the education gap, in both access and quality, for good—but they also have the capacity to widen it.
We’ve seen it over and over again: laptops, projectors, tablets, apps dumped in schools with the promise of a ’silver bullet solution’. One year, maybe even just months later, they are sitting dusty, often broken, in the corner; the school no better off than it was before.
It is no secret that there is a gap in the world of education, particularly for the global south. Under the Millennium Development Goals, significant progress has been made in access to primary education. Shockingly, though, the numbers of children out of school are still rising (a). While the responsibility to make education accessible to all remains, the focus of the international community is shifting to improve education quality, an equally difficult task to accomplish.
As we embark on the journey to address these pressing challenges, technological progress has provided new ways to make these goals a reality. Technologies available today equip us with tools to finally close the education gap, in both access and quality, for good—but they also have the capacity to widen it.
What degree children benefit from this technology is predicated on how effectively it is implemented. The methods used to integrate these tools in and out of the classroom are as important as the potential of the tools themselves.
At Project Hello World we have introduced Hello Hub, energy autonomous, outdoor, internet-enabled kiosks loaded with education software. They are located in some of the most remote and isolated areas of the world. We have built Hello Hubs in villages in Uganda and Nigeria, where hubs often create access to education for the very first time. We have also built Hello Hubs in the centre of school courtyards, where incorporation in the classroom is leading to higher quality education. Throughout the process we have learned both the potential and longevity of impact of technology for learning.
Consistent community involvement, whether in a school or a remote village, is essential for the utilization and sustainability of any solution. This involvement begins at the onset of each project and does not end. Ever. From construction, to maintenance, to use-sharing, community members take charge in running their Hello Hub. This creates ownership and investment from each member of the community, whether they are enrolled in school or not, which is essential for the disenfranchised, most vulnerable members of any community.
When ownership takes place, users utilize new technology in a more invested way, regardless of the environment. This investment transforms learning from memorization to exploration, as they interact with information through curiosity while concurrently developing both hard and soft skills relevant for the labour market of the 21st century. Learners collaborate with peers in a more organic, less isolated, fashion - discussing and understanding with intention. This investment flips the learning environment by design, and empowers users to guide their own learning—complementing effective practice in the classroom and extending it to the world outside of it.
The Hello Hub Community Portal is a pivotal resource that enables these outcomes to happen. It is a place where learners of all ages can connect, enjoy structured learning, and contribute their voice to the community and to other hubs around the globe. The inclusive and open nature of the Hubs makes them an understood and welcome resource for all stakeholders in a child’s education. It is through this methodology that Hello Hubs provide access to education where it is not available, while improving quality in areas where formal education is already widespread.
We have begun to see that the potential of a child’s mind is infinite when limitations are removed. Hello Hubs are in constant use—19.2 hours per day on average. Users, even without guidance, are making tangible progress across all forms of educational attainment. On average, users’ digital literacy proficiency increases 175.46%. And if the results are similar to other self-organized learning research, we expect to see content assimilation, literacy progression (b), and numeracy (c) soar. As we track the impact of these projects, we also have the opportunity to measure unique predictors of educational progress, such as empathy, critical thinking, and problem solving—all key attributes of a successful learner.
As we move to incorporate technology in educational policy and work to mobilize national technology solutions, we must realize the work does not end here. In fact, the work has only just begun. Simply introducing the technology is no longer enough. Technologies must be incorporated into community life and integrated with intention into educational processes. With this approach, information and communications technologies become tools that can achieve both an inclusive and equitable education for all.
by Drew Edwards, Manager Project Hello World
(a) UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2015). A growing number of children and adolescents are out of school as aid fails to meet the mark.
(b) Cronjé, Johannes C. and Burger, Dirk (2006). “Learning from a free-access digital information kiosk in Africa: An objectivist-constructivist investigation”. Aslib Proceedings, 2006, 58(3), 218-236.
(c) Inamdar, Parimala and Kulkarni, Arun (2007). 'Hole-In-The-Wall' computer kiosks foster mathematics achievement: A comparative study. Educational Technology & Society, 10 (2), 170-179.
First published on the UNESCO IIEP Learning Portal, January 2017.