COVID-19 and the education systems in Tanzania: Brainstorming for a true ed-tech disruption? (Part II)

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A classroom in Tanzania
A classroom in Tanzania.

Technology + Covid-19 = time for an education revolution

In Tanzania we have now opened all schools, colleges and universities, and we are hopefully going to stay in this post coronavirus (Covid-19) world. If we want technology to really revolutionize education the post Covid-19 world is a good time to make that happen.  In a post Covid-19 Tanzania we need to: (i) Place equity at the heart of ed-tech; (ii) Better utilize mobile phones; (iii) Create space for teachers to lead; and (iv) Improve adult literacy.

Technology + COVID 19

Disruption 1: Access to technology has grown but remains limited for the poor, equity needs to be a priority and mobile phones are key. Data in Tanzania shows limitations in access to electricity and technology. Radio continues to remain a key source of daily information, but mobile phone access has expanded. 79 percent of the population has access to a mobile phone, but as noted in the Poverty Assessment low internet and connectivity devalues the devices (World Bank, 2019). Additionally, this mobile phone may be with the head of household who may not be home when the child is supposed to be learning. We are not at a point where children have free access to the technological device, or internet and devices that could enable remote learning. Access to technology is limited, with a negative correlation to the poorest groups. There is a serious challenge of equity in ed-tech and technological revolution offers opportunity to ensure mass use, and mass value. 

If we want true (equitable) disruption the following should be considered to reach the ‘last mile’: (i) mobile phones are the future: how can Tanzania better use SMS and mobile networks to connect with teachers and parents, and share advice or tips on implementing the curriculum? (ii) Solar has become more affordable, lets us this: what about portable solar-charged printers that can be easily connected to mobile phones to allow for printing of content online and e-books? (iii) The internet grid needs to be expanded: 46 percent of population were internet users in December 2019, however, there needs to be mass digital expansion closer to rural communities, at affordable price.

Disruption 2: Ed-tech needs to become a demand-driven innovation, let teachers lead.  We need to ask ourselves, what are we aiming for with using technology in schools? In many ways the digitization of content has become a go-to solution for innovators, but what do teachers want and need? What would they demand if they had the chance to express their views? If we see this time as a disruptive space for ed-tech we need to put teachers at the forefront. For example, with rising pupil teacher ratio, a lack of infrastructure, slow communication to teachers, a changing curriculum with limited training, can technology solve these challenges?

If we want demand-driven innovations the following should be considered: (i) use mobile phones to connect teachers and the Government: why don’t teachers have regular channels to connect with government officials and fellow teachers to share lesson ideas, schedules, ask questions, submit ideas on how to use technology in education, share information about local infrastructure gaps, and showing the reality on the ground (a tech-based Grievance Redress Mechanism)? (ii) Use mobile phones for continuous professional development (CPD)? (iii) Teachers are not simply ‘receivers’: Imagine having a bi-annual teachers ‘hack’ education competition, inviting teachers to submit ideas on ed-tech solutions for their work and realities?

Disruption 3: The use of ed-tech needs to go together with improved adult literacy and skills for ICT. For effective interventions the role of the parent and community is key, but we cannot talk about an ed-tech revolution for all if adult illiteracy remains high and skills for ICT low. In 2018, 74 percent of heads of households were literate, and although extreme poverty declined the number of poor households rose compared to 2011. If we want an ed-tech disruption let’s think about improving adult literacy by: (i) Using multi-lingual voice-messages and videos to provide free literacy classes, guide parents on how they can use technology more, and explain the role of technology in education of their children. (ii) Use mobile phones and incentivize with mobile money: the presence and use of mobile money has grown nationwide, in 2019 nearly half of mobile phone subscribers had a mobile money account (TCRA, 2019). If you enrol in an adult literacy course maybe you could receive a top-up on your mobile money account. (iii) Simplify the curriculum for parents and accountability: parents can assist when they know what their child is supposed to be learning. Bitesize texts sent to parents, summarizing the week’s classes for the child could be a way of ensuring the parent knows what has been taught at school.

Ultimately, we need to socialize technology again! There is a growing trend in technology, increasingly it has become more individualized – we went from the radio to headphones. How can we socialize technology again, for students to meet and discuss? How can technology truly recreate a classroom environment at home? When we look at radio, voice allows stories to be told to multiple audiences in various locations. In a school, the teacher’s voice (or presence) in the classroom defines the learning experience. Could we make a low-cost solar-powered 3D robot which once charged loads the daily school schedule and sits with your child? In a post-COVID world the possibilities are endless, the only limitation is our imagination, but we must remember to put equity at the heart of our efforts!

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Authors

Gemma Todd

Education Specialist

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