How to use technology to help teachers be better and to make life better for teachers


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Teachers matter enormously to student learning. Teachers deliver academic knowledge. Teachers impart model socioemotional skills. Good teachers boost students’ long-term life outcomes. Teachers can inspire (and in another demonstration of their importance, in some cases, sadly, teachers can disappoint or even abuse). 

Yet teachers, often lionized and occasionally villainized, are people. They enter the profession for a wide range of reasons, they have their own families to feed, and – like most professionals – they respond to incentives, support, accountability, and the quality of the management around them. In short, they are part of a system

Getting teacher policies right isn’t always easy, and sometimes education technology solutions can seem like a shortcut. It’s tempting to search for the perfect app that will “disrupt” the learning process and allow countries to “leapfrog” to high-quality, equitable education without having to engage with these complicated people near the center of the learning process. (Let’s keep learners at the actual center.) Education technology interventions have had both successes and failures. Even as the COVID crisis has heightened attention to education technology, many parts of the world lack the infrastructure for it have an extended, effective reach, with big implications for educational inequality.

In a recent note—“Education Technology for Effective Teachers”—I look for examples of how education technology—rather than seeking to circumvent teachers—can help teachers to be as effective as possible and make their jobs and lives easier in the process. Looking at a wide range of experiences, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, I identify and discuss four principles to guide investments in technology to boost teacher effectiveness.

Figure 1

Beyond these principles, which may seem obvious but which anyone who has worked in the implementation or evaluation of education technology can tell you are often not applied, I provide practical examples of six ways that education systems are using technology to support teachers. I summarize these in the table below, but you can find more country experiences in the note.

Systems can use technology to… Where and how
Coach and mentor teachers
  • In the U.S., virtual teacher coaching performed similarly to in-person coaching.
  • In South Africa, virtual teacher coaching performed similarly in the short run, although in-person coaching performed better over time. A blended model may make the most sense.
Complement teacher content knowledge and pedagogical skills
  • Tablets were an effective instrument to deliver scripted lesson plans and other teaching aides to teachers in Pakistan and South Africa, although only if teachers continue to use them over time.
  • Massive open online courses, Khan Academy, Wikiversity, and micro-credentialing can help boost teacher knowledge and pedagogical skills.
Create virtual communities of practice for teachers
  • Teachers use social media sites to ask content questions (Kenya), teaching practices (Turkey), and videos of themselves teaching for friendly competitions (South Africa).
  • These groups can provide positive peer accountability, as teachers report in India.
Manage teachers effectively
  • Monitor teacher attendance remotely (Pakistan).
  • But make sure teachers are on board, potentially providing support or voluntary opt-in with rewards: if not, this kind of system can be undermined.
Deploy the teacher workforce effectively
  • Use data systems to improve the distribution of teachers relative to where students are (which current allocation systems often fail to do), as in Malawi.
Increase the attractiveness of the teaching profession
  • Deliver pay electronically to reduce travel time and hassle.
  • Provide anonymous grievance reporting mechanisms.
  • Use media to encourage high performing youth to enter the teaching profession, as in Chile.

Technology is not the solution, but just like books and classrooms and blackboards, technological tools can help teachers to improve their skills, to use their skills most effectively, and to be accountable. These investments should never be made on the basis of evidence-free optimism but rather evidence-based realism in terms of systems’ capacity to maintain the technology, teacher willingness to engage the technology, and whether the technology will perform better than the cheaper, analog alternative.

(In Kenya, a tablet-based literacy program boosted learning, but no more so than the analog alternative and at higher cost.) 

But in cases where technology passes those tests, it can be a valuable complement to teachers. It can also make teachers’ jobs a little bit easier so they can focus their energy on teaching.

Further reading:



David Evans

Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development

Vanessa Lee
March 02, 2021

A useful article thanks and many things that most people skip over. I just wanted to mention though, that teachers don't "deliver" academic knowledge. Teachers and students work collaboratively to co-create academic knowledge and apply it to situations. Teachers facilitate learning. Thanks Vanessa

Ogunrinde Olayinka Oluwole
March 02, 2021

My major concern is funding my school Crescent forte academy sub of Lagos Nigeria in the area of Education technology, even to buy a computer for the population of 100 pupil is tough in this covid 19. Parents can't pay until you review fees which is tough.

A K M A Hamid, president , IDEB
March 02, 2021

Dear Author,
Can you please How we can introduce learing by doing system In primary education . Or we can start TVET inclusive primary education system.

Zahrah Akhtar
March 02, 2021

I clearly believe that the re opening of school, is nothing but sheer nonsense. Education is important but what’s the point of it when you are dead, sick not well who the heck are they then going to teach our spirits? There is a reason these vaccines are being invented due to the gravity of this pandemic thus, one must comprehend and stay inside. Plus, who knows what precautions the other students are taking or teachers plus the rate of children at school is without a doubt higher than the percentage of teachers employed at school. Furthermore, children too attend school for the soul purpose of seeing their friends thus, undoubtedly they are going to surely take of their masks plus many will get tired, wanting to breath, drink water maybe touch their nose p, eyes and one of the most important precautions against this pandemic is wearing a mask whenever out and if that isn’t followed the virus will spread like wild fire like it has for over a year clearly because of the lack of people taking this as a joke and partying all night. Good forbid if someone dies then. Thus it’s better to be safe than sorry! A healthy body is what is going to lead to a pure and stable mind and soul!

Yakubu Muhammad Anas
March 02, 2021

In Nigeria COVID 19 has drawn education backwards and during school closures authorities were forced to rethink education and the idea of using technology began to get recognition but political commitment, transmission challenges and poverty is making the progress slow.

Guruprasad Panamalai
March 02, 2021

Very informative article. My professional experience has shown that technology is useful and effective depending upon specific circumstances including stake holders and beneficiaries.

Colm Byrne
April 01, 2021

An excellent and thought provoking piece. At SeeBeyondBorders here in Cambodia we have just begun to implement a technology project to support literacy learning. As pointed out in your article David technology is not "the solution" but can be a force for good in improving teachers and ultimately improving learning outcomes for children.

April 01, 2021

Thank you for this clear overview of some good practices to support teachers with technology as a tool. I’m a little bit surprised how innovative some institutions, already before the COVID-19 situation, were thinking. I knew about groups on social media where teachers ask questions and share teaching practice, but never heard of sharing videos of them teaching with the goal to receive feedback or virtual teacher coaching. I think my teacher training should have had mentioned the possibilities…
Technology can be a very handy tool, but like others also mentioned: you need access, you need money and you need a good working tool. It isn’t easy to create that and I would love to read more about how we can concretely tackle these barriers.