Given the lack of rigorous evidence to guide related decision making, a big investment in educational technologies has in many ways been the true ‘faith-based initiative’ in many education systems over the past two decades. While there are still gaping holes in our collective knowledge base about what works, and what doesn’t, related to many uses of ‘edtech’, we (thankfully) know substantially more today than we did even a few years ago.
Such knowledge doesn’t come a moment too soon! While estimates about the size of national and regional edtech markets can vary widely, depending on how one chooses to define the term and whose white papers you choose to believe, there is no denying that this stuff is (for better or for worse, depending on your perspective) big business around the world – and growing bigger. It’s important to note that big investments in educational technologies aren’t only happening in places like the United States or South Korea, Germany or China or Australia. The emails that land each week in my in-box are testament to just how widespread a phenomenon this has become:
- 950 primary schools to receive tablets in Jamaica
- 1500 schools in Rwanda will have ‘smart classrooms’
- Over 6000 government schools in India to get advanced computer labs
- A new contract for one mission tablets for primary schools in Egypt
- An update on an ongoing effort to provide 1.2 million devices to primary schools in Kenya
etc. etc. etc.
That said, while access to devices, connectivity and digital learning content is spreading quickly around the world, knowledge about how to harness increased levels of access to technology in ways relevant and practical for policymakers and educators in so-called ‘developing countries’ is not spreading anywhere near as quickly.
The vast majority of research and documentation related to the use of educational technologies around the world is generated from within ‘highly developed’ countries (most of them in Europe, North America and East Asia), animated and informed by research questions and the needs of education communities and education systems in these same countries.
Beginning later in 2019, a new, multi-year initiative will seek to change this existing paradigm.
A Research and Innovation Hub on Technology for Education will bring together experts in technology, education, research and innovation to answer questions such as:
- What works (and what doesn't work) to accelerate, spread and scale education technology interventions to deliver better learning outcomes for all children, including the most marginalised, in developing countries?
- Which education technology interventions present the greatest value for money and social return on investment?
Conceived by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Hub will explore the impact and equitable use of innovative technologies to benefit teaching and learning in developing countries. In gestation for a few years, this new research initiative is being greeted with great enthusiasm by many policymakers, academics and international aid agencies who have long lamented the dearth of relevant research to guide the development and implementation of policies and plans to utilize new technologies to support teaching and learning in some of the world’s most challenging educational environments. Arguments for and against the use of ‘edtech’ to help address what the World Bank has labelled a ‘learning crisis’ in many low income countries have often been informed more by ideology, belief and marketing than by evidence – because there simply hasn’t been all that much relevant evidence to draw on.
DFID has supported a number of efforts to document and evaluate the use of educational technologies in the past, going back to projects like Imfundo. For those interested in learning more about DFID's work related to educational technologies [disclosure: I serve on DFID's external Digital Advisory Panel], the following recent documents, reports and announcments will probably be of interest:
- Doing development in a digital world (DFID's digital strategy document)
- Get children learning (DFID's education strategy)
- A scoping study: transforming education through technology
- HEART Education Technology (EdTech) Topic Guide
- DFID: Mapping education technology (includes an evidence map and guidance document that collates 401 resources on education technology; these can be accessed via a related Ed Tech Academic Research Database)
- New technology to spearhead classroom revolution
More to come.
You may also be interested in the following EduTech blog posts:
- Research questions about technology use in education in developing countries
- Questions to ask (and not to ask) when your president tells you to buy 100k (or a million) tablets for students
- Key topics related to the use of new technologies in education
- Learning from a visit to a school using technology: Some questions to consider