A new research hub on the use of technology in education in developing countries


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there's a lot of info out there, but how much of it is relevant?
there's a lot of info out there,
but how much of it is relevant?

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:

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:

More to come.

You may also be interested in the following EduTech blog posts:

Note: The image used at the top of this blog post ("there's a lot of info out there, but how much of it is relevant?") comes via Pixabay and is used according to the terms of the Pixabay license.


Michael Trucano

Global Lead for Innovation in Education, Sr. Education & Technology Policy Specialist

James Stanfield
January 31, 2019

Let's hope this new hub will look beyond the use of Ed tech to improve test results. A focus on k.proving 21st century skills would be nice.

August 16, 2019

Indeed, this is my hope as well -- especially if/when the 'tests' in question are not really very good or useful in the first place.

Bowen Bao
February 01, 2019

Hi Michael
What I noticed is that although governments are pushing for initiatives that introduce greater access to technology (i.e. providing laptops to students, increasing broadband infrastructure in rural areas), there isn't as much effort going into integrating technology to daily classroom curriculum that compels students to fully utilize these resources. Meanwhile, private sector startups are working more in this area to create apps that gamify learning, provide online testing resources, and offer language classes that close skill-set gaps in developing countries. However, venture capital funding becomes increasingly competitive as more Edtech startups emerge, creating an effectiveness-vs-speed trade-off for tech companies to win over investors. On one hand, entrepreneurs need to demonstrate the effectiveness of their apps to gain funding. On the other hand, it takes at least three years for the effect of Ed-tech resources to fully materialize students’ progress. This becomes an impediment to the development of Edtech as entrepreneurs don't have that time due to financial pressures and resource constraints in their first few years.
Therefore, (1) are there any government initiatives that attempt to alleviate this problem through government funding of any sorts? (2) What steps have governments taken to integrate online resources with local classroom curriculum to fully utilize Ed-tech resources?

David Castro-Garcia
August 16, 2019

Dear Michael, thanks again for your post!
I agree with Bowen, while governments are responsible for emphasizing the number of computers that are provided in schools, there is little intention to integrate these technologies into the curriculum and therefore be used for pedagogical purposes. For example, in Colombia there are "large numbers": 1,886,755 terminals (PC´s and laptops) have been delivered by the CPE program of the national government of Colombia (CPE, 2018). However, the expectations of teachers, in terms of training in ICT, shows that those strategies should be an initial and continuous training stage and be integrated into the curricular plans of each educational institution, to guide teachers to use ICT for educational purposes. Even though provision to ant ICT is a necessary condition to close gaps on access to ICT, its appropriation and connection with the curriculum can show better impacts on the incorporation of these technologies in educational environments.
CPE - Computadores Para Educar (2018). ¿Qué es computadores para educar?. retrived from: http://www.computadoresparaeducar.gov.co/es/nosotros/que-es-computadore…

August 16, 2019

Hi Bowen and David, there is much to unpack in your comments. 'Patient' capital when it comes to funding edtech innovations is in very short supply in most places around the world, especially outside markets in North America and the EU where public sector organizations (and especially in the U.S. philanthropies) do provide some grant monies that can be helpful to help edtech startups stay alive long enough to demonstrate their value and 'impact'. The question about steps that governments have taken to integrate online resources with local curricula ... there are many potential answers and examples here. In the whole, however, this is a chasm that most education systems still have to cross. There are many reasons for this. The simple (and not incorrect) answer is that it's easier for policymakers to demonstrate results when buying devices and connecting schools -- the results are easily visible and count-able, especially over short time horizons. One constant in many education systems is a compulsion to come up with new 'reforms' regularly, a longer term time horizon necessary to do the messy, and less visible, and much more difficult and complicated work of integrating curricula and teaching practices with the use of new tools is the sort of thing that, in too many places, is left to the next administration to sort out. (Or not.)

Irina Dvoretskaya
August 16, 2019

Dear Michael, could you indicate, what is the reason, why there are no more handbooks, continued the work elaborated in "The Impact of ICTs in Education for Development: A Monitoring and Evaluation Handbook"?

August 16, 2019

Hi Irina, Thanks for your question. I'm afraid I don't have a good answer. Speaking personally, I must confess that I have been singularly ineffective in convincing a funder to support something like this. I find that, while there is lot of lamenting that 'there aren't many good edtech-related evaluations out there', especially of non-pilot projects outside of OECD countries, until recently few groups have stepped up to fund related work. The good news is that (I think) this is starting to change. Hopefully a (much improved) handbook of this sort will emerge out of the new EdTech Hub initiative, for example. Respected groups involved in rigorous evaluation of education projects (e.g. J-PAL, SIEF) are turning their attention to this topic more than ever before, which is also encouraging.

May 24, 2021

Dear Michael,
I would be happy to know about the recent initiatives by Hub in response to the COVID-19 crisis and its serious implications on education.

May 24, 2021

Hi Richa,
The EdTech Hub has a dedicated page on its website that collects together links to all of its research and advice as part of its Covid-19 response work:
--> https://edtechhub.org/covid-19-response/