EdTech at the Grassroots Level: How is technology transforming education in some of the most remote areas of the world

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3 min read

One of the biggest challenges that the world has continually faced is reaching out and providing quality education in the remote corners of the world. With scarce resources, lack of good teachers, children in underdeveloped parts of the world were usually deprived of their basic right for quality education. Thankfully though, with the advent of technology and benevolent intent of EdTech innovators, the distance between these places and quality education is reducing. Technology-enabled education solutions are exported and ‘made to fit’ into what are much more challenging environments.

With ICT and other emerging practices, children in rural and isolated communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific are enjoying learning lessons today.

Products like the BRCK - a connectivity device designed in Nairobi, Kenya to efficiently address user needs in places where electricity and internet connections are erratic, and MobiStation - a solar-powered 'classroom in a suitcase' which features a projector and lots of offline educational content developed by UNICEF Uganda, are some of the best examples of products which are enabling education in such remotes parts.

While many innovators are putting in efforts to invent and develop the ideal education technology for the rural, low-income areas and as challenging as the development of new technology devices can be, the greatest challenge in education is always most likely on the ‘human’ side of the whole process.  Education is, after all, a human endeavor. Make sure to factor in this too. Focus on the students, as well as the facilitators, the teachers, who will, at last, be introducing the technology to the students.

Some related practices and initiatives which are notable in various ways include:

Innovative use of ‘old’ technologies like radio and television

While most of the attention around the use of technologies in education focuses on the latest gadgets, in many places ‘old’ technologies like radio and television are still used at a large scale, often with slight twists. Radio technology and channels are used to prompt specific actions by teachers and students in the classroom. According to some researchers, the use of Interactive Educational Television in places like the Amazon helps remote schools where finding good teachers is a herculean task. Same language subtitling of movies helps millions of ‘low literate’ students acquire reading skills in India.

Sharing one device with many people

While much press attention is paid to projects that promise things like ‘one educational tablet for every student’, it is not only in the case of communal technologies like radio and television where the benefits of using one device can reach many learners at once. As part of some projects, classrooms of up to 50 students can each ‘operate’ a single computer independently, as long as they each have their own mouse. Such efforts are enabled where technologies are available to help transform simple projectors into low-cost versions of digital whiteboards. The Hole in the Wall project in India shows how placing shared computer facilities in slum communities can bring about lots of interesting benefits to children who can’t afford formal schooling.

Caching online content for offline use

In places where internet connectivity is patchy and intermittent, innovative ways of collecting and distributing content can enable offline access to great numbers of online resources in ways that can simulate online learning practices. The arrival of low-cost e-readers on the scene is enabling groups to distribute a vast amount of books in digital formats to students who read them on small, purpose-built reading devices.

Promoting literacy and learning, and supporting teachers with mobile phones

In remote communities where teachers face challenges due to the isolation of peers and a lack of resources like textbooks and other teaching materials, mobile phones are helping educators in significantly by providing access to education content and regular prompts and tips on how to utilize this content. In certain places, students are sent quizzes through SMS to their phones to help them and their families understand how well they are understanding the curriculum.

Using low-cost video to support peer learning and support

The increased availability of very low-cost video cameras and mobile phone cameras can provide opportunities for peer support for teachers who may have received little training on pedagogical approaches to delivering their curriculum. In Indonesia, for example, teachers take short videos of their peers and then jointly review and discuss pedagogical approaches and particularly difficult topics to teach in innovative ways as part of their professional development.

In conclusion, here are some approaches that the experts say one should consider when planning to introduce educational technology into remote, low-income educational environments are -
a) The best technology is the one you already have, know how to use, and can afford for example mobile phones.
b) It’s the content, not the container, so don't focus on devices, but rather on what actions these devices enable.
c) To succeed in doing something difficult, you may first need to fail, and learn from this failure
d) Put sustainability first
e) Research about worst practices and avoid those.

Himanshu Bhalla