The World Bank Group (WBG) is the largest financier of education in the developing world, working on education programs in more than 80 countries to provide quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.
The WBG works in partnership with governments and organizations worldwide to support innovative projects, timely research and knowledge sharing activities about the effective and appropriate use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education systems -- "edtech" -- to strengthen learning and contribute to poverty reduction around the world, as part of its larger work related to education.
The World Bank estimated the levels of “Learning Poverty” across the globe by measuring the number of 10-year old children who cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school. In low- and middle-income countries “learning poverty” stands at 53%, while for the poorest countries, this is 80% on average. With the spread of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), 180+ countries have mandated temporary school closures, leaving ~1.6 billion children and youth out of school. 85% of children world-wide are affected.
Countries rapidly adopt remote learning to address the crisis.
Extended school closures may cause not only loss of learning in the short-term, but also further loss in human capital and diminished economic opportunities in the long-term. Countries are currently in a coping phase to manage school closures and are also preparing for managing learning continuity when schools open as well as a third phase of resilience and reform to improve the system for the long run. To help mitigate the loss of learning, many countries are pursuing options to utilize remote learning to manage and cope with the crisis.
The crisis has starkly highlighted the inequalities in digital access and that ‘business as usual’ will not work for delivery of education to all children. Education systems must adapt. Technology is playing an essential role to deliver education to the student outside of school.
Remote learning requires a re-imagination of education.
As countries invest in remote learning as an emergency measure to reach students the challenges there are addressing lay the foundation for re-imagining education.
Personalized, modular, and data enhanced digital content. In this coping phase, rather than developing new content, which takes significant time and expertise, countries focus on curating existing (especially free, ‘open’) content and aligning it to the curriculum. To prepare for the future, countries should develop short, modular content for distribution over multiple channels, with mobile as a primary channel. Digital content is also the data gathered from learners and the rules or algorithms interpreting that data. A re-imagining of how content is designed should address the unique skills and background of learners in order to provide multiple pathways and opportunities for the students to realize their potential
The digital divide must be addressed. A major challenge for remote learning is rampant inequality in access to technology. For instance, in households of primary-aged students in Africa, only 30% of the poorest households have a radio while 79% of the richest do. The gap is also evident with ownership of TV (4% of poor households own one vs. 82% of rich ones), computer (less than 1% for poor households vs. 25% for richest), internet (0.3% in poor vs. 22% in rich), and mobile phones (46% ownership in poor households vs. 97% in rich ones).
Digital content can be distributed across multiple delivery channels and in order to reach all children at scale, education systems must prepare multi-faceted responses leveraging all available technologies – print, radio, TV, mobile, on-line, and print utilizing a combination of these mediums to ensure students are engaged and learning. In order for a mixed mode delivery to become the 'new normal' to reach all students, the stark inequalities in access to the Internet and devices must be addressed. An especially challenging context is countries that are fragile, experiencing conflict or violence (FCV), whereevidence shows learning poverty is over 90% with young women disproportionately affected.
Education at its core is a social endeavor and teachers must be empowered to use technologies to engage students in learning. Teacher support and training on use of remote learning technologies and adaptations to pedagogy are essential. A combination of multiple modes of delivery (offline/online/blended) are more likely to be effective with a focus on pedagogy and not just use of technology. As parents and caregivers become an essential point of engagement with students, simply making content available is not enough. Parents must be engaged as partners in the learning process and a responsible actor in a blended learning environment.
Assessment of learning should be formative, personalized and continuous. In the coping phase, traditional evaluation and examination has shown its limitations. Where on-line systems are used, collection of data can give an accurate picture of learning progress. Where students are learning via radio and TV with little interactivity, short quizzes and feedback over mobile devices to teachers may be a strategy employed in some countries to facilitate teacher engagement. Through the combination of digital content, data and algorithms, assessment is adaptive and can continuously provide feedback to learners.
Education technology by itself is not a panacea
Though investment in EdTech has been increasing, learning and outcomes as a result have not changed considerably in many countries. An OECD report found that, when it comes to impact of computer usage in schools as measured through PISA, “impact on student performance is mixed, at best." COVID has however has changed the debate on EdTech from a question of if to a question of how. Experience to date highlights that teaching and learning remotely is not the same as face-to-face pedagogy. Many teachers with access to e-content, for instance, use it like any another textbook to read from in class. Some adjustments include shorter and more modular content, more engaging content such as edutainment, continuous feedback, smaller group on-line discussions on more open-ended questions. Much more attention must be directed on how technology will enhance teaching and learning in a blended learning environment reaching students, both in school and at home.