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BRIEF November 10, 2020

Ask Why: Reimagining Human Connections Technology and Innovation in Education at the World Bank


Ask Why:

EdTech policies and projects need to be developed with a clear purpose, strategy and vision of the desired educational change. If technology is the answer, what is the question? Considerations of the use of education technology should focus on “education” and not just on the “technology”. Before investing in and deploying EdTech, policymakers must ask what education challenges need to be addressed and what resulting change is desired. Policies must be holistic, taking into consideration teacher capacity and incentives, appropriate digital learning resources linked to curricula, and formative assessments that measure learning, among other issues. Education at its core is a human-centered, socially intensive endeavor that connects a community of learners. Technology should support and enable these connections.

A technology-oriented perspective can commonly be found when thinking about “21st-century schools”. Vendors and advocates of devices and platforms tend to highlight the attributes of the technology that can potentially offer more interactive learning and real-time feedback. However, evidence shows a different picture. Simply incorporating technology doesn’t guarantee an impact on learning. In many cases, technology can simply reinforce traditional teaching and learning practices (Vegas et al, 2019).

Mastercard Foundation (2019), after analyzing edtech policies in Sub-Saharan Africa concludes: “Despite this potential, and despite general enthusiasm about ICTs at the highest levels of government, the most striking theme that emerges from this data analysis is a lack of vision for how technology can impact and transform secondary education (...) A vision for ICTs in schools should be part of any national planning or policy framework. Policymakers should have a vision of the kind of teaching and learning they want to develop, as well as the knowledge and skills students should exhibit when they leave the secondary school system.”

Moreover, after running a multi-country comparison and conducting over 100 interviews with teachers, school principals, education administrators, policymakers, Omidyar Network’s Education initiative “Imaginable Futures” emphasizes the need to: “Support and advocate for strategic, long-term planning based on a vision for EdTech use; create a long-term vision, embodied in written policy, and supported by strong legislation so that the vision can survive changes in administrations. It should be a well-branded initiative that can be easily communicated to and by parents and school leaders; describe what technology is recommended, for whom, why, and how it should be implemented.” (Omidyar Network, 2019).

See the following for more details:

• Avvisati, Francesco, and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Students, computers and learning: Making the connection. OECD Publishing, 2015.

• Erstad, Ola, et al., eds. The Routledge handbook of digital literacies in early childhood. Routledge, 2019.

• Hagerman, Michelle Schira. "Digital literacies learning in contexts of development: A critical review of six IDRC-funded interventions 2016–2018." Media and Communication 7.2 (2019): 115-127.

• Karni, Barbara (Ed) 2020. What technology can and can't do for education: A comparison of 5 stories of success. Inter-American Development Bank. 

• Omidyar Network (2019) Scaling Access & Impact: Realizing the Power of EdTech    

• Mastercard Foundation (2019). Background Paper: Information  and  Communications Technologies in Secondary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa Policies, Practices, Trends, and Recommendations. ICT-in-Secondary-Education.pdf 

• Resnick, Mitchel, and Ken Robinson. Lifelong kindergarten: Cultivating creativity through projects, passion, peers, and play. MIT press, 2017.

• Selwyn, Neil. Distrusting educational technology: Critical questions for changing times. Routledge, 2013.

• Vegas, Emiliana; Ziegler, Lauren and Zerbino, Nicolas (2019) How ed-tech can help leap- frog progress in education. The Brookings Institution