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BRIEF November 10, 2020

Design and Act at Scale For All: Reimagining Human Connections Technology and Innovation in Education at the World Bank



The design of EdTech initiatives should be flexible and user-centered, with an emphasis on equity and inclusion, in order to realize scale and sustainability for all.

In many places, the use of EdTech has exacerbated inequities in education systems. This need not be the case. Beginning the design process with considerations of how technology can be utilized for all will lead to initiatives that are more equitable and adaptable to specific contexts, and thereby sustainable at scale. Designing for scale begins with proactive engagement and empathy for all possible end- users and stakeholders — students, teachers, administrators, parents/caregivers, and others engaged in the educational process — in order to reveal different needs and contexts, including those related to gender, disabilities and cultural and linguistic diversity. Understanding these needs and contexts leads to more inclusive and flexible project designs.

When aiming for equity and scalable EdTech policies, technology-enhanced education can offer opportunities but can also bring a number of challenges. The first (but hardly the unique one) refers to access to infrastructure, electricity, connectivity, and devices. According to UNESCO (2014) roughly four out of every five schools in African countries lack access to electricity, along with almost three-quarters of village schools in India (Atlantis Group, 2019).

Digital innovations are actively promoted by a growing EdTech industry. According to recent studies, the international EdTech market funding reached a new record of over $18 billion (Adkins, 2020). The role of digital technologies in education is expected to keep growing (although the impacts are not necessarily clear). It is important to emphasize that not considering scale and sustainability early in the EdTech strategy can amplify the existing gaps, particularly affecting those who are living in the most challenging environments.

When basic infrastructure is achieved, the evidence shows promising results. For instance, the publication from the Office of the European Union (2017) concludes “Students from low socio-economic backgrounds tend to have fewer opportunities to access education, fewer chances of completing education and lower educational outcomes, such as reflected in PISA [Programme for International Student Assessment] scores. Digital technologies may, in theory, help to re-duce this gap, by enabling access to additional learning resources and facilitating pedagogical strategies that could be beneficial to the students. This is especially true if schools compensate for the limited access to and utilization of digital technologies that disadvantaged students typically have at home. One of the findings of the Study to Explore the Perceived Effectiveness of Remote Learning (Education Global Practice, 2020, the World Bank) is that  multimodal remote learning solutions are effective to increase reach if they are complemented with a clear communication strategy and that interactive platforms have been effective to increase engagement in remote learning, with the caveat that it has been challenging to increase reach when the infrastructure and/or connectivity are poor.

Digital technologies can support the move from a teacher-centered model to a student-centered instructional approach. This may be of special benefit to students at risk of dropping out. Moreover, the use of computers can help to adjust levels of difficulty and learning speed to the capabilities of disadvantaged students” (Rodrigues and Biagi, 2017).

Experimental research in EdTech can be of great help. For instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after conducting a meta-study indicates that “Computer-assisted learning programs have shown enormous promise in improving academic achievement, especially in math. Of all 30 studies of computer-assisted learning programs, 20 reported statistically significant positive effects, 15 of which were focused on improving math outcomes” One relevant example of that is Mindspark, a computer-assisted learning (CAL) software that provides students with personalized instruction. Mindspark uses a set of games, videos, and activities that pull from a database of over 45,000 questions to test students and provide explanations and feedback. Researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to test the impact of Mindspark on student test scores in mathematics and Hindi. Mindspark increased learning levels across all groups of students and was cost-effective compared to other instruction types. The program improved performance in both math and Hindi across multiple grade levels. Noteworthy, the relative impact was much greater for weaker students, since their rate of progress under standard classroom settings was close to zero. These results offer promising opportunities to replicate and scale-up similar interventions. Similarly, persuasive technology interventions using mobile applications can promote promising behavioral changes in education Similarly, persuasive technology interventions using mobile applications can promote promising behavioral changes in education Similarly, persuasive technology interventions using mobile applications can promote promising behavioral changes in education (Muralidharan, Singh and Ganimian, 2019). “Low-cost interventions like text message reminders can successfully support students and families at each stage of schooling. Text messages with reminders, tips, goal-setting tools, and encouragement can increase parental engagement in learning activities, such as reading with their elementary-aged children”. (MIT, 2019)

See the following resources for more details:

•Adkins, Sam (2020). The 2019 Global Learning Technology Investment Patterns: Another Record Shattering Year Analysis. Metaari Advanced Learning Technology Research. 

• Atlantis Group, (2019) System Failure Why EdTech policy needs a critical update

• Education Global Practice (2020). Study to Explore the Perceived Effectiveness of Remote Learning. The World Bank.

•Electricity and education: The benefits, barriers, and recommendations for achieving the electrification of primary and secondary schools, UNDESA (2014), citing UNES- CO UIS. r=1608&menu=35

• MIT (2019) J-PAL’s Education Technology Evidence Review    

• Muralidharan, Karthik, Abhijeet Singh and Alejandro J. Ganimian. 2019. "Disrupting Education? Experimental Evidence on Technology-Aided Instruction in India." American Economic Review 109 (4): 1426-60.

• Rodrigues, Margarida, and Federico Biagi. “Digital technologies and learning outcomes of students from low socio-economic background: An Analysis of PISA 2015.” Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg,   (2017).