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BRIEF November 10, 2020

Empower Teachers: Reimagining Human Connections Technology and Innovation in Education at the World Bank



Technology should enhance teacher engagement with students through improved access to content, data and networks, helping teachers better support student learning.

Evidence from around the world shows that, over time, the role of teachers become more central, and not peripheral, as the result of the effective use of EdTech. Technology will replace some of what teachers currently do, while at the same time supporting teachers as they take on new, often more sophisticated duties and responsibilities as a result of technological change. Teachers can be facilitators of learning, part of a learning team, a collaborator with outside expert mentors, a peer mentor to parents, and a team leader on a project-based learning activity, among other roles. At the same time, in those circumstances where there is a scarcity of teachers or where teachers are of ‘low-capacity’, technology can play an important role in assisting learners to, in part, overcome this deficit. Where teachers lack content or pedagogical knowledge, technology can support the use of structured lesson plans or text-based nudges to help build this capacity. Teachers’ use of technology can empower them to leverage an array of resources to provide more focused, and in some cases more personalized, learning to students.

Although there is a vast amount of research about the impact of digital technologies on teaching and learning, the results are hardly conclusive. It is important to look beyond the debate about the effect of generic technology use on learning and open space for better research about the kind of technologies educators are using, why they are using them, and how. A systematic review of the impact of technology on school attainment of 5-18-year old concludes: “There is no doubt that technology engages and motivates young people. However, this benefit is only an advantage for learning if the activity is effectively aligned with what is to be learned. It is, therefore, the pedagogy of the application of technology in the classroom which is important: the how rather than the what. This is the crucial lesson emerging from the research” (Higgins, et al, 2012).

Innovative pedagogical models can support teaching while using technology. For instance, a randomized experiment in South African primary schools concluded that “Virtual coaching al- lowed just one coach to do the same work that three coaches did in the on-site coaching intervention. So virtual coaching has real potential to solve the problem of finding lots of high-quality coaches in low-performing education systems” (Kotze, 2019; Evans, 2018).

Ertmer et a. (2012) remarks that “Teachers’ own beliefs and attitudes about the relevance of technology to students’ learning were perceived as having the biggest impact on their success”. Eickelmann and Vennemann (2017) based on the results from large study conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, they elaborated a typology of teachers with different attitudes towards the potential of ICTs for learning (n=4670). Teacher’s beliefs and attitudes are summarized in five groups: (1) ICT enthusiasts, (2) Partial ICT enthusiasts, (3) Information-focused teachers, (4) Partial doubters with some hope and (5) Absolute doubters who reject the use of ICT in schools. This study opens a necessary perspective regarding how to design policies and strategies to promote digital skills among educators. It also emphasizes the idea that there is not a one size fits all approach to intervention when promoting and facilitating technology adoption among educators.

Genlott, et al. (2019) explain that challenging fundamental beliefs about teaching and learning is not trivial. “Using digital technology effectively in schools requires profound changes in traditional teaching and learning activities (…). After monitoring almost 100 primary school teachers, it was found that in order to transform teachers (when implementing innovative technology-supported teaching method) requires considerable, active, and sustained effort from leaders at both school and district level”. The Atlantis Group (2019) concludes that “Today’s EdTech can’t replace teachers, but it can augment good teaching. It can provide teachers and students with a wide diversity of resources that open new perspectives, illustrate concepts in new ways, and help to assess learning. It can help teachers to be more creative and innovative in their pedagogy.” 

In addition to the key role of the teachers, a recent survey by The World Bank and IPA (2020) found that caregivers ´technological knowledge correlated with student´s use and/or exposure to technologies.

See the following resources for more details:

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

• Eickelmann, Birgit, and Mario Vennemann. “Teachers‘ attitudes and beliefs regarding ICT in teaching and learning in European countries.” European Educational Research Journal 16.6 (2017): 733-761.

• Ertmer, Peggy A., et al. “Teacher beliefs and technology integration practices: A critical relationship.” Computers & education 59.2 (2012): 423-435. https://www.sciencedirect. com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360131512000437

• Genlott, Annika Agélii, Åke Grönlund, and Olga Viberg. “Disseminating digital innovation in school–leading second-order educational change.” Education and Information Technologies (2019): 1-19.

• Higgins, Steven, Z. Xiao, and Maria Katsipataki. “The impact of digital technology on learning: A summary for the education endowment foundation.” Durham, UK: Education Endowment Foundation and Durham University (2012). https://educationendowment- 

• Kotze, Janeli, Brahm Fleisch, and Stephen Taylor. “Alternative forms of early grade instructional coaching: Emerging evidence from field experiments in South Africa.” International Journal of Educational Development 66 (2019): 203-213. science/article/pii/S0738059318304073 Evans, David (2019) Can technology enable effective teacher coaching at scale? World Bank tive-teacher-coaching-scale

• The World Bank and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), 2020. “Parent and Teacher Surveys on barriers to the use of technologies for education”.