Originally posted on ICT Works by Guest Writer on May 26, 2022
The experience of learning under Covid-19 has put the spotlight on EdTech and equity. It has reiterated that EdTech decision-makers — be they designers, providers, or implementers — need to adequately disaggregate and design for the end-user population to increase the efficacy of EdTech interventions. As stated by Wagner (2016: p. 11) “[r]ather than implementing projects where there already is a device-friendly infrastructure, trained teachers, and electricity, equity necessitates moving to more challenging terrains.”
The main purpose of this paper “EdTech to Reach the Most Marginalised: A Call to Action” has been to provide guiding recommendations, which EdTech stakeholders (in particular EdTech designers, policymakers and practitioners) need to implement in order to effectively reach the most marginalised learners. Before presenting these, it is important to acknowledge — as this paper has done throughout — that inequity is a political issue, which will not be addressed by technical solutions alone. As set out under each parameter in Section 4, the political economy factors of different contexts would need to be understood to determine how, and to what extent, the guiding principles can be actionable.
Therefore, as a first step, understanding the context within which an EdTech intervention is being planned is crucial. This would include engaging with context experts and undertaking a political economy analysis that looks at how change has happened, and what has enabled or prevented an agenda relating to different marginalised groups. These factors would help determine the approach needed to move in the direction of the ten recommendations set out below, an approach that is likely to be iterative rather than linear.
The second step would require tracking what stage countries are at in relation to the ten recommendations set out below. These are likely to differ both in terms of context and of different groups of marginalised learners. The approach followed by Trucano (2016) for the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) ICT framework is worth considering here as it sets out four stages of progress. These are latent, emerging, established and advanced stages of progress.
10 Ways EduTech Can Reach Marginalised Learners
The section below details the following ten recommendations which relate to the five education parameters discussed in Section 3.
Data and evidence for decision-making
1. Generate more rigorous evidence on the impact of EdTech which disaggregates data on end-user populations of EdTech. In order to ensure that decision-makers have complete information on the type of EdTech interventions that meet the specific needs of different marginalised learners most effectively, future research must properly disaggregate by end-user what the impact of EdTech interventions are considering context, relevance, feasibility, and equity. A database that is able to adequately break down evaluation and meta-evaluations on what EdTech interventions work, and for whom, will be contingent on the availability of disaggregated data.
2. The use of EdTech to collect and disseminate data must be done by placing equity considerations at its centre. EdTech data activities need to consider equity and inclusion to understand a multitude of issues including what data is being collected, by whom, for what purpose, and how this relates to and impacts marginalised groups. This involves incorporating the views of stakeholders in data collection and analysis activities. Data privacy is a significant risk, therefore EdTech decision-making must ensure that learners’ safety is taken into consideration.
Teacher professional development and pedagogy
3. Support and develop teachers’ continuous professional development of inclusive education. To address concerns relating to equity, any EdTech interventions would need to ensure teachers are supported in developing a continuous understanding of teaching marginalised learners. This involves working with teachers to understand their needs and providing support both in the classroom and outside with actors such as parents, psychologists, and peers.
4. Promote inclusion for teachers from marginalised groups. Any EdTech initiative must ensure that teachers from marginalised groups are adequately supported in their teaching practices and professional development (e.g., through adapting initiatives for teachers with disabilities). Supporting teacher diversity is both an end in itself and a means to achieving greater equity throughout education systems broadly.
Curriculum and assessment adaptation
5. EdTech must be flexible and enable adaptation. The learning needs of all learners are diverse, plentiful, and change over time. EdTech interventions need to be able to support education systems in effectively catering for the diverse and changing needs of learners (e.g., through content creation or providing learning materials in marginalised languages). EdTech content, nonetheless, needs to be vetted to ensure adequate alignment with the national curriculum, and relevant, representative, and inclusive content.
6. EdTech must support formative assessment and enable access to assessment. EdTech must be applied to support educators to undertake formative assessments — including in classrooms — and connect to district / national monitoring and evaluation initiatives to provide timely feedback on individual learners’ needs. EdTech should additionally be used to provide opportunities for adaptation to ensure that assessment processes can accommodate diverse learner needs.
Participatory and integrated approaches
7. Democratise EdTech interventions by involving the end-users in the design of any intervention. A user-centric and participatory design should be used to better reflect the particular needs of the end-user (e.g., particular challenges they may experience or their capacity for usage). This inclusive design would need to give end-users genuine power to make decisions throughout the process, from start to finish. This would enable the technological device or intervention to be designed in a way that ensures maximum impact for the particular needs of those users.
8. EdTech actors need to work collaboratively both with neglected parts of the education system and other sectors. Taking a whole-sector approach will benefit the most marginalised learners given that they are more likely to be situated outside of the formal education system. Moreover, they face intersecting disadvantages which require support beyond the education sector. Such an approach will also help with efficiency issues related to technology-related investments.
Finance and resources
9. Governments and donors must adopt a progressive universalism approach to present and future funding for the EdTech sector. Public funders will need to target EdTech funding in a way that prioritises those levels of education where marginalised groups are concentrated, and where the focus is on those technological devices which have demonstrably been shown to have significant impact on the access and learning outcomes of marginalised groups.
10. Public funders must incentivise the private sector to invest in EdTech products and services that serve marginalised learners effectively. Partnerships between governments and donors with the private sector will be important in ensuring that EdTech reaches the most marginalised learners. The private sector can be supported and incentivised through external public subsidies in meeting the costs incurred in targeting marginalised learners. Added to this, the private sector can help governments and donors make available EdTech products suitable for marginalised learners in contexts where they would otherwise be unmet.
A lightly edited synopsis of EdTech to Reach the Most Marginalised: A Call to Action by Asma Zubairi, Adam Kreimeia, Kate Jefferies, and Susan Nicolai for the EduTech Hub