It was an enormous privilege to work with David Hollow, Meghan Brugha and Mark Weber last year on a report for Save the Children International about the future of learning and technology in deprived contexts. I am delighted that this has now been published in a slightly abridged version (available online here), and this post provides a short overview of our approach and our main findings. The report looks forward to 2020 and 2025, and addresses three main issues;
- the future of basic education,
- ICT use in deprived locations, and
- the use of ICTs in primary school learning, especially in deprived contexts
METHOD AND APPROACH
The report was based on: a detailed review of the literature; interviews with 32 leading authorities with direct experience of the use of technology in education, especially in low-income and crisis affected areas; a workshop that brought together 29 practitioners and academics from 9 countries working at the interface between technology and education to seek consensus as to the most likely scenarios that will emerge over the next decade; consultations with 22 Save the Children staff from 12 countries to ensure that their experiences were included in the report, and to validate our emergent findings; and our experiences of implementing and reviewing ICT for education activities across the world over the last 20 years.
NINE LIKELY OBSERVATIONS ABOUT BASIC EDUCATION BY 2025
We concluded that nine broad changes in basic education are likely to be apparent by 2025:
- The pace of change in education is likely to remain slow in most countries
- There will be increased diversity and inequality in learning practices and opportunities
- Advocacy about the importance of qualified teachers will increase
- There will also be increased advocacy about the need for fundamental curriculum and pedagogical change
- The diversity of content provision will increase
- There will be greater emphasis on non-formal and life-long learning
- Holistic approaches to learning will become increasingly common
- The private sector will play an increasing role in the delivery of education
- The use of technology will be all-pervasive.
EIGHT GENERALISATIONS ABOUT ICTS IN 2025
Predicting the future of technology is always challenging, but there was general agreement amongst those we consulted that the following eight things are likely:
- ICTs will become increasingly all-pervasive in human life
- ICTs and their benefits will be increasingly unequally distributed
- Digital technologies will become increasingly mobile, and newer types of mobile digital communication will be created
- The costs of devices and connectivity will continue to decline
- There will be a dramatic expansion in the production and use of large amounts of data, especially with the advent of the Internet of Things
- There will be considerable increase in the personalisation of ICTs
- Major global corporations, both in China and the USA, will play an ever more controlling role
ICT USE IN BASIC EDUCATION IN DEPRIVED LOCATIONS
Drawing on both of the above sets of conclusions the main part of our report explores the implications for how ICTs will be used in basic education in deprived locations in the future.
ICTs in education in 2025
- Our most important prediction is that the use of ICTs in education will become very much more diverse by 2025
- There will be changes to the school systems of many countries that will encourage greater use of technology in education
- In 2025 teachers will remain fundamentally important in education systems still dominated by schools. However, in the best systems their role will have changed from being that of providers of knowledge to being guides to help children learn to navigate the world of digital information
- There will be a new mix of digital content and device provision. Existing trends suggest that there will be much more digital educational content available, but it seems likely that much less of it will actually be used effectively by learners
- Advances in the range of AI and IoT technologies combined with the increased power of big data analytics will enable much more personalised and refined assessment of pupils
- There will be important changes in the role of parents and communities enabled through new online resources. It seems possible that the increasing failure of education systems across the world by 2025 will lead to a greater emphasis on learning outside school and in informal contexts
Implications for ICT deployment in education in low-income and peripheral areas
Five likely trends for ICT deployment in education in low-income and peripheral areas are:
- There will be an increase in innovative solutions for ICT use in deprived locations; the use of ICTs will become much more widespread in remote communities
- Device sharing is already widespread in locations where access to them is expensive or difficult, and it is likely that this will continue to be the case in 2025
- In areas that remain without much digital connectivity or electricity in 2025, it is likely that multi-purpose learning hubs, especially if they are co-located with schools, could remain a valuable addition to the array of options for delivering effective education and learning
- Downloading and caching of key educational content, especially bandwidth heavy video, in locations where there is good connectivity, and its subsequent use in a distant unconnected school is likely to remain an excellent way through which content, and indeed management of administrative processes, can be undertaken cheaply and effectively
- Learning will be increasingly mobile, and more of it will occur outside schools. Parents who occasionally visit distant towns will be able automatically to download relevant learning content on their devices, including educational games and videos for their children, and everyone in their households could then benefit from accessing such content back at home.
ICTs for education in crisis affected areas
We identified a further set of likely roles of ICTs for education specifically in short-term acute crises, and also in long term protracted crises
Short-term acute crises
- Mobile technologies will increasingly enable children fleeing such crises to continue to participate in both formal and informal learning
- Much more extensive use will be made of online resources to provide counseling for many different groups of people, including children traumatised by disasters and war
- Online resources will be available specifically to provide children in acute crises with additional information about any crisis in which they are caught up so that they will be better able to survive
- It is likely that by 2025 numerous different ICT-enhanced school-in-a-box solutions, combining connectivity, electricity, devices and content, will be available that can be set up quickly and effectively wherever in the world there is a need.
- There will be much greater use of mobile phones by refugees to find out information about entering other countries, and what they need to know about the different cultures and ways of life there in order to survive
Long-term protracted crises
- Many more digital community and learning centres will be created to provide online resources in refugee camps, where the ICT connectivity can also be used for a wide range of other purposes, including delivery of telemedicine and health training
- Digital content, especially the use of video in multiple languages, accessible through robust child-friendly devices, can prove to be very valuable in such contexts to help create hybrid cultures of learning even where there is not Internet connectivity
RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH DIGITAL LEARNING IN LOW-INCOME AND CRISIS-AFFECTED LOCATIONS
While ICTs offer enormous potential for enhancing the delivery of appropriate learning for deprived children in marginalised areas, there are important risks that also need to be considered. These include
- There is an urgent need for all ICT initiatives, both in schools and more widely in community learning initiatives, to prioritise the safeguarding of children and the secure management of all information about children
- A second concern that many have about children using ICTs, and especially the internet, is that of Internet addiction, whereby lives are ruined by causing neurological complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems
- Third, many schools across the world, in both economically rich and poor countries alike, prohibit the use of mobile devices in school classrooms because they are seen as being disruptive, although other concerns over cheating, health and bullying are also often cited
These problems, though, do not mean that children should be prevented from accessing the Internet or using ICTs. As discussed above, ICTs can provide very valuable learning experiences and indeed enjoyment for children, and any risks need to be weighed up against the overwhelming benefits that can accrue from using digital technologies. The critical need is to ensure that children, parents and communities are indeed all aware of the threats that exist, and that action is taken by governments (both national and local), companies, schools and individuals to address them.
Our report concluded with a series of specific recommendations for Save the Children at both the policy and programme levels.
Front cover photo: KJ Borja/Save the Children
Click here to access the original article written by Tim Unwin January 2018, or to access the full report co-produced by Rachel Maranto December 2017.