Education Technology Topic Guide Launch: Technology alone doesn’t enhance learning

On the 13th of November, DfID launched the HEART Education Technology (EdTech) Topic Guide. This EdTech Topic Guide explores the evidence on relationships between the use of EdTech in education and learning outcomes.  It discusses the key findings of the evidence thus far, identifies some key gaps, and offers recommendations to support UK Department for International Development (DfID) advisers to strengthen the design, implementation and evaluation of EdTech programmes.

The launch was extremely well attended, and produced a wide-ranging discussion across an audience of DfID advisers, academics, and practitioners.   Sally Gear, a senior education adviser at DfID, introduced the guide, before the findings of the guide were discussed by Tom Power, the lead author. Dr Niall Winters gave a response to the issues raised by the guide, before some final recommendations to DfID advisers were presented by Tom. The launch then moved into a lively panel discussion, chaired by Sally Gear, with David Hollow, the Director of Jigsaw Consult, Professor Emeritus Robert McCormick of the Open University, and Gary Motteram, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester. Click here to watch an edited video of the launch.

Two issues emerging from the discussions seemed to me to be particularly important. The first is the need for education policy advisers, planners and practitioners to remember UNESCO’s maxim that “nothing can substitute for a good teacher”, quoted by Niall Winters at the opening of­­­­­­ his presentation at the launch. Too often when technology is introduced into classrooms, the focus is on provision or access to hardware, rather than on the ways in which it can enhance learning and pedagogical practices. Planners need to think not only of what is needed, but how it can be used – a view that usefully ties into DfID’s growing focus on learning outcomes, pedagogy, and quality education for all. It was indicative that in the best evaluations showcased in this guide there tended to be strong emphasis upon teacher training and buy-in from senior management to the development of teachers’ skills, not just of technology provision, and with evaluation metrics that reflect the impact of its use. As both Niall Winters and David Hollow usefully commented during the launch, ICT needs to not only be deployed but integrated into classrooms.

The second issue that emerged as key was the huge potential for technology to creatively assist in reaching the most marginalised, and targeting those key groups who remain out-of-school, particularly girls. But I do not think we know enough yet about the ways in which access and usage of technology  can itself be gendered. Excellent work by Gina Porter which looks into girls’ use of mobile phones in Malawi, South Africa and Ghana, for example, suggests that when new technologies are first introduced they are often dominated by boys, but that as usage grows girls start to predominate, often using technology in creative ways to challenge gender norms. As Sally Gear discussed in the launch, DfID has three strategic partnerships with technology companies which offer huge potential for innovative thinking which not only take forward our understanding of education technologies in use, but also of the potential ways in which it can disrupt gender inequalities in both school and society more broadly.

By Charlotte Nussey, International Education Advisor, CfBT Education Trust

The hashtag #Edtech4dev can be used to join in the conversation with others who have accessed the Topic Guide.

The following video recorded interviews with Tom Power, Emily Todd and Sally Gear

Tom Power is a Senior Lecturer in Education and International Development with the Open University. In his interview he discusses some of the headline findings from the EdTech guide, and the different ways that education technology has been understood and analysed over time. He discusses some of the key findings of the literature review conducted for this topic guide, particularly discussing evidence of changes in learning outcomes through teachers’ uses of education technology, as well as the gaps in evidence of students’ use of technology, and some evidence of the cost effectiveness of different forms of EdTech support for learning.

Emily Todd is an Education advisor at DFID. She highlights DfID’s interest in exploring the impact between education technology and teaching and learning practices, and the practical role that the guide offers, as well as identifying successful EdTech programmes as those which have clear curriculum focus & materials, and those which embed evaluative frameworks from the early stages.

Sally Gear is a senior education advisor at DFID. In her interview she highlights that the heart of DfID’s use of technology in their education programmes is to improve the learning of boys and girls in the poorest countries. She discuses three innovative specific examples of DfID’s work with EdTech through the Girls Education Challenge programmes in different countries, which all target the most marginalised, and particularly girls.  Sally highlights that the guide pulls together the evidence we know to-date, which will be very useful for country based advisors and for policy teams.

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