By Regina Fuller-White, Area of Focus Manager-Basic Education and Literacy for Rotary International
The question “Can technology help solve the most important challenges in education?” opens the 2023 Global Education Monitoring Report on Technology in Education (UNESCO, 2023). This year, education experts from around the globe have worked with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to research how technology can support education for all students. Unfortunately, the answer to the question is not a simple one. Technology has the potential to improve education outcomes but there is limited evidence on technology’s impact on student learning and teaching.
During my time at Rotary as the Basic Education and Literacy Area of Focus Manager, I often encounter this same question as I support members and clubs with their education technology projects—How can club-led service projects effectively use technology to improve learning in primary and secondary education? There is no one answer to this question because students and teachers have diverse needs, country contexts are different, and there are many digital technology tools. When designing a digital technology in education project, keep in mind these five tips:
- Focus on learning outcomes instead of equipment inputs. The World Bank estimates that 70% of children in low- and middle-income countries are unable to read and understand a simple story in 2022. Around the world, children have lost months and years of learning due to COVID-19 school closures and struggle with basic literacy and numeracy skills. When designing your project, focus on how your technology tools can improve learning outcomes such as reading comprehension, writing, mathematics, or science. Providing digital tools on their own will not improve student learning or their teachers’ ability to teach effectively. Think about the educational goal the community has prioritized and how technology can support that goal.
- Integrate teacher professional development. Teachers are the backbone of the education system and are integral to student learning. Digital technology tools should not aim to replace teachers but should enhance their pedagogy and classroom instruction. Remember to talk with teachers during your community assessment, before designing a project, to learn about their professional development needs and how they imagine technology enhancing classroom instruction. Learn from teachers about their digital skills and professional development experiences over the past school year. Well-designed teacher training improves the capacities of teachers to use digital tools effectively to impact student learning outcomes.
- Consider gender equality and social inclusion in program design. Girls, marginalized students, and students with disabilities still struggle to access schooling and learning around the world. Digital technology tools in education can help to increase their participation rates and learning. When designing your educational project, consider how excluded students will have access to the tools and include software programs that provide personalized, targeted instruction for students with diverse learning needs.
- Understand the education policy environment. Public schools across the world are often part of a regional, district, and national education system overseen by a ministry of education. Often, the ministry of education or regional ministry has policies regarding educational technology in the classroom. Before beginning your project, research the policies and systems in place that guide educational technology in the schools and communities you want to support. Your project can have a greater impact on students if it complements or works with the existing education infrastructure.
- Include youth voice in program design: Young people are the fastest growing population on earth and bring a variety of perspectives and opinions on project design. Championing youth participation in project design ensures that your project reflects the needs of students in your communities. Be sure to talk to students during the community assessment, project planning, and project implementation stages to undertake projects that prioritize their educational needs and address their challenges.
By anchoring projects on improving learning outcomes, supporting teacher professional development, promoting gender equity and social inclusion, aligning with education policy, and amplifying youth voices, we can pave the way for equitable and impactful education technology initiatives.
September is Rotary’s Basic Education and Literacy Month. We encourage you to add your club’s basic education and literacy projects to Rotary Showcase and share them on social media.