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Technology and education

This page looks at technology - how it offers new education opportunities for everyone and how children need to be learning the digital skills needed for the jobs of the future economy.

The promise of technology

Technology can deliver new educational opportunities for everyone. It offers huge opportunities to transform global education at all age levels. Technology continues to develop at a rapid pace and access to technologies such as mobile phones and the internet is growing.

This means:

  • 2.7 billion people worldwide use the internet
  • 6.8 billion people have access to mobile phones
  • The number of phones able to access the internet is increasing by 7% per year - and 56% of people will have internet access by 2020
  • Educational content available through online courses nearly doubled in 2015

How technology can deliver education

In schools around the world, computers, tablets, smart whiteboards and other technological devices are being used as part of the learning process. Technology provides a window to the world and access to thousands of learning resources. Learning to work with technology and using computer coding gives children the skills and confidence to help them get good jobs when they leave school - and in turn come up with more new technologies.

The number of children around the world using handheld devices, like mobile phones and mini-tablets, is growing. Agencies and organisations are taking advantage of the technology to deliver education where it is most needed.

Technology can be used as a tool for delivering education where it is most needed, especial in humanitarian emergencies such as war or natural disasters.

The new technology skills

Many of the jobs available today may be gone within a decade. With increasing automation and other factors, more children will need to leave school with the technological skills needed in the future economy.

Students need to be learning the skills necessary for the jobs that have yet to be created.

In its September 2016 report, the Education Commission - a group of world leaders and experts set up to investigate how to deliver education for all children by 2030 - said: "Far-reaching innovation is needed to equip young people with the new knowledge and skills they need for the new economy, to provide education to millions more children effectively and efficiently, and to take advantage of new technology and new understanding of how children learn."

Digital skills are necessary for taking part in the global economy. Mobile technologies have reached even the poorest parts of the world - but skill gaps remain and school students are often taught skills that will not help them to access jobs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

There is a risk of technology being deployed in a way that rewards young people in richer countries and leaves others in low-income countries lagging behind when it comes to getting the skills needed for the new economies.

The Education Commission said: "Most new technologies are made for those who already have some access, rather than being designed and deployed in a manner that proactively prioritises the most marginalised. As a result, many initiatives over the last decade have not managed to live up to expectations. Fortunately, a more reflective use of technology for education is emerging."

"We have extraordinary tools at our disposal today to democratise education so that a child in the deepest part of rural Africa could be getting the same education as a child in Manhattan. Technology today makes that possible. What is missing is the will to get it done and the resources. Because once we get the will in, the resources will follow."

Strive Masiyiwa , founder of Econet Wireless and a member of the Education Commission

The challenges of delivering technology skills

Technology offers the opportunity of worldwide learning and education - but it needs resources and commitment to achieve that.

Internet access is still patchy across the world. In the poorest countries only one in 10 people is online. Across many developing countries, less than 10% of schools are connected to the Internet.
Global access to information and communication technologies (ICT) is not equal. People do not always have the knowledge or skills they need to take advantage of the technology.

And despite the fact that mobile technologies have now reached even the poorest communities around the world, the skills gap remains. Current uses of technology within education are often overly focused on skills not required for taking part in the global economy

In a report, the Global Business Coalition for Education warned the skills gap could grow. It said: "Most new technologies are made for those who already have some access, rather than being designed and deployed in a manner that proactively prioritises the most marginalised. As a result, many initiatives over the last decade have not managed to live up to expectations. Fortunately, a more reflective use of technology for education is emerging, with increasing focus on rigour, learning, and contributing to the evidence base for the sector."

Even if technology is available and people have the necessary e-literacy skills, there is no guarantee that technology alone can create a quality learning environment.

Research shows that "blended learning" is more successful. This is where students experience a mix of face-to-face and online education - it recognises that not all students learn the same way. 

Technology and education in emergencies

Technology can deliver education in places other than a traditional classroom - particularly during humanitarian emergencies such as conflict or natural disasters. In crisis situations, the demand for education far outweighs the supply of infrastructure, teachers, materials, and other resources.

For example, rebuilding Syria and preventing further conflict will not be possible without a focus on youth getting greater access to opportunities to learn and to develop skills that will enable them to support themselves and their families in the future.

In a report by Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for Education, the potential of technology to deliver education to Syrian refugees was examined. It made several recommendations, including:

• View technology as a tool and not the solution
• Support a diversity of approaches to supplement traditional education access
• Increase access to internet and technological devices
• Increase coordination and monitoring and evaluation of programs
• Ensure credibility of programmes through accreditation
• Work with the policy and economic constraints of the host labour market
• Prioritise open-source development and user-generated content

The report added: "A clear opportunity for entrepreneurs, pioneers and leaders in the technology sector to combine their efforts and ‘crowd source’ not just technology but combined technologies, expertise and shared risk. New collaborations between platforms, products, technologies and technology experts could accelerate innovation and access and lead to completely new ways to think about learning in the most difficult contexts.

How Theirworld is working with technology

Code Clubs

Code Clubs are safe spaces where girls can build, learn and create through technology, creativity and coding. Theirworld launched Code Clubs in March 2016 for around 700 girls aged five to 24 in Kenya, Uganda and Senegal, with plans to expand to more countries. Code Clubs Nigeria was launched in October 2016.

Girls get the chance to develop the skills that are needed for the thousands of jobs being created in the STEM industries across Africa. This will help to break the cycle that keeps women out of education and in poverty. Code Clubs are low-cost, sustainable and scaleable. The initiative was set up by Theirworld in partnership with Kano, Codecademy and Africa Gathering.

Kano computer and coding kits

Kano computer and coding kits give children the skills to build their own computer and develop an interest in the digital world. Kano donated hundreds of the award-winning kits to Theirworld in December 2015 and the first set went to a project in a double-shift school in Lebanon teaching Syrian refugee children.

Inspired and created by people all over the world, the Kano computer and coding kit is designed to give people a simple, fun way to create with technology and enable a lifelong passion for code, computing and the arts.

Technology and inclusive education

Technology can give children with disabilities - who are more likely to miss out on school than any other children - new learning opportunities. Using ICT, teachers can adapt their lessons and present information in accessible formats that best suit each learner's needs so that every student can take part equally.

For example, for students with speech, language and communication impairments text could be supported by symbols, use picture-based systems or text/picture-to-voice applications.

People who use sign language can use video, recorded and live. Electronic textbooks can be produced as required in braille, large print or with synthesised speech. Curriculum materials can be produced in audio formats and with options for voice commands or speech-to-text commands to make it easier for those with literacy and/or physical challenges to use the devices and express themselves.

The world's biggest education technology prize

The Global Learning XPRIZE is a $15 million, five-year competition for teams to develop open-source and scaleable software that enables children in developing countries to teach themselves reading, writing and arithmetic.

The prize was launched by Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless, and XPRIZE Senior Director Matt Keller in September 2014, with support from A World at School, the Global Business Coalition for Education, and Gordon Brown, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education.

The developers are given 18 months to develop their solutions before a panel of expert judges evaluates and selects the top five teams, each receiving a $1 million award. Their ideas will be tested in the field across a minimum of 100 villages, reaching thousands of children in the developing world. The $10 million top prize will be awarded to the team whose solution shows the greatest gains in reading, writing and arithmetic skills.

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