How to make EdTech work: coordination, engagement, flexibility

Technology is not the aim of change, but rather its enabler. Read how Avanti Communications is helping to improve the quality of education by improving learning outcomes for children in their communities.

June 07, 2022 by Siobhan Lynch, Avanti Communications
5 minutes read
Children at an iMlango school engaging with the EdTech Platform in the ICT lab.
Children at an iMlango school engaging with the EdTech Platform in the ICT lab.
Credit: Avanti Communications

While momentum has increased significantly since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, core metrics suggest that a fundamental step change is required if we are to come close to achieving them by 2030.

As a leading satellite communications provider, Avanti Communications focuses on connecting the unconnected and creating opportunities for people, countries and continents to achieve their ambitions. We believe that education is one step on the journey to success.

By encouraging education, we can help children build a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

For their sake, we cannot fail.

We cannot fail

Technology can play a pivotal role in improving the lives of those living in poverty by increasing their access to markets, finance and government services, including health care and, crucially, education.

EdTech may indeed be one of the key methods to achieve the fundamental change needed, particularly when one of the critical factors affecting the development and learning achievement of young people today is the quality of education—with large class sizes, low availability of textbooks and gaps in teaching quality only a few of the challenges limiting human capital growth.

At Avanti, we believe in the advances EdTech can make to drive development of education in rural and remote areas, particularly in reducing the gender disparity. We embarked on an EdTech project in Kenya as project lead under the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funded Girls’ Education Challenge from 2012—iMlango.

This technology-driven project works in 245 primary and secondary schools across four counties (Kajiado, Kilifi, Makueni and Uasin Gishu), all chosen based on marginalization factors for girls (poverty rates, attendance statistics and learning achievements).

The project has shown demonstrable learning outcomes: for example, on average, a girl who spends the recommended time per week on the EdTech platform shows an 18-month improvement on their maths levels. With these achievements, the project has been widely applauded as an example of effective work on using technology in girls’ education (City A.M. article).

A teacher working through a problem with a school girl while she engages on the EdTech platform at an iMlango school.
A teacher working through a problem with a school girl while she engages on the EdTech platform at an iMlango school.
Avanti Communications

Now, what does a private sector actor like Avanti Communications have to do with supporting education through technology?

The private sector can focus on delivering projects on short timescales. We learned a lot from our experience delivering at scale in Kenya, including how to (a) successfully deliver an EdTech project that shows demonstrable learning outcomes and (b) overcome challenges that any similar project may face.

The key lesson we learned is, success cannot be achieved in isolation. It has three elements:

1. Engagement

The iMlango project works at four levels: the student, the school, the community and the system. The interconnectedness of these four areas ensures long-lasting results. Communication is key and should always be done as quickly, clearly and as often as possible.

iMlango used a few methods to ensure the interconnectedness: field teams visit the schools and ensure alignment between the schools and the aims of the project as well the proper use of the equipment and portal by students; gender and community engagement specialists work with the field teams to engage the community and get their participation and alignment with the project; and WhatsApp groups communicate directly with teachers and principals.

The success of any EdTech project relies on the full participation and commitment of the ministry as well as on the donor and business communities working together.

In iMlango, we reaffirmed that the best way to engage with the ministry is to develop a relationship with them prior to the project’s implementation and to involve them in all key decisions and discussions related to the project. We also ensured that we had a consistent dialogue with the ministry around the project.

2. Challenges to overcome

The EdTech offering must focus on the key interventions that impact learning outcomes while acknowledging it’s not sufficient to set up an ICT lab, provide content and assume that improved learning outcomes will follow. There are nuances to achieving learning in marginalized areas, including gender-related marginalizing behaviors, cultural norms and teacher resistance.

A project’s solution should always consider these aspects. For iMlango, we included three activities: a gender specialist to focus on marginalizing behaviors toward girls and correcting those behaviors; girls’ clubs to focus on life skills and educate girls on female genital mutilation, early childhood marriage and pregnancies; and teacher training, both from a pedagogical aspect as well as an ICT skills aspect.

A project needs to be adaptive, learning from its experiences and challenges, and not be scared to course correct. We never feared failure with iMlango as we knew the potential the EdTech solution offered, which allowed the project team to make the necessary changes required for success. Among them are introducing lab scheduling to ensure each child got the correct amount of platform time, changing the assessment process to ensure high student motivation throughout, introducing ICT champions in each school to own the success, introducing a Kiswahili version of the platform, adapting our engagement with the Ministry of Education to be more inclusive, and adapting our interactions with the community to ensure understanding and support of the project.

3. Financial viability

To achieve financial viability and value for money, the project needs to focus on being as streamlined as possible and not include too many experimental components. There also needs to be a clear structure to the project team with well-defined roles and responsibilities to avoid budget tensions and arguments.

Technology is not the aim of change, but rather its enabler. What is important is delivering improved learning outcomes for children, to reduce poverty and improve their lives and their communities. In doing so we must ensure an EdTech project is scalable, sustainable and, crucially, showing value for money.

We cannot fail.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: Kenya

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