Technology is a Service for Learning
At this year’s mEducation Alliance Symposium and Exhibit Fair, held October 20-22, 2014 in Washington, D.C., we shared “bright ideas” on appropriate, cost-effective, and scalable uses of technologies to advance quality educational outcomes.
October 29, 2014 by Anthony Bloome, USAID
6 minutes read
A girl uses a tablet in class. Credit: GPE/Deepa Srikantaiah

I know very little Latin, but in the course of my career in international development, I’ve often thought of the expression pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt, which means “may they perish who have expressed our bright ideas before us”. The Mobiles for Education (mEducation) Alliance Symposium and Exhibit Fair was the antithesis of this expression.

This year’s mEducation Alliance Symposium and Exhibit Fair, held October 20-22, 2014 in Washington, D.C., brought together 200 of my peers from approximately 100 organizations from around the world, including multilateral and bilateral agencies, NGOs, academia, and private sector institutions. During three intensive days, we shared our “bright ideas” on appropriate, cost-effective, and scalable uses of technologies to advance quality educational outcomes. 

Learning from each other for greater impact

Many of those who participated represented different interests in the technology for education field such as raising general awareness of specific projects, knowledge exchange or identifying new sources of business. Many of us are also engaged in different focus areas such as  reading, numeracy, youth and workforce development, ePayments in education or complex and challenging environments.

But the general spirit behind these initiatives is to avoid duplication of efforts, form partnerships for deepening programmatic impact, and work together to catalyze new opportunities in the field. 

I’ve helped organize such symposiums over the last four years along with other members of the mEducation Alliance Steering Committee, a “brain-trust” of leading development specialists in organizations, donor agencies, and associations.

As a Steering Committee, we share a common interest and belief in the transformative potential of mobile technologies (broadly defined) to help us improve the lives of learners in traditional and non-traditional settings around the world. Together we use our institutional and collective convening power at such events and throughout the year to advance knowledge exchange.

Highlights during the symposium included:

  • The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) facilitating a dynamic session on “digital gaming for education”
  • The German Government through Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) officially launching and distributing copies of its new landscape review on Mobile Education for Numeracy
  • World Vision, on behalf of the All Children Reading Grand Challenge partners, holding an upcoming “ideation” call for technology-supported interventions that help deliver education in Ebola-affected countries
  • UNESCO referencing its leading international work in an upcoming mLearning Week focusing on women and technology.

Funding needed to evaluate technologies for education

In addition, on behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development, I expressed our interest in establishing an organizing body and aggressive advancement for funding for independent and rigorous evaluations of promising technology for education interventions.

One of my favorite parts of this year’s event was the exciting “pitch” sessions where individuals received feedback from their five-minute presentations from a panel of donor and private sector “mock” investors.

Many of these same presentations were given as “lightning talks” at the Exhibit Fair on the following day. All of this year’s presentations will be available on the mEducation Alliance website in the coming weeks.

What is the mEducation Alliance?

The mEducation Alliance was created by USAID in 2011 and is supported by a broad coalition of steering committee members and private sector partners.  It is the only international co-convened platform of its kind designed to maximize donor, multinational NGO, and private sector engagement for technology in education which is specifically focused on developing countries.

Interest in mobiles for education is strong in the international realm--this year’s symposium was completely underwritten by sponsorship support from the Organization of American States, German Ministry for Economic Development/GIZ, USAID, Intel, UNICEF, Qualcomm, British Council and the Inter-American Development Bank.

There is so much work to be done in our education efforts in developing countries that we must continue to work together to identify, critically examine, evaluate, and continually illuminate the “bright ideas” in this space.

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Does the mEducation Alliance plan to support regional symposiums throughout the world? It would be great to know which players are most in active in our particular regions.

In addition, I am very curious as who actually funds M&E for education technologies in emerging economies. Was there more discussion of this at the Symposium back in October?

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