Technology and Education for the most Marginalised Post-COVID-19

A girl is taking a selfy while another girl is watching a video on a computer.
Image by the EdTech Hub

2020 has been a rough year. Everyone was impacted by the current global pandemic, many lost their beloved ones and an end to the crisis is still not yet in sight. As always, the ones who got most impacted by the crisis are the most marginalised in our communities. Millions lost their jobs with often no social safety net and the pandemic has disproportionately affected women workers [1]. Children and young adults were also profoundly impacted by the pandemic. The Wold Bank estimates that school closures due to COVID-19 have left over a billion students out of school. This results in a loss of 0.6 years of schooling adjusted for quality, bringing down the effective years of basic schooling that children achieve during their schooling life from 7.9 years to 7.3 years [2].

ICTs were prised as the solution and home schooling became the norm. This surfaced once more the darker sides of ICTs and how they amplify inequalities rather then reduce them. Students from privileged backgrounds could continue their education from home while having access to high-speed internet and their own devices, but many others were not so lucky. It is estimated that the pandemic threatens to push 72 million more children into learning poverty – meaning that they are unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10 [3]. Many teachers, parents and students were not prepared for this shift into the online world. Teachers and parents (mostly women) are truly, under many others, the heroes of this crisis. All of this also impacted my life and work:

  1. My humble try to learn the French language was interrupted and my language course was moved online. My professor simply said that she does not know on how to teach online and ended the course. I was lucky to find another group I could join. In the end this was not a problem, since I have a computer and internet at home, but it illustrated the unpreparedness of the education system.
  2. My Indian students were not so lucky. I was teaching computer science at an university in South-India. The course is a mix of online and offline hands-on programming – so there should not have been a problem, since I was already teaching online. But since the university was closed and all students went home, more than half of them lost their access to a computer. Fig. 1 illustrates the responses to questions I conducted at the beginning of the lock-down to find out if I can continue the course. 17 out of 25 responded and half of them have no computer at home. Back then I decided that I will pause the course, because I thought that the university will again open soon. This was a tough call, I did not want to exclude the students with no computers, but therefore I also had to end the training for those who could have continued.
Diagram of how many of my Indian students have a computer at home. Less than 50 have one at home.
Fig. 1 – Do you have a computer at home?

Guidance for governments on the use of digital technologies in education

Back then I discussed with Tim Unwin the global developments in education due to COVID-19 and he told me that he is currently in progress of starting a new report. He was so kind to accept my request to join his team, since I was eager to work on the topic: Technology and Education for the most marginalised Post-COVID-19. We started working and I joined the core team:

  • Alicja Pawluczuk (UNU Institute in Macau)
  • Azra Naseem (Aga Khan University, Pakistan)
  • Christopher Yoo (Univeristy of Pennsylvania, USA)
  • Mohamed Shareef (Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology, Maldives)
  • Paul Spiesberger (Chair of ICT4D.at, Co-Head of BRIC at INSOTU Wien, Austria)
  • Paul West (Creative Commons Chapter, South Africa)
  • Tim Unwin (UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, UK)

We also had a distinguished panel of advisors and support from the EdTech Hub. The report was funded by DFID (now FCDO) and the World Bank through their EdTech Hub. The aim was to create a report for governments to advise them on how to use technologies in their education systems. Not in short terms, but rather post COVID-19 to prepare for the next catastrophe and make our education systems more resilient in the long run. Back then we saw many ICT education implementations done in haste and not thought through. For us the most important was a clear focus on the most marginalized to counter inequalities and an easy read for higher government officials in the form of two pager guidance notes.

Our work began in June 2020 and drew largely on an extensive consultation process to identify the main priorities on which our report should concentrate. We worked with groups from Civil Society and International Organisations, the Private Sector, Governments, UN Agencies and Academics, as well as regional consultations from Africa, Asia/Pacific/Middle East and the Americas to help shape our recommended priorities [4].

Tim orchestrated in 9 thematic online session discussions and the creation of mindmaps. We tried to support him as best as possible. In total, 43 women and 44 men from 34 countries contributed to our thoughts in crafting the report and guidance notes. You can find all mindmaps here licenced under the Creative Commons CC BY Licence.

Example of a mindmap from one of the online sessions.
Example of a mindmap from one of the online sessions.

These mind-maps can be summarised in the word map below prepared by myself, which represents the frequency of words included in all of these mind-maps.

Out of the consultations, we found that there are five things that a government must do once a holistic vision has been crafted that is committed to using digital technologies to create a resilient education system that provides education and learning for all [5]:

  1. Create a whole society approach that delivers equity in education.
  2. Enable access for all to digital technologies by providing resilient funded infrastructures for learning, funded by Central Government rather than Ministries of Education.
  3. Be context-specific at all times, especially in terms of the technologies used in education and the content crafted for learners.
  4. Ensure that appropriate pedagogies are used in the practices of teaching and learning.
  5. Use digital technologies wisely and safely.

The report consists of 3 acts [5]:

  1. Act One is intended primarily for the most senior government officials and contains a summary of the report’s approach and main recommendations. 
  2. Act Two provides the detailed exposition, arguments and evidence upon which these recommendations are based, and is intended primarily for those in government who are charged with implementing them. 
  3. Act Three contains 14 Guidance Notes which provide succinct advice on delivering important distinct aspects of the overall report.

I had the honour to contribute to Guidance Note 3: Digital technologies and girls’ education. Georg Steinfelder and I then also worked on creating an audio track of the guideline, you can listen to it here.

The report launched on the December 18, 2020 and I am proud that I could contribute to its creation. I encourage you to read and discuss our results. You find the the report here at its official website and you can read more about the creation here.

It is somewhat a contradiction that I spent half of 2020 in my apartment and still did not find the time to write about this report earlier. I wish for 2021 that this reports gets into the hands of many decision makers around the globe, that we together defeat this virus once and for all and that I will find more time to share work that is as inspiring as this report. I am grateful to Tim and my team colleagues for giving me this opportunity and wish all of you a Happy New 2021!

[1] UN News, “Hard times forecast for global job recovery in 2020, warns UN labour agency chief”, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1067432
[2] World Bank Group on Education, “Simulating the Potential Impacts of the COVID-19 School Closures on Schooling and Learning Outcomes: A set of Global Estimates”, June 2020
[3] World Bank Press Release, “Pandemic Threatens to Push 72 Million More Children into Learning Poverty—World Bank outlines a New Vision to ensure that every child learns, everywhere”, December 2, 2020 https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/12/02/pandemic-threatens-to-push-72-million-more-children-into-learning-poverty-world-bank-outlines-new-vision-to-ensure-that-every-child-learns-everywhere
[4] UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, “Technology and Education for the most marginalised Post-COVID-19”, https://ict4d.org.uk/technology-and-education-post-covid-19/
[5] EdTech Hub, “Education for the most marginalised post‑COVID-19, Guidance for governments on the use of digital technologies in education”, https://edtechhub.org/education-for-the-most-marginalised-post-covid-19/

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Technology and Education for the most Marginalised Post-COVID-19
was published on 03.01.2021 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under global
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