Advancing evidence-based decision making in LMICs: Focus of EdTech Hub’s work

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This blog post is a cross-post from EdTech Hub‘s blog (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0). The blog post was written by Sara Hennessy on the 7th May 2021.

This blog sets out the Hub’s aims and approaches to identifying appropriate and effective uses of EdTech that can potentially raise learning outcomes in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Research shows that EdTech offers immense potential, but sustainable and positive change at scale has largely proved elusive in practice – particularly for marginalised learners where we focus our work. 

To avoid the same pitfalls affecting many previous EdTech programmes, the first step is to take a critical perspective and try to understand why they were unsuccessful. This maximises the possibility that the Hub’s work will be effective. 

For marginalised learners, the obstacles to effective EdTech use are amplified since all kinds of technologies are disproportionately used by the most privileged learners within each LMIC (e.g. ⇡Castillo, et al., 2015; ⇡Liyanagunawardena, et al., 2013; ⇡Selwyn, 2016b). This has been especially notable in recent responses to the Covid-19 pandemic; poorer students have been less likely to access remote learning, hardware and parental support (⇡Vegas, 2020; ⇡World Bank, 2016).

So which EdTech designs and systems might lead to more effective outcomes? This blog summarises the work of EdTech Hub, a global research partnership, in supporting evidence-based decision making to tackle global challenges in education – especially the SDG4 goal of inclusive and equitable quality education for all. For more detail about the Hub’s overall strategy, see the full-length position paper by ⇡Hennessy, Jordan & Wagner (2021).

EdTech Hub’s aims and focus

EdTech Hub undertakes and collates rigorous research to improve the evidence base for using EdTech to improve education for all learners in LMICs. 

The Hub aims to:

  • Empower multiple stakeholders at the institutional, community, national, and international levels to make effective decisions by building robust evidence for how to accelerate, spread, and scale EdTech interventions that improve learning outcomes of children and young people in LMICs, with a particular emphasis on the most marginalised.
  • Identify local needs and the contextual factors influencing the impact and sustainability of EdTech initiatives at systems level, especially with reference to factors of cultural specificity and political economy.
  • Evaluate, strengthen and build a global body of research on EdTech, including raising awareness across the education sector of methodological issues, especially approaches to measuring impact and cost-effectiveness of EdTech.
  • Build a shared blueprint for accelerating growth of small-scale innovation through iterative trialling and user-centred adaptation of EdTech applications.
  • Increase demand for and uptake of EdTech research evidence in programmes by making EdTech findings actionable, available, and accessible to a wide range of stakeholders in user-friendly formats.
  • Foster a vibrant, global community of practice in EdTech across the education sector by engaging multi-disciplinary champions of change among researchers, educators, policymakers, and development partners.

In addressing these aims, the Hub strives to focus research where there are promising initiatives but evidence gaps – identified through literature review, stakeholder input and the Hub’s work to date. We specifically focus on how EdTech can most effectively be used to:

  • Adapt to the needs of diverse learners: In particular, raising learning outcomes of girls and learners marginalised by poverty, language, disability, displacement, and being out of school, and using technology for personalised learningtargeted at the learner’s own level.
  • Support teacher professional development and enhance teacher effectiveness. 
  • Strengthen educational data management, education system governance, and accountability, and improve participation in school through positive social messaging.

EdTech Hub’s approach

EdTech Hub uses various tools and approaches in combination to build and apply the evidence base in our focus areas. 

The Hub’s approach to dissemination and uptake is guided by core principles of community building, multi-stakeholder engagement, and global open access to publications and resources.

Where we work

To target the impact and increase depth of understanding, studies are being conducted and commissioned in six countries initially.

Taking the field forward

The Hub is working with and informing a variety of stakeholders, ranging from practitioners to policymakers, and we hope to learn along the way from others in the sector. We warmly welcome your inputs and partnerships as we move towards capitalising on EdTech to improve quality and equity in education. Do get in touch at

Using evidence to strengthen tech-supported teacher professional development in Madagascar

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Reposted from EdTech Hub. Original authors: CAITLIN MOSS COFLAN, SAALIM KOOMAR AND HASINIAVO RASOLOHERY. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

High school students in Soavinandriana, Itasy region, Madagascar, attending an educational movie projection.
Photo credit: Hasiniavo Rasolohery, 2019

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Madagascar faces high levels of learning poverty; 97 per cent of the country’s children at late primary age are not proficient in reading (World Bank, 2019, based on 2015 PASEC data). We know teachers are one of the most crucial influences on student learning; in 2019, just 15% of primary school Malagasy teachers were qualified. How can these teachers be supported effectively to improve student learning? And how can this support be provided at a distance, at scale, using technology in ways that can support populations with limited connectivity?  Despite reportedly high internet speeds, internet penetration is low, just 2.1% of Malagasy people can access the internet (Quartz article, Lijadu, 2019). 

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L’utilisation des preuves pour renforcer la formation pédagogique à travers les technologies à Madagascar

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Cross-posted from Original post APRIL 23, 2021 BY CAITLIN MOSS COFLAN, SAALIM KOOMAR AND HASINIAVO RASOLOHERY. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.

Des lycéens de Soavinandriana, de la région Itasy, Madagascar, assistant à une séance de projection de vidéo éducative.
Crédit Photo: Hasiniavo Rasolohery, 2019

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Madagascar fait face à un taux élevé de la pauvreté d’apprentissage; 97 pour cent des enfants en classe de primaire du pays ne sont pas capables de lire un texte en français adapté à leur âge (Banque mondiale 2019, sur données PASEC 2015). Nous savons que les enseignants ont une influence cruciale sur l’éducation des élèves; en 2019, seulement 15% des enseignants primaires Malagasy avaient la qualification nécessaire. Comment appuyer ces enseignants efficacement afin d’améliorer l’éducation des étudiants? Et comment cet appui pourrait être fourni à distance sur une grande échelle, en utilisant des technologies qui peuvent aider les communautés dont l’accès au réseau est faible? Malgré ladite éxistence de connexion à très haut débit , le faible taux de pénétration d’Internet montre que seuls 2.1% des Malagasy ont accès à Internet (Article Quartz, Lijadu, 2019).

Depuis la première incursion de EdTech Hub dans ces problèmes à travers un briefing du « Helpdesk » sur les initiatives de développement professionnel des enseignants dans les environnements à faible connectivité, nous avons travaillé avec le Ministère l’Éducation Nationale (MEN), L’Institut National de Formation Pédagogique (INFP), et la Banque Mondiale sur la première composante du Projet d’Appui à l’Education de Base pour étaler cet ensemble de défis. 16 000 enseignants de la première et deuxième année seront directement impliqués dans un pilotage de formation pédagogique (FP) dans le cadre de ce projet, afin d’améliorer les résultats des élèves en lecture et calcul. 

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Sierra Leone series: Plan International and the importance of community support for distance teacher professional development programmes

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Cross-posted from the EdTech Hub – Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

Photo credit: Plan International

Over the past few months, the EdTech Hub team has analysed and mapped the EdTech research landscape in Sierra Leone. In doing so, we have met a number of individuals and organisations that are exploring if and how technology can support the country’s education sector. 

In week four, we met with Arthur Saidu, Eusebio Rincon Casado and Maggie Shergill from Plan International. In Sierra Leone, Plan International has led the implementation of the Girls’ Access to Education (GATE) programme with funding from UK Aid through the Girls’ Education Challenge. In this interview, we spoke about their work to deliver a distance teacher professional development programme to women in remote areas.

Can you tell us more about the background of your programme? 

Schools in rural areas of Sierra Leone often struggle to find a sufficient number of trained and qualified female teachers. In 2013, we launched a programme for young women in rural communities who aspired to teach yet lacked the qualifications to enrol in existing teacher education courses. The programme supported these women to gain experience of working in a school environment and prepared them to take the entrance exam for teacher training colleges. 

During the programme, participating women worked as learning assistants in a local primary school for four days each week. On the fifth day, the women met with 15 to 18 other participants to receive coaching from an English and a maths tutor. Once the participating women passed the entrance exam, they continued to work in primary schools but now as student teachers. In this phase of the programme, a mentor provided the women support with classroom practice and their college studies for one day a week. 

A key component of the programme was the development of learning teams to support the women within the school and the community: participants worked with teachers, principals, district supervisors, tutors, mentors, community stakeholders and lecturers from teacher training colleges. In addition, each participant received a tablet to access a set of interactive learning modules for self-study.

What research has been conducted on this programme? 

In 2017, the Open University, who developed the learning assistant / student teacher distance learning model, conducted a study to identify the factors that enabled or constrained the success of the programme. In doing so, they adopted an ecological approach to look at the role of community support as well as the impact of programme participation. For the study, the Open University team conducted 18 semi-structured interviews in a rural township and a remote agricultural community in two districts. Interviewees included the participating women, principals, teachers, tutors, family members, community leaders and programme staff.

What are the key takeaways from this programme?

By March 2019, 711 out of 730 learning assistants had already passed the exam to enrol in teacher training college and became student teachers. Through research interviews and programme monitoring, participants stated that the programme had a transformative effect on their self-confidence, self-esteem, professional skills and willingness to engage in new experiences.

We found that the tablets were valuable in supporting a distance learning model as we could upload all of the self-study modules and materials to one device. For example, we could cascade knowledge on topics such as inclusive education and gender-sensitive pedagogies and disseminate a disability directory. However, it was a major logistical challenge to add new content if modules were changed or introduced after tablets were distributed to participants. Once this digital offering broke down, participants had to revert to paper-based materials.

Participating women also noted that the blend of work, group meetings and self-study demanded strong time management skills. Participants needed to teach in the day, study at night and complete any domestic tasks in between these activities.

The commitment of the local community to supporting the women’s participation was integral to the success of the programme. Tutors and mentors sometimes provided food at group meetings and paid transport to the venue. Headteachers often allowed women to bring babies to school and to teach when pregnant. And, family members looked after young children whose mothers were studying.

What advice do you want to share with decision-makers based on your research? 

Tablets and technology represent one enabling factor that can make distance teacher professional development programmes possible in remote areas of Sierra Leone. Yet, these programmes require a phenomenal amount of community support. Decision- makers need to go beyond the digital to invest in the full package of human support to ensure this type of initiative can come to fruition.

If you want to learn more about this programme, you can read Open University’s evaluation, check out the Education Commission’s blog post on learning teams in Sierra Leone or test out modules from the programme for yourself.