Tag Archives: UNESCO

Can education systems anticipate the challenges of AI? (IIEP-UNESCO strategic debate)

I was honoured to be a discussant in the IIEP-UNESCO strategic debate in Paris on the question Can education systems anticipate the challenges of AI?

Stuart Elliot, author of the OECD report ‘Computers and the Future of Skill Demand, was the main presenter with an exciting framework to help understand the impact of AI on skills and education using the OECD’s PIAAC data.

Stuart’s slides are here. My slides and the full video recording.

Advertisements

UNESCO Request for Input on Guidelines for Digital Inclusion – Your Weekend Long Reads

In 2018 around half the world’s population will be online, which is a major achievement. It also means there is still much work to be done to include the other half.

The next four billion users look different to those already benefiting from digital opportunities for livelihoods, life and work. New and diverse strategies are needed for their digital inclusion. (As this becomes more recognised it may herald the golden age of ICT4D, which already practises inclusive strategies.)

Studies show that, in general, the offline population is disproportionately rural, poor, elderly and female. When it comes to digital skills, women are 1.6 times more likely than men to report it as a factor limiting their use of the internet. Offline people often have limited education, low literacy and typically hold informal sector jobs.

In an increasingly online world, people without the required digital skills and literacy – the 750 million people who cannot read or write and the many more who have low literacy – now face a double exclusion, not only from full participation in the real world but also from opportunities in the digital one.

There is a need to both develop the digital skills and literacy amongst this group, as well as create inclusive digital solutions that are suitable for the digital skills they have today in order to ensure inclusion and equal participation for all.

UNESCO Guidelines for Digital Inclusion for Low-skilled and Low-literate People

Recognising that apps and services, if designed appropriately, can provide an entry point for low-skilled and low-literate people into digital usage and can support improved livelihoods and skills development, UNESCO is currently drafting a set of guidelines for more inclusive design of digital solutions. The work is though UNESCO’s partnership with Pearson.

The draft guidelines have been developed in consultation with an international expert group, and are informed by a landscape review Digital Inclusion for Low- skilled and Low-literate People and a set of fourteen case studies.

There are many excellent guides to effective digital development and how to practise user-centred design. In a way that complements and extends existing resources, UNESCO aims to focus the lens on low-skilled and low-literate users as much as possible with the guidelines.

The Target Audience

The primary target audience for the guidelines are digital solution providers – from large providers such as Google and Facebook, to start-ups – as well as implementation and development partners, such as FAO, GIZ, UNICEF and USAID, who can shape the terms of reference for digital solution development.

The secondary audience includes policy makers – for using the guidelines to create inclusive policies and regulatory frameworks, and mobile network operators and technology providers – for creating enabling environments for greater digital inclusion for all.

Seeking Public Input

In order for UNESCO to create guidelines that are informed, valuable and balanced, it is seeking input from the public. So this week there is one long read — the draft guidelines.

Please review and provide input on the document. When reviewing the guidelines, consider these broad questions:

  • Is the language and messaging clear?
  • Is anything missing? Are there parts that should be further developed? Should anything be removed?
  • What would be the ideal way to raise awareness of the guidelines and have them implemented by as many organisations as possible?

UNESCO is also creating a list of external resources to accompany the guidelines. Please feel free to suggest additional resources to the draft document.

Feedback should be sent by email to ICTliteracy@unesco.org by 30 April 2018.

All input is valuable and will be reviewed by UNESCO. Please note, however, that it is not possible to include all input in the final version.

Drawing on the collective feedback from a range of stakeholders, UNESCO will release a final version of the guidelines on 7 September 2018 in celebration of World Literacy Day.

Thank you in advance for your valuable feedback!

Image © Jayalaxmi Agrotech/Anil Kumar

3 New Reports on Edtech for Refugees, Displaced Populations and Deprived Settings – Your Weekend Long Reads

There are over half a billion children living in countries affected by conflict and disasters, making them three times more likely to be out of school than children living in stable, but low-income countries. 51% of all refugees in the world are children, and refugee girls at secondary level are only half as likely to enrol in school as their male peers. How do we provide quality and inclusive education in these contexts?

To help answer this question three reports on edtech for refugees, displaced populations and those living in deprived contexts have recently been published. Two of them certainly add to the body of knowledge of what works and what doesn’t when providing education in emergencies. They offer a clear-eyed view of edtech possibilities, based on evidence and removed from hype. The third offers predictions on the future of learning and technology in low-resource contexts.

Each report is rich in content and worth reading. Below is a brief description of each and a sample of highlights that caught my eye.

What Works and What’s Missing in Edtech in Emergencies and Displaced Settings

EdTech for Learning in Emergencies and Displaced Settings: A rigorous review and narrative synthesis, by Save the Children, set out to answer the question: How can the utilisation of edtech (at home or at school) for teaching and learning best facilitate the learning process of children in crisis-affected settings?

The report found that while there is little applicable evidence that is relevant for those engaging in education in emergencies, there is nearly three decades worth of research into ‘what works’ in edtech in general. Save the Children felt that if it “cautiously cast the net a little wider, there were areas where research from more stable contexts could be used to inform practice in emergency settings as well.” The authors reviewed over 130 academic papers on edtech’s impact on learning outcomes.

Some of the main findings include:

  • The mere access of ICT in schools or at home is not sufficient to improve learning outcomes. A number of factors must be in place for learning outcomes to improve. This confirms what most have seem in edtech implementations. And yet the report does not include the recent evaluations of the two EduApp4Syria games, which found a small, but positive, impact on literacy levels and psychosocial wellbeing for children playing the games unassisted by parents or teachers. (Sugata Mitra’s hole in the wall project also springs to mind.)
  • Edtech must be implemented in line with the local curriculum. This has serious implications for initiatives relying heavily on open content such as Khan Academy, Wikipedia, etc. Not to say those resources are not valuable, but sooner or later there needs to be alignment with the local curriculum.
  • Scaffolded, appropriate, and adaptive software can be extremely useful in classroom settings. Edtech can indeed support teachers and free them up to engage in greater student-teacher interaction. Yay!
  • Adult/teacher led scaffolding is key to productive learner engagement with technology. In short, the report says that in-app scaffolding is not enough without an adult or teacher there to help. Controversial.
  • Poor teacher training leads to poor results. Continued teacher development positively correlates with successful edtech take up. Hear hear!

Education Possibilities for Refugees

The second report A lifeline to learning: Leveraging technology to support education for refugees is from UNESCO. Drawing on a review of over 117 relevant papers and reports and analysis of 52 distinct projects, the report seeks to better understand how mobiles can open educational opportunities for refugees.

Key findings include:

  • The use of mobile technology can be a strong complement to intensive face-to-face engagement when refugees are experiencing severe trauma and mental health difficulties.
  • Although low language and literacy skills can be the most pervasive and potentially damaging barrier to educational participation for a refugee learner, to date there is little evidence that documents the efficacy of specific learning and literacy apps in refugee settings. (Again, the EduApp4Syria is relevant here.) Mobile-enhanced conversational and situated learning scenarios deserve further analysis, as some examples in the report indicate.
  • To date, there are few projects and formal studies on mobile teacher training in refugee contexts. The Teachers for Teachers project in Kakuma camp, Kenya, by Columbia University is a great example of how teacher training and virtual mentoring is possible.
  • Although some digital content for refugees is available in the form of open educational resources (OER), it is often scattered and unaligned with the education systems in which it is used.
  • Digital technologies that capture and analyse education data can play an essential role in improving basic operational, planning and controlling functions in education systems in refugee and crisis settings. However, current technological (and political) structures infrequently document, certify or acknowledge refugees’ prior educational achievements or current progress. This is a process, not a technology, problem.
  • Despite the relevance of cultivating refugees’ job-related and vocational skills, few of the identified projects use mobile media to support vocational training.
  • A pattern to emerge is the integration of mobile social media and mobile instant messaging spaces in educational designs, although how to obtain big data from instant messaging apps remains a problem.

Both reports highlight the need for more evaluations and exploration of edtech learning possibilities for refugees and displaced populations.

Looking Ahead

The final report, again published by Save the Children, is The Future of Learning and Technology in Deprived Contexts. Looking forward to 2020 and 2025, the report is based on a literature review, interviews with experts, a workshop and consultations with Save the Children staff.

Tim Unwin, one of the authors, offers a useful summary of the key points. Concerning changes in basic education which are likely to be apparent by 2025, some observations include the following:

  • The pace of change in education is likely to remain slow in most countries. Further, there will be increased diversity and inequality in learning practices and opportunities. Not a rosy outlook.
  • On the upside: The diversity of content provision will increase and there will be greater emphasis on non-formal and lifelong learning.
  • The use of technology will be all-pervasive. I hope this will be true, but I’m not that optimistic. Also, the report says “it may well be that by 2025 many traditional literacy skills will also have become replaced by technology, so that children do not have to learn to read and write and will simply speak and listen mediated by ICTs.” Very controversial!

Concerning ICTs for education in crisis-affected areas in 2025, a few predictions include:

  • Mobile technologies will increasingly enable children fleeing crises to continue to participate in both formal and informal learning.
  • Much more extensive use will be made of online resources to provide counseling for those traumatised by disasters and war (tying up with the UNESCO report finding).
  • Online resources will be available specifically to provide children in acute crises with additional information to enable them to be better able to survive.
  • It is likely that by 2025 numerous different ICT-enhanced school-in-a-box solutions, combining connectivity, electricity, devices and content, will be available that can be set up quickly and effectively wherever in the world there is a need.
  • There will be much greater use of mobile phones by refugees to find out information about entering other countries, and what they need to know about the different cultures and ways of life there in order to survive.

The focus is clearly on continued learning, psycho-social support and integration into the host setting. These predictions provide great suggestions for where to focus attention in new apps and services.

Photo: (c) S. Sheridan / Mercy Corps

Six Practices for Digital Inclusion – Your Weekend Long Reads

UNESCO, in partnership with Pearson, has released the final batch of case studies of digital solutions that are inclusive for people with low skills and low literacy, helping them to participate in the knowledge society in innovative ways. The case studies, authored by Dr Nathan Castillo and myself, were released during UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week.

The new case studies are:

  • MOPA: a citizen reporting and monitoring platform for solid waste management in Maputo, Mozambique.
  • Hello Hope / Merhaba Umut: a translation, language learning and essential information service for Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
  • Farmer Training App: a training tool for sustainable farming practices in Guatemala and 23 other countries.
  • ABALOBI: a digital self-management system for small-scale fishers in South Africa (coming in April).

The latest case studies affirm the six digital insights drawn from the earlier cases in the series. Each has an interesting story to tell and is well worth a read.

For me, MOPA is particularly interesting because it demonstrates how a user-centred design approach and the inclusion of different stakeholder groups can empower citizens and strengthen accountability for public service delivery. It demonstrates six digital practices that are instructive for ICT4D practitioners.

Citizen Monitoring of Municipal Services

Maputo has a serious solid waste management problem. Many of its 1.2 million residents live in informal settlements, hard to reach because of poor road infrastructure and dangerous during flooding because of drains and rivers blocked by trash.

The Maputo Municipality attempted to address the solid waste challenge by outsourcing waste collection to private companies which used waste removal trucks in the urban sectors, and micro-operators using pushcarts for suburban neighbourhoods. Overseeing and quality controlling such a decentralised network of 45 operators proved to be very difficult.

Today, through the participatory digital reporting and monitoring MOPA platform, citizens are encouraged to report waste issues and monitor the public waste management service in the Maputo Municipality via USSD, website and, most recently, via Android app. After a year, 3,500 registered users have contributed almost 7,000 sanitation reports to the MOPA digital system, 96% via USSD.

It’s a really cool project, basically what happens when a UX company – UX Information Technologies – teams up with city government – the Maputo Municipal Council – and gets support from the World Bank. The development process followed is thorough and the solution is wonderfully pragmatic.

Understand the Problem, Engage All the Users

Good product development means we should design with the user and understand the existing ecosystem. The MOPA team decided to do this through four types of workshops to gather user-oriented design insights, validate workflow systems, and collect ideas for improving the service.

  • Insight workshops helped unpack the complex system of solid waste management in the city and the roles of the three main  groups: residents (the ones reporting), municipal workers (the ones managing) and private waste collection operators (the ones responding).
  • Collection (data) workshops emphasized functioning sources of data and gaps that needed to be filled for service optimization. These workshops led to a campaign of mapping physical collection sites in Maputo.
  • Validation workshops tested design iterations of the platform with an emphasis on suitability for the skills of the intended user base.
  • Events workshops promoted the MOPA prototype across Maputo to attract local software developers to take an interest in enhancing the software design and features – more on this below.

Talk the User’s Language

Citizens can report on particular rubbish containers to say, for example, it is full or burning. Containers have physical locations, but residents don’t identify containers by address. MOPA found out that they rather refer to them in relation to something, for example, the receptacle in front of the Custodio warehouse is the ‘Custodio’ container.

The MOPA team mapped the city with these peoples’ labels, which improves the reporting quality and better fits the residents’ language. In the background the system can match the peoples’ label with the official address.

Make it Super Easy

To submit a report, the MOPA platform requires three data points for location identification: municipal district, neighbourhood and place. But how do you get citizens to report based on location when they don’t have GPS? Keep it old school with paper and USSD.

As part of its awareness-raising campaign, the UX team produced posters that were distributed in all neighbourhoods with a unique USSD string for each container. Each string captured the essential location data.

By storing the USSD string as a contact under ‘MOPA’, whenever residents want to register a report the key location data is already captured and they go straight to specifying the type of incident.

Use Soft Power

While disruptive innovation is the rallying cry of today, the MOPA team did not try to become the “Uber of” waste management. Instead they decided to work within the current parameters, but bring efficiency to the process. We could call this “soft power innovation”. Soft power is “the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than by coercion (hard power) … to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction”.

Local service providers are still contracted to collect the waste and the City still manages the process. Everyone keeps their jobs, but they need to do them better. The residents and the data management tool empowering the City bring an efficiency to the process using simple tools already in their lives.

Open the Platform and Data

The UX team organized Mozambique’s first e-Government hackathon – #apps4maputo – challenging local developers to produce the most innovative digital solution utilising an API into the MOPA platform. MOPA is built on open source software and generates open data.

The winner developed an app called OurMoz, which submits reports to the MOPA platform from any Android-enabled device.

The hackathon allowed the UX team to expand its user base to include smartphone users and practice being collaborative and open in textbook style. It also set the tone for the underlying platform to be used for other civic participation use cases.

Keep the User Informed

SMS notifications allow residents to receive confirmations of their submitted
reports, and update them on the status of the report. In the City’s offices the reports are published on an online map, which the municipality uses along with a dashboard to track, validate and verify with the waste removal companies when each issue has been resolved. The resident is then notified via an SMS sent through the platform. Such a feedback loop shows that the municipality is transparent and responsive.

Overall, the results are impressive: more than 88% of reported issues are resolved, with an average response time of 2.7 days. 186 informal dump sites across the city have also been eradicated. MOPA is an exciting example of simple innovation using the tools that people have. Aside from moving towards a cleaner city, perhaps the biggest impact is the empowerment residents feel by playing their part in this process. That is a key foundation of digital inclusion.

Image: (C) by Municipal Council of Maputo

Across Africa the Feature Phone is Not Dead – Your Weekend Long Reads


Quartz Africa reports that last year feature phones took back market share from smartphones in Africa. The market share of smartphones fell to 39% in 2017 (from 45%), while feature phones rose to 61% (from 55%).

Quartz Africa sees the reasons as likely to be twofold: first, the growth of big markets, like Ethiopia and DR Congo, which until recently have had relatively low penetration. Second, low price.

Transsion, a little-known Chinese handset manufacturer, now sells more phones than any other company in Africa. It’s three big brands outnumber Samsung’s market share there. The devices are cheap and appealing for new users.

The FT reports that Transsion’s phones are specifically designed for the African market: they have multiple sim-card slots, camera software adapted to better snap darker skin tones, and speakers with enhanced bass (seriously). Many of the feature phone models have messaging apps. The batteries remain on standby for up to 13 days!

What does this mean? That you should freeze your flashy new app project? No! There’s no need to stop planning and developing for a smartphone-enabled Africa. The trend is clear: smartphones become cheaper over time and their uptake increases.

But we know that in Africa, especially, mobile usage is unevenly distributed and these stats are a good reminder that the non-smartphone user base is still huge. Many of us need to remain true to that reality if we want our ICT to be 4D.

The age old question – which mobile channel should we focus on? – has not gone away. And the answer still remains the same: it depends. What is your service? What devices do your users have? What are their usage preferences? Do they have data coverage and, if yes, can they afford data?

Low tech, like IVR and radio, can be beautiful and extremely effective. In a meta-study of education initiatives in Africa, the Brookings Institute found that most technology-based innovations utilize existing tools in new ways. They give Eneza Education as an example, which built its service on SMS (even though there is now an Android app available).

At the same time, apps are certainly rising in the development sector. While not in Africa, the Inventory of Digital Technologies for Resilience in Asia-Pacific found apps to be the dominant channel. From my own experience I’m seeing more apps, often as one part of a mix of delivery channels.

A forthcoming case study in the UNESCO-Pearson initiative is MOPA, a platform for participatory monitoring of waste management services in Maputo, Mozambique. Citizens report issues via USSD, website and, most recently, via Android app.

Usage patterns show that 96% of reports are still sent through USSD, 3% via mobile app, and only 1% through the website. Given that specific user base, and the quick-and-dirty nature of the transaction, it’s not surprising that USSD is a clear winner.

Another example of a channel mix is Fundza, the South African mobile novel library. It started life as a mobisite and now also has an app, which largely provides a window into the same content just in a nice Android skin.

The app is used by less than 1% of users, with the mobisite taking the lion’s share of traffic (via feature phone and smartphone). Fundza is also on Free Basics, where the breakdown is quite different: 65% mobisite, 45% app (perhaps pointing to the benefits of being bundled into someone else’s very well-marketed app).

There are many reasons why individual apps may or may not succeed, and these examples are not meant to downplay their utility. Overall, the world is going to smartphones.

However, the bottom line is that you should not write off the humble feature phone in Africa just yet. It does old tech very well, internet messaging and the mobile web, which for many ICT4D projects is still their bread and butter access channel.

UNESCO report on mobiles for teacher support

unesco_supporting_teachers_cover_smallOn World Teachers’ Day (5 October) we celebrate the wonderful people all over the planet who have dedicated their lives to the education of others. Without the commitment and patience of teachers, none of us, the educated, would be where we are today.

However, on this day we also know there are not enough teachers in the world. In fact, to meet the first target of Sustainable Development Goal 4 — ensure that by 2030 all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education — is it estimated that 69 million new teachers will need to be recruited. Furthermore, pre-service and in-service teachers need to be trained and supported throughout their careers. All viable options, including digital technologies, need to be leveraged to achieve this goal.

In the spirit of solving the twin challenges of teacher supply and teacher quality, UNESCO recently released the report Supporting teachers with mobile technology, which draws lessons from UNESCO projects implemented in Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Senegal between 2012 and 2014. I managed the project in Nigeria along with Mark West, the report’s co-author. The projects, implemented through a partnership between UNESCO and Nokia (now part of Microsoft), aimed to explore how mobile learning technologies can support teacher development.

The report offers rich descriptions of the four different project contexts, approaches and evaluations, and is well worth reading. Below is a selection of key points from the conclusion, some well known in mobile learning, others new. Hopefully they inspire the edtech community to keep working to support teachers.

Findings about the perceived impact of the projects

  • Contrary to the notion that educators are tech-phobic and resistant to change, in all four projects the participating teachers were enthusiastic to experiment with ‘outside the box’ approaches to teacher professional development.
  • Teachers wanted more training. Even though there were significant efforts to provide initial and ongoing support, more can only help. The range of tech troubles also cannot be underestimated, which require on-site and virtual support.
  • Unsurprisingly, teacher use of ICT increased substantially as a result of the intervention, which led to them reporting dramatically improved ICT skills. This, in itself, is noteworthy (as reported in the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018), as teacher digital literacy is crucial for mobile learning.
  • While teacher pedagogy was not formally measured by the project evaluations, in all countries teachers reported increased learner participation in the classroom, especially in Pakistan and Nigeria.
  • No clear increase in communication between teachers was found. This result is somewhat disappointing as mobiles have been shown to enable peer-to-peer learning amongst teachers. The report notes that more attention could have been paid to encouraging this type of communication.

Lessons learned

983979_495457517190519_2076994247_n1

Teacher training in Nigeria

  • Mobile phones appear to provide a viable means to expand access to professional development opportunities. As the report notes, this is exciting because it means that an increasingly widespread technology offers a vehicle to support teachers living in areas where traditional capacity building opportunities are scarce.
  • Access to mobile phones should not be conflated with a mobile learning solution. An ecosystem approach is needed, including compelling content, institutional partners, extensive teacher training, ongoing project support, communication campaigns and buy-in from education leaders.
  • Consistent and well-curated educational resources appear to be hallmarks of effective mobile learning content. The report describes how the UNESCO projects seemed to work best when they provided teachers with discrete, well-organized and sequenced packages of learning resources that established clear learning pathways. Highly interactive content is not always needed or appropriate.
  • Mobile learning solutions carry significant costs. Digital is not always cheaper, not only regarding the tech itself, but the complementary activities. For example, the teacher training workshops proved to be the most expensive and logistically complex aspects of the four country projects.
  • Mobile learning solutions for teachers have numerous limitations and are not yet substitutes for traditional and evidence-based teacher training and development. While mobile phones offer much potential for professional teacher development and support, they also come with limitations such as small screen sizes that limit interaction possibilities. Tablets and laptops overcome some of the barriers but, even for them, mobile learning solutions should supplement rigorous teacher training programmes, not replace them.

The report offers a few recommendations for the continued efforts to support teacher professional development using mobile technologies.

5 Take-aways from the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week Webinar

The 2016 UNESCO Mobile Learning Week kicked off on Monday with a webinar entitled Innovation and quality: Two sides of the same coin? The virtual event, held in partnership with Education Fast Forward, debated the extent to which mobile technology can strengthen the quality of education and facilitate learning.

I blogged about the five key take-aways on ICTWorks – you can read the post there.

cc9ycnjxiaajhnl
(Image: @AndrewGraley)