An educational impression of EdTech in Bangladesh by Aldo de Pape
Educational technology (also known as EdTech) is a hot topic. It has a certain mystical quality around it that lots of people want to be part of. This is noticeable from the many new technology initiatives out there that aim to make an educational difference for the better.
In search for an answer of what technology can do for teaching and learning, I dove into the realm of one of the biggest educational publishers in the world, Macmillan Science and Education, and interviewed three people with a crucial role in defining the company’s future technological direction.
In a special feature of a Gold Mercury report on EdTech titled ‘How technology is disrupting education forever and helping the poor’, Dr. David McNally, Director of Macmillan’s Digital Systems shares the idea that: ”By 2025 education will be conducted on technology platforms that combine the best educational content, assessment and adaptive algorithms to personalize the user journey. These platforms will combine self-study, peer learning and classroom activities and the traditional model will become increasingly unimportant as the world gains low cost high quality access to education that has been impossible for 1,000 years and is now transforming the lives of the poor and opening up real prosperity in developing parts of the world.”
It is clear that technology has the potential to do a lot for education – not in the least because it has the power to easily disseminate crucial knowledge. Technology can help people give access to a quality education who never have been privy to this before.
But it would be too quick to conclude that technology is only about high-end accessibility to content. Christoph Grau, the company’s Chief Digital Officer states: “It is not about content. This has always been available. We need to focus on how people can actually use the technology – not necessarily on what is in it.”
A technology factsheet in the 2013/2014 EFA, Teaching and Learning Report, confirms Grau’s thinking. It states that computers and portable electronic devices can supplement – but not replace – classroom teaching as long as teachers are trained to make the best use of the technology available. If new technology is to have wider benefits for learning among disadvantaged groups, however, learners need better access to information and communication technology (ICT) within and outside of school.
Matthias Ick, Managing Director of Digital Education, a venture capital arm of Macmillan that invests in EdTech, feels that technology is mainly defined by its user – a user that has many faces determined by the socio-economic and cultural environment he/she lives in. “Adaptive learning…” says Ick. “It is crucial to make sure that between teacher and learner there is always some form of written or verbal interaction so you can really adjust the technology to the actual learning need.”
A very inspiring hands-on example of how adaptive technology can be to a pupil’s learning need, can be found thousands of miles from Macmillan’s headquarters, in a country with one of the highest learning needs in our world; Bangladesh.
Our teacher there is Mosammat Reba Khatun, a 40-year-old woman from a small riverside village in the country. Mosammat is a teacher on a boat also known as a ‘floating school’. “We need the floating school because in the monsoon season (late June to October), one third of Bangladesh goes underwater. Boats are the only means of communication in the flood-prone areas. It makes it very difficult to access basic services. Roads to schools get flooded and children cannot go to land-based schools. Therefore the floating school is the only education option here – it travels to students and provide education at the doorsteps.”
The concept of the school is genius yet simple. Children are collected from their homes, taught on board and returned at the end of the session. After that the school moves on to the next village. The school is solar powered, offers three shifts per day and reaches a total of 90 students.
The idea comes from the architect Mohammed Rezwan, founder of the not-for-profit Swarnivar Sangstha. Drawing on his architectural expertise, Rezwan designs spaces that accommodate to the needs of schools, libraries and training and healthcare-centers.
Mosammat explains the concept further: “Our school has a classroom for 30 students and internet-linked computers and electronic resources. Our floating school provides education up to grade IV. Students are 6 to 9 years old.”
The school also aims to take care of the children when school is over: “The floating school ensures access to education and information in the monsoon season. It encourages parents to send their girls to schools and pushes for female enrolment. The trained parents grow new crops that ensure foods and year-round income. The rate of early marriage is reduced. This floating school is the combination of a school bus and schoolhouse. I am teaching our students at our doorsteps. It saves time for the working children and me.”
In response to what technology has done for Mossamat and her pupils, she answers: Technology is very important to us as we use Internet linked computers at school. We use cellular data network for Internet connectivity. Children learn computer skills and watch educational shows. It encourages children and helps to learn more. Computers in the classroom have encouraged the students to learn the new technology, watch the educational shows, learn how to draw pictures and visit the online educational websites.”
Truly taking a deep-dive into all that EdTech is, would require a hundred more blog posts. But at the core of it all, I feel that user-centricity and the continuous ability to adapt for the learner’s sake should be far more important than making it the most high-end content distribution technology available. It is therefore crucial that from its early beginnings the user is given a voice in the further creation of the actual technology.
Macmillan’s support for TeachPitch, our teacher’s learning platform, is a clear signal that they support such user-centricity. The teacher explains what he/she needs and finds the necessary tutor or learning support on that basis. After all, teachers like Mossamat can never be replaced and will forever remain crucial to educate the children, like the ones on the floating boat.
What are your thoughts about technology and education? Please send us an e-mail at email@example.com
This is the seventh of a series of ten educational impressions launched and executed in collaboration with UNESCO. Find out more about the #TeacherTuesday campaign on the UNESCO website directly.