Education for all
A core value of our organisation, is to make education inclusive and accessible to all. A part of this means we aim to provide access to the same quality level of education for all. No matter the background. We believe that everyone should have equal opportunities, to learn the skills they need to become the person they aspire to be.
Due to its scalable and transformative nature, digitalisation is generally accepted as one of the best opportunities to improve accessibility to education. ICT allows us to collect data, which can be analysed and used to devise valuable insights. It can be used to automate time consuming teaching approaches, and it can be used to personalise and adapt learning to the individual student needs.
However, the scalability of digital technology is still capped by some limitations. Digital technology needs a source of power, and often access to internet, to work. Furthermore, it needs an interface that allows us humans to interact with it. These interfaces often come in the form of devices, which drastically increase the cost of technology.
When we apply this to the East African rural educational setting, we often find classes have 40, 60 or in cases even 80 students. If we want to provide all students with their own device, we end up with an unfeasible cost. Furthermore, these schools don’t have a stable power supply and a limited (and very expensive) internet connection. We thus need physical buffers that overcome these limitations.
Cutting the cost
We don’t necessarily need to provide all of the students with a personal interface to technology. Technology can also be introduced on class level. One computer, accompanied by a projector, can already have transformative power (if introduced and integrated properly!). What is interesting for us as a social enterprise, is to look at ways we can take the limited infrastructure to the next level. What if we could devise a way, so that 80 people have simultaneous access to the power technology; Using only one device, asynchronously (even when there is no electricity available) and with limited cost?
As CTO of Elewa, solving that question in a sustainable manner is my main responsibility. We’ve been working with schools, teachers and students on this problem for the last two years, and found ways to actually overcome this gap. The technique we use to solve this question, is what we call off-/online blending. It mainly means that everything which is possible on the digital side of our platform, must have an offline real-world counterpart.
Blending of the on-/offline world
Some of our system components have easy alternatives. For example, all our digital content is mirrored in textbooks. Others, not so much. In order to provide assessment for learning at scale, we needed to develop new technology that allows students to fill in assessments on paper sheets. At times when electricity is available, teachers or administrative staff then need to be able to pull that data into the online world. There, it can be automatically examined and analysed for insights. All of this has to happen in a cost-effective manner. Implicating the need to run on very cheap hardware.
Through research and hours of struggle, we were able to design a prototype that enables us to do this. We use multiple choice questions as basis for the assessment, and a 20$ webcam to pull the data into the virtual world. Through this innovation, we are able to introduce assessment for learning in an affordable way. Even for the poorest schools. A teacher has insight into what the students struggle with, as finely grained as on topic and concept level.
What do you think?
There are many more other ways we work on inclusiveness, which will be addressed in later post. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your comments and thoughts on inclusive education, and how technology can be used to close the digital divide.