Increasing opportunities through education technology in developing countries is a noble program. However, the bold concept of empowering underprivileged children by equipping them with the knowledge and skills to use technology present in more developed countries, needs to take into consideration cultural relevance and a true sensitivity to their environment.
“Never mind the shortage of internet bandwidth and devices; some schools lack even basic school supplies and reliable electricity”
Zaya Director for Growth Tulsi Parida is pushing for education technology that doesn’t ram technology down people’s throats. Parida is an Indian national who used to be based in New York City but came home in order to give back to the community. At Zaya, she is part of the company’s bigger mission to deliver digital educational resources to developing regions. However, they take into account the area’s needs, cultural background and economic realities.
Ed Surge.com reports: “As edtech moves into the developing world, there are new challenges when attempting to reach students in the lowest economic rungs. Never mind the shortage of internet bandwidth and devices; some schools lack even basic school supplies and reliable electricity.”
“A cultural approach to learning is one of those places where alignment is key”
In 2005, a bold initiative was launched by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte. The “one laptop per child” program gathered $100 to provide the world’s poorest children with a laptop as well as the opportunity to learn how to use it. The project received significant press as well as support from Google, the UNDP, and eBay. The drive was able to come up with 2.5 million laptops, but still ended up a failure because of its “Western-centric” belief that technology is the only answer to each country’s social ills.
Tech giant Google recently allotted $50 million for an edtech project that will reach out to students in depressed communities. However, it is said that culturally-relevant technology works best in areas such as low-income Indian slums. “This allows learning to become well-aligned to the specific context in which it is being used, explained Stanford doctoral student Molly Zielezinski. She added that: “A cultural approach to learning is one of those places where alignment is key.”
Zielezinski, together with Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, wrote papers on the positive effects of technology for underserved students. They looked at findings highlighting one-to-one access to devices, the presence of high speed internet, as well as the right combination of teachers and technology.
Parida, for her part, notes that companies like Zaya are ahead of foreign education technology companies primarily because they know what the country’s children need. One of their pioneering edtech products is the ClassCloud. It is an impressive server that uses local intranet to send content to the students’ tablets. It is able to beam and send various learning modules, including videos to classroom even without being connected to the internet.
Parida’s company is able to develop innovations such as these because they understand that low income schools often don’t have internet access and one tablet or laptop for each student.
In order to make education technology in developing countries accessible to the poorest of the poor, Western thinkers should adapt the bold but very real idea that technology is not a “One-size fits all approach”. There are different factors and situations which should be taken into account, including the environment where kids learn.