Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Towards Equitable Digital Learning in Developing Countries 


I’m writing this in preparation for something else I’m involved in. Writing it out will help me solidify my thinking on this. The idea is to consider practical steps towards enhancing digital learning in places like Egypt (building on this article I wrote a while ago), and for me, this involves a focus on an equitable approach to doing so. It involves, importantly, recognizing existing inequalities in access to technology and in capability to use existing technology. If I were an investor in digital learning in my region, these are the steps I would take to ensure equity:

  1. Where people have Internet access, support the development of digital skills and literacies for educators and youth, so they can become agents in creating their own Internet content in their own language and culture, empowered active but critical participants in social media, and can be critical consumers of existing Internet content. Improve the culture around digital learning. 
  2. Where Internet infrastructure is available but not high-bandwidth, work on ensuring important apps work on low-bandwidth, offline or asynchronous modes, so that learners with limited bandwidth or access can still work and benefit when they get access. People with limited access include populations where there are frequent electricity cuts, people who live in regions where bandwidth is low even at its best, and individuals (particularly females) in households with few devices but many family members competing for these devices. An additional suggestion here is to ensure apps are fully functional on mobile devices, as lower-income households in developing countries like Egypt are more likely to have internet-enabled mobiles than full-fledged computers. 
  3. In locations where people may not have internet access at home, providing public spaces for Internet use can matter. Not just internet cafés, but (zero-cost) spaces in schools after school hours (parents are more likely to agree to girls staying there than going to Internet cafés) or public libraries or internet-enabled buses that go around an area
  4. If you care about spreading digital learning in a systematic way: Improve Internet infrastructure throughout the country and not in some regions but not others. But don’t work on the infrastructure and ignore step 1 which involves developing digital skills and literacies of adults and children. It’s no use to have internet access if you don’t have the literacies to use it for learning and empowerment, and it can all backfire if all the content is in a different language and culture than your own and you don’t have the critical thinking to evaluate it.

Have I missed something important here?


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