Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Towards Equitable Digital Learning in Developing Countries 

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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?

6 Comments

  1. This all makes a lot of sense. One thing that occurs to me if people have internet-enabled mobile devices, is that you could also mention more public free wifi access?

  2. Hi Maha, i have no great additions or further insights. I would only want to underscore the need for cost free spaces for students to have access to internet and devices, along with support personnel who can assist in case of glitches and promote the positive culture development you mention. (Example in mind: librarians in many instances take on such a role.)

    • Yes – support personnel in those free/public spaces! Important if they’re like libraries or buses – that the people there can support the digital stuff learners would be doing. Thanks Sherri!

  3. I don’t have any specifics to add but I remember that one thing struck me as odd when I read this the first time and I’m now coming back to it: you write “if I were an investor in digital learning in my region, these are the steps I would take to ensure equity” and I
    a) somehow wish there were investors like you (maybe there are and I just haven’t met them which will be another proof of me living in a tiny bubble) and
    b) that, if by ‘investor’ you mean private, possibly VC, I would be very suspicious about your claims and efforts around equity. If any investor made these claims, it would take some convincing for me to come around.

    Not sure if this helps – doesn’t even have to do with the question at hand directly.

    • Ur right – I don’t mean private investors. I mean policy makers or NGOs coz currently lots of funds go to the wrong things

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