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Reimagining human connections: Technology and innovation in education at the World Bank

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By Robert Hawkins, Michael Trucano, Cristóbal Cobo, Alex Twinomugisha, and Iñaki Sánchez Ciarrusta

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The world is in the midst of a technological revolution. Students are not being adequately prepared to thrive in this rapidly changing world.

Education systems, especially in low- and- middle-income countries, face many daunting challenges. 53% of 10-year old children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a short paragraph, a figure that rises to over 80% in the poorest countries. 258 million students are out of school, including 59 million children of primary-school age. The situation is even worse in communities afflicted by conflict and violence. Girls and children with special educational needs are particularly being left behind. This learning crisis has been exacerbated by the health and economic crisis of COVID-19 (in the most pessimistic scenario, COVID-19- related school closures could increase the rate of 10-year old children who cannot read and understand a short paragraph in the low- and middle-income countries by 10 percentage points, from 53% to 63%).

Education technology — or ‘EdTech’, the use of hardware, software, digital content, data, and information systems in education — supports and enriches teaching and learning and improves education management and delivery. EdTech can create new connections between teachers, students, parents, and broader communities to create learning networks. Investments in EdTech can make education systems more resilient to future shocks and help reform and reimagine the way education is delivered.

The World Bank supports the appropriate, cost-effective use of EdTech at all levels of education and supports countries in expanding access and improving quality, both inside and out of the classroom — so that education reaches all students.

In pursuit of this goal, the World Bank works to discover evidence-based technology solutions in education; deploy solutions, at the pilot level and at scale; and diffuse this knowledge widely across policy makers and support capacity development to better use this new knowledge.

Education is, at its heart, about human connections — between students, teachers, parents, caregivers, principals, and broader communities. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed inadequacies and inequalities in access to education outside of school, limiting the quantity and quality of these connections.

Education policies and initiatives that utilize EdTech should embrace an inter-related set of five principles to maximize human engagement. The use of EdTech should be guided by a clear purpose and focus on educational objectives; reach all learners; empower teachers; engage an ecosystem of partners; and rigorously and routinely use data to learn what strategies, policies and programs are effective to maximize student learning.

The World Bank is committed to support countries in adopting digital technologies to improve teaching and learning, bringing education to ALL learners — anytime, anywhere.

FIVE PRINCIPLES

The World Bank advocates attention to five key principles when education systems invest in EdTech:

1. ASK WHY: EdTech policies and projects need to be developed with a clear purpose, strategy and vision of the desired educational change.

2. DESIGN AND ACT AT SCALE, FOR ALL: The design of EdTech initiatives should be flexible and user-centered, with an emphasis on equity and inclusion, in order to realize scale and sustainability for all.

3. EMPOWER TEACHERS: Technology should enhance teacher engagement with students through improved access to content, data and networks, helping teachers better support student learning.

4. ENGAGE THE ECOSYSTEM: Education systems should take a whole-of-government and multi-stakeholder approach to engage a broad set of actors to support student learning.

5. BE DATA-DRIVEN: Evidence-based decision making within cultures of learning and experimentation, enabled by EdTech, leads to more impactful, responsible and equitable uses of data.