Innovative Technologies Can Boost Learning in School and in Life
At the Maasai Women Development Organization (MWEDO) Girls Secondary School in Tanzania, students are getting a quality education and pursuing their goals. The school provides a safe place for girls to learn and, with the help of the Stephen Lewis Foundation and 60 million girls, they also have a new and innovative learning tool – a Mobile Learning Lab – to access educational tutorials in math and sciences, eBooks, literacy software and more.
Catherine Coisasi, a sixteen-year-old MWEDO student, told us she puts “a lot of efforts in science subject and mathematics” because she wants to be an astronaut.
Malaika Lehoo Laizer dreams of becoming a doctor so she can “help people in my community especially women and to be role model to other young girls who thought they could not fulfill their dreams.”
Both girls have found safety at school along with hope for the future. But so many rural schools lack the resources to enable the students to learn and thrive.
Impressive jump in school enrollment in Tanzania
In Tanzania, a 2016 decision to eliminate school fees led to an increase in enrollment and a decline in the number of out-of-school children. And these achievements occurred despite significant population growth.
With lower financial impediments for families, the likelihood of a child completing primary in Tanzania has risen to 90%. When lower secondary school is included, the expected rate of completion is still a relatively low 48% though it is up from 26% in just two years.
But as is the case in many countries, ensuring that all children are learning remains a challenge. While test results in Tanzania were stable after the spike in enrollment, the Global Partnership for Education says the influx of students is likely to put pressure on learning going forward as larger class sizes makes it harder for children to get the attention they need. This means hiring more teachers, enhancing teacher professional development and ensuring greater availability of educational materials are more important than ever.
These challenges are not unique to Tanzania. Research from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows that 617 million children – two-thirds of whom are in school – are not learning.
Clearly, a solution to the learning crisis requires new thinking on how best to reach children with high barriers to education, like girls and those living in rural areas or conflict zones.
Mobile Learning Lab designed as self-directed learning tool
With this in mind, the 60 million girls Foundation designed the Mobile Learning Lab (MLL). The MLL is a “plug and play” system that uses a remote area hotspot – a RACHEL – to connect up to 50 devices to curated educational content. This content can be pre-loaded onto the RACHEL so there is no need for Internet connectivity at the school. Further, in areas where electricity is not available, solar panels can provide sufficient power to charge the RACHEL and the devices overnight.
While bringing the Internet to every remote area is an important goal, this is a long process. In the meantime, the MLL ensures that children have access to quality educational materials right away so they can get all of the information they need to pursue their dreams.
In this short video, the girls at the MWEDO school say that the MLL has given them access to more advanced subjects that are not available in their traditional library.
We designed the MLL to be used for self-directed learning. And what we have learned is that in addition to promoting academic skills, when children work independently to catch up on topics missed in the classroom, or explore new topics of interest to them, they also enhance non-cognitive skillsets like motivation and confidence, both key to long term success and life-long learning.
In partnership with CAUSE Canada, we ran a pilot project in northern Sierra Leone in 2016 and 2017 and the results were impressive. Learning outcomes improved, the children were enthusiastic about attending the after-school program, they were learning at their own pace and subjects of their own choosing, and there was no corporal discipline from teachers which, sadly, is the norm in many schools.
All of this means that in areas where teacher training is weak or lagging, the self-directed learning model can offer numerous benefits to children. This is not to say that teachers are not important.
In fact, we feel that trained teachers who can guide students and engage them in skill acquisition are crucial. But in areas where trained teachers are in short supply, the MLL can fill a gap.
The MLL can also be a part of the solution to teacher training and other issues that impact education quality and relevance. A partner project in Guatemala’s western highlands region with Change for Children, for example, is using the MLL for teacher training. And in Togo, our partner Crossroads International, will upload content on gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health to provide information as a basis for the discussion of these important human rights issues which, when overlooked, can cause girls to drop out of school early.
At the MWEDO Girls Secondary School, Catherine and Malaika are pursuing their dreams and it is our hope that we can find a path to quality education with strong learning outcomes for all children and young people.
Education is a right not a privilege, but to make it a reality, we have to explore new ways to reach the most vulnerable children.