Using Technology to Break Down Barriers to Education
The 60 million girls Foundation is using new technologies to help more children reach their academic goals by giving them access to learning materials, which are often hard to come by in remote areas.
We know that there are many barriers to education for children in lower income countries, and living in a rural area is one of them. There are fewer schools, a lack of trained teachers, and large class sizes. In fact, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics says that in 75% of countries only a third of teachers are trained and that 27 million more teachers will be needed by 2030.
Clearly, hiring, training and motivating more teachers will be critical to better learning outcomes for children. But in the meantime, one way to work around this, is to help children help themselves through a combination of traditional in-class schooling and independent learning with computer-based programs. This is known as blended learning.
Over the last two years, we have worked with CAUSE Canada in Sierra Leone’s Kabala district to do just that. We implemented a pilot project to assess the effectiveness of KA Lite, an offline version of Khan Academy run by the Learning Equality Foundation.
When access to electricity is limited, and if the internet not available, KA Lite’s offline math tutorials have proven to be an excellent educational resource for children living in remote areas.
In the first phase of the project, which began in November 2013, we downloaded KA Lite onto 15 USB keys to be used on the Netbook computers at CAUSE Canada’s Integrated Learning Centre. The 60 girls participating in the project were already part of a Peer Literacy program and had some knowledge of computers. They were keen to learn more.
The girls initially had access to KA Lite for two sessions over two weekends for three hours each time. As we expected, due to previous research into Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud, they were, for the most part, able to teach themselves the program.
Once they got the hang of it, the girls continued to use KA Lite as a math tutorial to independently supplement classroom learning and to help with homework. After three months, the girls were keen to access additional subjects like science and business.
In February 2014, we decided to switch from USB keys to Raspberry Pi RACHEL (Remote Area Community Hotspots for Education and Learning) to deliver KA Lite. Developed by World Possible, the Raspberry Pi a mini hard drive, which costs just $150 USD and fits in the palm of your hand. It was a more robust and effective way to deliver the program. We set up a RPi as server for 15-20 computers at Cause Canada’s Integrated Learning Centre. In addition, we sent two more to Sierra Leone to be used independently.
Phase 2 began in April 2014 with the intention of further assessing the effectiveness of KA Lite. Children from four schools in grades 5, 8 and 12 were split up into a control group and user group. The idea was to compare results in national exams, which are normally taken in grades 6, 9 and 13. We also wanted to undertake qualitative surveys to assess any increase in confidence, and possible changes in the children’s views on the importance of education. The children had access to CAUSE Canada’s Integrated Learning Centre for 2-3 hours per week.
Unfortunately, the Ebola crisis and resulting school closures interrupted the program. Our partner implemented, instead, a “mobile lab” with 10-15 notebooks, again using the Raspberry Pi to give the children, working in groups, access to math tutorials. This proved to be hugely popular with students and parents.
Now that schools in Sierra Leone are up and running again, we plan to continue to assess the impact of blended and independent learning. We’re hoping to expand the program from math to reading and literacy.
All children have a right to a quality education. We are working towards that, one child at a time.