Four Points to Consider Before Leveraging Technology for Equity

Special Focus : Innovating for Equity in Education
Access and Inclusion February 23, 2017

In one of my blog articles I wrote about research and tech in Kenya and if we are doing enough of both. Equally, another article asked the question: University-based research inspired Google – is research needed to inspire Kenyan innovators too?  If these two articles are to go by then there is a real concern over the quality of tech research not just in Kenya, but also in most African countries, and by extension the quality of innovation. Indeed, the tech scene in most African countries is seeing a vibrant community with various resources and platforms put in place to support innovation. Examples of such platforms include Demo AfricaPIVOT East, and various hackathons. As Africa becomes increasingly connected, there is also an increased interest in the use of tech tools and platforms to offer educational content. Some countries have implemented the ‘One Laptop/Tablet per child’ in an attempt to provide digital educational content to kids, an initiative that has been criticized for ignoring the fundamental needs of students. I posit that for educational innovations to fulfil their goals in African countries, some fundamental considerations are key.

1. What do potential users want?

Working with users to build products is a golden rule to follow in product design and development. Yet, it seems that product developers have to be reminded of this important fact. In building educational tools, it is crucial to understand what potential learners would wish to interact with, what the interface would look like, and listen to feedback from the users. One of the concerns that you hear while attending most tech events is the premise that someone would steal your idea if you expose it before time. While this is a legitimate fear, the risk of potential users not identifying or being unable to use the product outweighs the fear. Further, it is only by working with potential learners that an educational tool can later adequately measure the impact the innovation has had on the learners. However, apart from learners, tech innovation in education should involve all stakeholders.

2. Involve all stakeholders

Education environments always involve teachers and other stakeholders who take part in the training process. It is imperative that these stakeholders are involved in the innovation process whether as content creators or potential users. For example, my suggestion regarding the one laptop per child project is that teachers should be first trained on ICT literacy and then involved as content creators. Indeed, implementing any innovation should be supported by research evidence. In fact, educational projects that do not involve crucial stakeholders run the risk of meeting resistance, as was the case when the one laptop per child project was implemented in Peru. In addition to consideration of the stakeholders, an exercise that seeks to determine the best platform to deliver the educational innovation is important. Not all educational solutions should be on mobile devices. 

3. Not all educational solutions should be on mobile devices

With the increased penetration of mobile devices such as mobile phones in the African market, there is a craze to develop most innovations for mobile devices. However, should availability of mobile devices alone be the driving factor to develop for mobile platforms? Do users wish to read and interact with educational content on the smaller screens? What if some content is better on larger screens such as desktops? What about users who cannot afford to acquire mobile devices? It might be more effective if what drives educational innovation is not necessarily the availability of certain devices but the needs of learners. Further, even when developing educational content for mobile devices, such content should take into consideration the limited capabilities of these devices and refactor them accordingly.

4. Education innovations for mobile devices should refactor content to suit such devices

Mobile devices, such as mobile phones, are limited in capabilities ranging from size to computing power. Merely transferring content from a desktop platform to a mobile platform does not make it innovation, it is just transferring content from one platform to another. For educational content to be effective on mobile devices the limitations of these devices must be understood. Subsequently, the content has to be re-designed for the limited devices. For instance, one study investigated learning management system services that would be suitable for mobile devices. Another study investigated the design of a mobile application to support the learning of computer programming by including techniques specifically designed for mobile phones. Re-designing educational content for mobile devices promises effective delivery of the content such that students can link what they gain from mobile learning platforms back to the classroom. It is imperative to measure such effectiveness in order to determine the impact of the educational innovation.