Are new technologies the solution to reach the children furthest from school?

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Are new technologies the solution to reach the children furthest from school?

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Snapchat, Discord, Zoom… In many countries, the closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic has led teachers to reinvent themselves to allow their students to continue attending classes in a different way.

With the (technological) means on board, they have animated live classes, involved children and teenagers via a variety of applications, and used content platforms such as Lumni in France or Khan Academy to generate instructive discoveries or make certain notions of the course understood in a more entertaining way. These technologies represent an undeniable asset: in one click, they enable access to learning tools, knowledge and information. Access to education, which was taken for granted in Western countries, has been one of the concerns of recent months: many people have tried, at all costs, to ensure educational continuity for all.

During the confinement, in France, many digital initiatives have emerged to provide the best possible support for teachers and students. That is how the ephemeral non-profit organisation Faire École Ensemble (FÉE) was born. Its aim is to mobilize civil society to help the educational community in times of crisis, in situations of both confinement and de-confinement. FÉE mobilizes citizens around three main areas: action research and documentation (surveys on forms of pedagogical discontinuity), technical tools (rethinking classrooms and programs in times of crisis) and local assistance to teachers (creating links and time for exchange among professionals). An encouraging initiative, which shows how essential education is, and how it can and should mobilize civil society beyond the teaching profession alone.

Access to quality education is the fourth of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals formulated by the UN in 2015. Education is one of the major levers in the fight against poverty and inequality. Worldwide, one child in five between the ages of 6 and 17 does not go to school. In sub-Saharan Africa, around 19% of school-age children do not go to school, compared to only 1.7% in Western Europe/North America.

But the confinement has also highlighted inequalities within “developed” countries, particularly due to the social and digital divide. Whether one lives in a wealthy family, where everyone has a computer and a suitable space to work, in a family where there is only one computer that can be used in a limited space, or in a place where the Internet connection is not good or even non-existent, the conditions for children’s development and their learning are not the same. In France, according to the Ministry of National Education, 5 to 8% of pupils, from primary school to high school, did not give any sign of life to their teachers during the confinement, which represents between 600,000 and 960,000 people.

The use of digital technology as a pedagogical tool and content platform represents an unprecedented opportunity in the field of education. However, it can increase inequalities if it does not reach the most vulnerable populations, in France and elsewhere.

In Africa, where the mobile penetration rate is growing exponentially – each year, the population of sub-Saharan Africa with access to a mobile connection increases by 5% – programmes for access to education through mobile and digital technologies are attempting to bring the most isolated children closer to school. Orange, the telecommunications company that is present in 18 African countries, has been working for several years on access to education programs in Madagascar, Mali and Senegal, in partnership with development agencies such as the AFD (French Development Agency), NGOs and the ministries of the States concerned.

The challenges are considerable in these countries where demographic pressure weighs on the education system – according to the UN, in Africa the under-25s will account for more than half of the population by 2050 -, where inequalities in access to education are significant, and where there is a lack of teachers and training. In sub-Saharan Africa more specifically, only 65% of primary school teachers are trained in their profession.

In Madagascar, the programme Initiative Francophone pour La Formation À Distance des Maîtres (IFADEM) set up by Orange, the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) made it possible to strengthen pedagogical support, in particular thanks to distance learning via SMS and in the form of quizzes. In this context, nearly 500 teachers were trained, which in turn had an impact on nearly 22,000 students. Systems that will be pilot-tested, studied and tried and tested before they can be truly scaled up. In Mali, for example, Orange is also experimenting with the use of digital tablets or video projectors in classrooms.

At a time when the education world is more than ever questioning the rise of digital technology and the removal of certain regulatory or psychological barriers to technology, the Ideas Box (…) is promising as it combines digital tools and paper books while creating a physical space where everyone can learn, grow, exchange and express their creativity

The NGO Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (Libraries Without Borders), which aims to bring culture and education closer to the most remote populations, is also making a number of digital tools available through its Ideas Box, a colourful media library kit that can be transformed into a hundred square metre space and deployed in a few minutes on any site. This ergonomic toolbox is the result of a collaboration between Libraries Without Borders, designer Philippe Starck and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the poorest countries or among the most vulnerable populations in France, this ingenious toolkit offers access to the Internet, about twenty computers and tablets, paper and digital books, and multiple educational resources such as the Khan Academy platform, which has also been translated into French by Libraries Without Borders. In Burundi, Colombia, in refugee camps in Syria or in rural areas in France, more than 1.3 million people in some twenty countries have already used the Ideas Box.

At a time when the education world is more than ever questioning the rise of digital technology and the removal of certain regulatory or psychological barriers to technology, the Ideas Box, which is most often used in a popular education context, is promising as it combines digital tools and paper books while creating a physical space where everyone can learn, grow, exchange and express their creativity.

These mixed approaches are interesting since the expansion of digital technology – which has been considerably accelerated recently – raises many questions, even concerns about the addictive effects of screens, their impact on children’s mental and physical health, or the excesses of social networks and other innovations. Technological means – whether frugal or advanced – are a solid tool for providing courses, training teachers and enabling the most isolated children to have access to educational content and methods in situations of extreme poverty or in times of crisis.

Technology can act as a complement, but can never replace the school as a physical space. This is what confinement and distance learning have proven in recent weeks, for students and teachers alike. The need to meet and exchange has become increasingly strong. School is ultimately one of the first places of sociability, where one interacts with others and where, beyond knowledge, everyone learns essential life skills for living in society.

Educational innovation, if it is technological, must also be pedagogical, so that school shapes “well-formed” rather than “well-filled” brains, which is often criticized in the French education system. In this spirit, a few weeks ago, MakeSense, a famous French social entrepreneurship incubator and community, created its new Education Community, which already includes nearly 400 people. It was created to inspire, engage and empower citizens, education professionals, social entrepreneurs and organizations to build an inclusive and collaborative education system. Their broader mission: respond to all the challenges that lie ahead for tomorrow’s education. In the words of Ben Shneiderman, an American professor and scientist: “We must teach our children more than just how to surf the web, we must teach them how to make waves.”

 


Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.

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