Keeping Track of School Performance through Mobile Technology
Published: 30 January 2020
Tablet devices and smartphones can be used to improve learning in public schools by providing real-time data on performance of teachers and students.
There are currently estimated to be over 300 million children who are in school but not learning, and just under 300 million children who are out of school. For decades, attempts to improve education were focused on inputs rather than outcomes. Hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in school buildings and desks. However, the learning that was taking place at those desks and in those buildings was not measured. It is now widely agreed that efforts to improve learning must focus on outcomes and that data, measurement, and evaluation will underpin the ability to make decisions that achieve that objective. In line with this, it is understood that non-state actors and public sector collaboration will be the most effective way to tackle the Sustainable Development Goals. Such collaboration can be possible by tapping mobile technology that can help teachers improve learning and policymakers monitor school performance.
Providing quality education at a scale that serves low-income communities living on less than $2 a day per capita is challenging.
Across India and Africa, the quality of schools and education in remote villages, where children can be taught under a tree, vary massively from expensive private schools. Class sizes can be anywhere between over 100 to just a handful. In remote and rural communities or dense urban slums, teachers tend to be left isolated and alone once they are trained. The classrooms are often in far-flung communities, requiring many hours of travel across difficult terrain from the nearest city. Electricity is intermittent. The local ministry of education or district officials have limited knowledge of what is going on in these schools or classrooms—what is being taught and whether children are learning.
According to the World Development Report 2018 by the World Bank, teachers in low- and middle-income countries often lack the skills or motivation to teach effectively. The Education Commission notes that teachers currently spend only 45% of their time delivering instruction in the classroom. There is also a lack of real-time data on public education systems. Many government policy decisions related to education are often based on outdated data.
Innovative Approach to Learning
Taking an innovative approach to improving outcomes and focusing on improving public education systems is vital. Solutions need to be swift and scalable. Technology is crucial for helping governments to improve learning outcomes at scale.
If it cannot be measured, there can be no improvement. Technology can be tapped for this purpose. Bridge has built software systems which it deploys through teacher tablets and smartphones. This technology can be used in the context of a Bridge programme, so either in Bridge-run community school or in Bridge-supported government partnership schools.
Through a teacher tablet, attendance and performance of both teachers and students can be tracked. Teachers enter student data, such as student scores and registration, into the tablet, enabling them to track performance and attendance; the data on performance helps to iterate and improve the lessons based upon insights from those metrics.
The tablet also hosts teacher guides or lesson plans which can be downloaded two weeks in advance of a lesson, providing each teacher with the best structure and pedagogical content for each lesson. Each lesson is designed by local and world class experts based upon the national curriculum of the country in which the teacher is teaching. In addition, the technology records how far through a lesson each teacher is and how long it took to complete, as well as assessing the pace of teaching, checking whether the intended lessons are in fact being taught. Thus, the data shows where teachers are doing well and where they might need additional support and training.
This technology also creates a window into every school and class for the regional education board, at a micro and macro level, making school systems transparent no matter how remote or isolated those schools are.
All the data gathered and collated in each school is available on what is called the “territory dashboard.” A government official or policymaker can look at the school system based on data, and then make policy decisions based on that information. The data on the dashboard is available in near real-time.
The technology platform can be implemented anywhere where there is 2G, which is ubiquitous in 98% of the world. It’s a wireless technology that’s been adapted to support low infrastructure environments using robust hardware.
The tablets and smartphones only need to be charged every two weeks. Thus, even if there is no power source in the immediate school or community, this doesn't impact their usage. The technology platform itself currently processes 100 million data points every year.
Across Africa, this technological approach designed to help governments improve learning quickly and at scale has seen some significant improvement in learning gains:
- The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) released the “Learning in Lagos” report in October 2018. The report findings show all types of children reach high attainment in a Bridge school.
- In Lagos, pupils in these technology-supported schools who sat the government’s national common entrance exam excelled, achieving some of the best marks in Nigeria and gaining admission to some of its top secondary or unity schools.
- In Edo State, a study of technologically supported schools showed better learning gains for children. The study revealed that children in these schools learned more, spent more time learning, worked harder, and experienced a more positive classroom environment.
- In Liberia, a three-year Randomized Control Trial evidenced that children in government schools supported by this model had the equivalent of 2.5 years of additional learning than their peers.
- In East Africa national government primary exit exams have seen children in these schools significantly outperform their peers in neighborhood schools since 2015. In real terms, this equates to two extra days of learning a week.
Technology can improve education outcomes in not only a handful of public schools but hundreds of millions of public schools. However, to ensure successful application of technology to learning, the following must be kept in mind:
- Technology is only part of the approach. It is also necessary to embed teachers in an ongoing network of support, feedback, and guidance as part of teacher training.
- Evidence-based policy decisions to improve learning can be achieved through effective collation and interpretation of data, enabled by technology.
- Public education transformation is about system reform rather than a piecemeal approach—from teaching training and instructional design to data collation and creating positive learning environments.
- A partnership between the government and the private sector is one of the most effective ways to achieve public sector outcomes at scale.
- Public education reform can be affected quickly.
- Teachers are agents of change, and want to embrace new teaching philosophies and strategies that will help their students learn better. Technology is part of that, but classroom management techniques and teaching philosophies are also important.
- Effective use of limited government education budgets is essential.
Bridge International Academies. 2018. Bridge International Academies, India. YouTube.
Bridge International Academies. 2019. The Resources Make the Lessons More Interactive: Teachers Transform Lives. YouTube.
International Telecommunication Union. 2016. ITU releases 2016 ICT figures. Geneva.
UN News. 2017. More Than Half of Children and Youth Worldwide ‘Not Learning’ —UNESCO. 21 September.
World Bank. 2018. World Development Report. Washington DC.
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