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22 Feb 2024

Critical Issues of Education Technology in and with Low- and Middle-income Countries

In November 2023, Southern Voice published a report  on Ed-tech in the Global South: Research Gaps and Opportunities. In this report, María Balarin, Santiago Cueto, Mauricio Saavedra Sanchez and Claudia Sugimaru explores the evolving landscape of educational technology (Edtech) in the context of increased global and national attention. The report is an outcome of a collaborative project led by the Group for Analysis of Development (GRADE) and Southern Voice, in partnership with three leading Global South think tanks, CSEA, SUMMA and IPS, providing insights into the ed-tech ecosystem in the developing world.

On February 16, 2024, Moira V. Faul, Executive Director of NORRAG, provided an expert commentary on the report, underlining critical issues of Ed-Tech in and with low- and middle-income Countries. Read it below.


Critical Issues of Education Technology in and with Low- and Middle-income Countries

The use of technology in education has never by itself solved the challenges that learners and educators face. Yet, digitalisation processes have transformed education — and will continue to do so — in evolving, complex ways. They often even seem to outstrip our ability to analyse and understand them.

Southern Voice’s latest report “Ed-tech in the Global South: Research Gaps and Opportunities provides a thorough and comprehensive review of timely research on education technology, also known as ed-tech, in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). It prioritises references, products and companies from and in those countries. This feature sets it apart from most ed-tech reports about the Global South.

Main Findings

The report addresses critical issues for education quality, inclusion, financing and governance, as of now and in the future. It explores technology as one possible route to support education and inclusion, and focuses on the role of global, regional and national governance in achieving those social goals. The authors identify pedagogy, equity and governance as three key elements for which more research about ed-tech is required in and with LMICs. They raise important questions about the inclusion of marginalised groups in ed-tech development and use. They critically analyse the high volume of ed-tech payments that come from government budgets, which requires scrutiny and democratic participation. Most importantly, this report underlines the potential—not certainty—that ed-tech can contribute to more equal, quality education and to thriving societies, and points to research required to bring that to fruition in LMICs.

Local Evidence is Key

NORRAG strongly supports the initiative’s efforts to amplify locally relevant evidence and research from and in countries in the Global South. An example is NORRAG’s initiative #TheSouthAlsoKnows, which provides a publicly searchable database and network for education experts from across the Global South. We confirm the need for further research about the private sector’s role in ed-tech in education governance, and on the interplay between local start-ups and global technology corporations. Many areas that are critical to understanding the digitalisation of education remain under-studied, particularly in LMICs, and the locally-produced relevant evidence that does exist remains under-shared.

The use of technology is as essentially human as is ethics; let’s lead with ethics. In November 2021, 193 states adopted the UNESCO’s global standard on AI ethics. In 2024 the European Union adopted the AI Act, which imposes bans or limits on high-risk technologies and requires stress-testing and transparency of AI technologies. Governments, international organisations and the private sector could govern this technocosm in the common interest, in efforts to overcome current allocational and representational harms. This report provides a welcome addition to the evidence base that will help us do so.


More on the report:

This study explores the evolving landscape of educational technology (Ed-tech) in the context of increased global and national attention about the topic, with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the drive to incorporate technology in education to mitigate issues with access, quality and systems management. Focused on challenges and opportunities in primary and secondary schools in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the research identifies three critical dimensions that are central to Ed-tech debates and underexplored in LMICs: pedagogical implications, the role of Ed-tech in addressing inequalities, and governance structures. Addressing knowledge gaps through regional reviews and expert consultations, the study emphasises the urgent need to prioritise the educational dimension in ed-tech initiatives, placing it at the forefront of debates and initiatives.

Findings underscore a need for more understanding regarding children’s access to digital tools, their use proficiency, and teachers’ preparedness to incorporate technology for effective learning. The study also underscores the inadequacy of rapid technology implementation without a comprehensive plan, asserting that technology alone does not enhance education; its potential is realised within a broader strategy focused on universal learning improvements. Emphasising effective governance mechanisms, the research illustrates the importance of well-organised and robust Ed-tech ecosystems for sustained positive impact.


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