Much has been made of the gains that education has made in the developing world recently. Primary school attendance is up and education parity has been met in many countries. While quality still lags up to 100 years behind the developed world, a new phenomenon could change that.

Technology-aided education, ed tech, has the potential to change the way education is understood and delivered around the world. In a world of exploding high education prices and more technical demands in the working world, especially for skills in programming and developing, ed tech is on the rise.

The spread of the Internet has helped to make this possible. was recently bought by LinkedIn and provides online tutorials and classes on anything from photography to programming. A paid subscription is required to access most of them, but the potential is there to change the way learning is done in the classroom. Another company, Udemy, offers similar classes on Java, Excel and HTML. Fifty percent of the company’s revenue comes from outside of the U.S.

These online courses present easy access to learning opportunities. If governments or schools can provide for subscription costs, they can unlock a huge wealth of knowledge for a great many people.

With the spread of mobile phones throughout the developing world, they too have had a role to play in education. Education can be an equalizer, and with more and more people having access to phones they in turn have more and more access to it.

Different mobile-based services offer a variety of educational opportunities. Dr. Math enables both primary and secondary school students to request help in real-time from volunteer tutors using MXit, a popular platform for social messaging in South Africa. MobiLiteracy aims to improve literacy at home in countries where teachers are often stretched thin in the classroom. A pilot program was kicked off in Uganda last year with help from USAID.

Interestingly, MobiLiteracy targets adults before children. It offers daily reading lessons by SMS or audio. This raises an important point about ed tech: since it is mostly based outside the classroom and accessed either by the Internet or mobile phones, the knowledge is open to anyone. Students can use it to supplement their learning or to help with homework, teachers can use it to their advantage in the classroom and adults can continue their education outside the classroom or even begin an education they never had.

With access to resources like Udemy, people in the developing world can have the chance to get an education that they might not have access to otherwise. In this ever-evolving world where much value has been put on university degrees as prerequisites for employment, the ability to acquire knowledge for less or no fee is valuable. If an individual can perform a certain skill such as program a website, it does not matter as much where that person went to school or how high their GPA was. All that is needed is Internet or a mobile phone, some motivation and a dream. With continued development, ed tech can be the next big thing in global education.

Greg Baker

Sources: Tech Crunch 1, Tech Crunch 2, The Guardian, Brookings
Photo: Newsanywhere

Facebook plans to bridge the digital divide by connecting the remaining two-thirds of the world without Internet to the growing web of information. As a leader in this “knowledge economy,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg partnered with other industry giants to provide access to those who cannot afford it.

He continues to collaborate with leading companies in the technology field: Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung. These prominent members formed to offer connectivity to more than five billion people. In developing countries, his initiative aims provide the following:

More affordable access

Collaborative efforts between industry titans, such as Samsung and Nokia, will expand mobile access. To decrease the cost of delivering data, companies seek to develop low-cost smartphones and partner with internet providers to broaden the reach.

More efficient use of data

Global partners also plan to invest in products to limit the necessary amount of data. Along with “data compression tools,” these products may offer the enhancement of network capabilities and mobile frameworks designed to reduce the data use of applications.

Assist businesses in increasing access

These companies plan to incentivize the development and manufacturing of affordable devices for developing countries. The partnerships also aim to “localize services,” offering more languages on mobile devices.

Education Online: SocialEDU

Internet access alone cannot address underlying issues in developing nations. Zuckerberg, as a result, will apply to education inequities.

Referred to as SocialEDU, this program offers open online courses to students through a mobile application integrated with Facebook.

With a Facebook account, young Rwandans could learn from professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. Facebook prepares to combat the digital and educational barriers these students face and expand online education in Rwanda.

This social media platform partnered with “the Rwandan government, a telecom company, a device manufacturer and an educational content provider.” Such collaboration allows the for the following:

  •  Free content and data
  •  A supportive government
  •  Low-cost smartphones
  •  Innovative education on a local level

For one year, Airtel plans to provide the education content at no cost to participants.

Christian de Faria, the CEO of Airtel Africa, understands education drives social and economic growth. As a local carrier, Airtel will fuel this growth by offering a data subsidy.

Nokia has also joined this corporate collaboration, offering affordable smartphones to the region. This improves access to the Internet, enabling more students to join the open online classes.

The Nokia Vice President of Mobile Phones, Timo Toikkanen notes“Our affordable smartphones help people make the transition from simple mobility to more sophisticated experiences. Playing a role in helping students get access to these experiences, such as social education through the SocialEDU initiative, is truly an honor.”

To promote further corporate innovation, the Rwandan government offers:

  • Trade-in rebates
  • Interest rate subsidies
  • Micro-loan guarantees
  • Targeted use of its Universal Service Fund

In support of corporate social responsibility, the government plans to expand its Smart Kigali program. This offers free wi-fi on college campuses and as a result, more students can access the multi-media SocialEDU content. The government will further support this initiative by adapting course materials to the needs of local students.

These educational apps require a large amount of bandwidth. To combat this, Facebook promises to provide technical assistance and support the app in a low-bandwidth region. Partnering with Ericsson, the company must test the app capabilities in a 2G environment.

Tailoring services to meet the needs of regions across the globe is but one part of the equation. Through such innovation and corporate cooperation, the digital divide gradually closes. With the expansion of online education in Rwanda, Facebook and its global partners will propel the country into a knowledge-based economy.

Ellery Spahr

Sources: The Verge
Photo: PCI Podium

According to the Department of Budget and Management, The Department of Education in the Philippines (DepED) has recently been granted the primary sum of the Philippines’ social services budget for 2014. The Philippines is facing huge concerns with a lack of teachers, textbooks, classrooms; it also faces an exceptionally high dropout rate.

Low budgets have made it difficult to extend an education in the Philippines to an increasingly high population of children. A total of 309.43 billion Philippine pesos ($18.6 billion,) or 37 percent, has been allotted to DepED after the country determined the issues with their public education system.

A large portion of the DepED money will now be focused on incorporating technology and alternative learning systems in the classroom in hopes of integrating out-of-school children; the initiative is called the Enhanced Instructional Management for Parents, Community and Teachers (e-IMPACT,) originally established in the fiscal year 2007-2008.

The fund is also comprised of 44.6 billion Philippine pesos ($1.00316 billion) for repairing and constructing new school buildings. The DepED will be building 43,183 new classrooms, fixing 9,502 of the existing classrooms and constructing 1.59 million new schoolroom seats for the Kindergarten through 12th grade programs.

The plan will add 10 new libraries will be added to the 213 current centers; each will be supplied with new books. In hopes of reaching the goal of 1:1 student to textbook ratio, the Department of Education in the Philippines hopes to attain “42 million more textbooks and workbooks.”

e-IMPACT is a technology based alternative method of learning that is fueled by student interactions. Every student is given access to online modules and online guides to learning materials. The modules will open a window into how children are able to learn and communicate with each other and will allow parents and school faculty to become increasingly involved in ensuring that the e-IMPACT positively transforms the community. Everyone in the community will be engaged and learning with the students.

By incorporating e-IMPACT and repairing classrooms, DepED hopes to promote global mainstreaming and expansion of primary education, part of the second Millennium Development Goals. e-IMPACT will attempt to incorporate children who have dropped out of school and seeks to keep children in school who are at risk of dropping out.

– Rebecca Felcon

Photo: Josh Weinstein
Sources: Asia Pacific Future Gov, TaosPuso Foundation, Manila Bulliten