A crisis and a solution: perspective from an emerging-world classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Alexander Bealded

Most people don’t realize that the majority of children in the world are not learning the most basic reading and maths.

Across most of Africa, 90% of children are not reaching minimum levels of learning.

Politicians have called it the ‘global learning crisis’.

The good news is that technology means children in these poorer parts of the world can leapfrog forward and gain access to high quality learning—for free.

Liberia still has a learning gap with extremely low literacy even among the minority of children who do manage to complete primary school. But the simple and effective use of technology has given local teachers a huge boost.

“Liberia still has a learning gap with extremely low literacy even among the minority of children who do manage to complete primary school. But the simple and effective use of technology has given local teachers a huge boost.”  

A big majority of people in the U.S. are unaware there is a crisis when it comes to education around the world, with the lion’s share of the U.S. public seriously underestimating the number of kids out of school or in school not learning.

The situation is so dire that more than half of the world’s young people are now not learning.

Why it matters

It matters what the U.S. public thinks as many of the organizations that designate funding or design policy, such as the U.N., are based there, and are so influenced by the public views they are exposed to.

‘Education as usual’ is clearly not the best way forward, which is why we, like so many others, are excited about the potential of education technology in places like sub-Saharan Africa.

We live and work in countries where environments are very low tech and traveling between our communities can take days, not hours.

Education technology in those regions, that is well designed to cater to the users’ particular needs, and the environment, is already enabling incredible new approaches that are quickly impacting quality and access to learning.

In African countries where governments are struggling to have children finish primary school literate and numerate, technology is now being used to empower local teachers with detailed content that accelerates learning by 100%.

The technology also means that attendance and performance can be tracked for both teachers and students every day. It opens up the classroom, no matter how remote, to a watching ministry of education.

In places where teacher absenteeism is extremely high and it’s difficult to track whether any learning is happening in a classroom this technology is revolutionary.

Even more so when you think all it needs is 2G signal to work.

One of the best case studies

One of the best case studies in how exciting edtech is becoming is the bold action being taken by my Liberian government.

Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, but our attitude to education reform is impressive.

The new Liberian government are further developing a program called Partnership Schools for Liberia.

A program that enables local and international school experts to explore new ways of improving government primary schools.

Some of the trialed policies are things like: a longer school day and thorough vetting of teacher quality.

A handful of pilot schools are giving e-readers to the government teachers and training them to deliver lessons that are pre-planned by local education experts.

After 9 months of using this technique, the pupils in these schools were learning double what children in regular government schools learnt. It’s a super successful public private partnership.

That was the result measured at the end of 2017.

Early results

The independent measures will be taken again in 2019 and there are expectations of very encouraging results.

In fact, the early results were so strong that the new government decided to emulate one of the test policies across all of Liberia’s primary schools.

At the start of the next academic year (2018/19) all Liberian primary schools will have a longer school day.

Previously, all had closed by 12:30, but from next year all will continue teaching until 3 p.m.

It shows that the new government is taking the pilot seriously, and watching to see what works and what doesn’t.

Interestingly, the American public support this public private partnership approach.

In a recent US wide survey 74% of people thought there should be more of these partnerships in places where the government is struggling to provide decent learning for all children.

Next steps

Next year will be the final year of the education pilot in Liberia.

The government will then decide on next steps.

But already officials in Liberia are asking for more teachers to have access to the new lesson content technology.

Liberia still has a learning gap with extremely low literacy even among the minority of children who do manage to complete primary school.

But the simple and effective use of technology has given local teachers a huge boost.

The common digital lesson guides have shared best practice with front-line teachers.

Most importantly, the children in these pilot schools are now gaining access to the best possible learning, despite the recent civil wars and the Ebola outbreak.

Alexander Bealded works with Bridge Partnership Schools for Liberia. Bridge International Academies partners with governments, communities, teacher, and parents to deliver evidence-based quality education for primary and pre-primary school children. One of the world’s largest school networks, they currently serve more than 100,000 pupils in more than 520 nursery and primary schools across Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, and India. To learn more, watch this video and read this page.