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Using technology to facilitate educational attainment: Reviewing the past and looking to the future



This paper reviews the main factors that inhibit educational attainment in the developing world. From a systems level approach, the role of technological interventions are analysed for their potential to solve issues in early childhood education, infrastructure, enrollment rates, teacher quality, student well-being, school administration, parent engagement etc. Followed by a deep dive into the implications of access to technology for learners across the spectrum of age and developments in the field of computer assisted learning and online learning and the impacts they have on learner populations across various socioeconomic brackets.
Using technology to facilitate educational
attainment: Reviewing the past and
looking to the future
Diwakar Kishore & Dhwani Shah
Background Paper
The Pathways for Prosperity Commission on Technology
and Inclusive Development is proud to work with a
talented and diverse group of commissioners who are
global leaders from government, the private sector and
academia. Hosted and managed by Oxford University’s
Blavatnik School of Government, the Commission
collaborates with international development partners,
developing country governments, private sector
leaders, emerging entrepreneurs and civil society. It
aims to catalyse new conversations and to encourage
the co-design of country-level solutions aimed at
making frontier technologies work for the benet of
the world’s poorest and most marginalised men and
This paper is part of a series of background papers
on technological change and inclusive development,
bringing together evidence, ideas and research to feed
into the commission’s thinking. The views and positions
expressed in this paper are those of the author and do
not represent the commission.
Kishore, D. & Shah, D. (2019) Using technology to
facilitate educational attainment: Reviewing the past
and looking to the future. Pathways for Prosperity
Commission Background Paper Series; no. 23. Oxford,
United Kingdom.
Cover image: Learning computers - Ho, Ghana, crowd
around computers © EIFL Public Library Innovation
Programme: https://www./
Diwakar Kishore, World Bank
& Dhwani Shah, Stanford University
Background Paper 23
May 2019
Table of Contents
Section 1: Factors inhibiting educational attainment
Early childhood development
Teaching at the right level
Section 2: Review of existing technology facilitating educational attainment
Access to technology
Computer-assisted learning (CAL)
Teacher training and professional development programmes
Changing the behaviour of key stakeholders in an educational setting
Section 3: New developments in scalable ed-tech
Video games
School management tools
Appendix 1
Eighty per cent of the world’s children live in developing countries,¹ where high school graduation
rates are still very low. About 260 million children are not enrolled in primary school, and overall
literacy rates are dismal.² Leading education economists described this as: “low-income countries
are about 30 years behind middle-income countries, which are about 60 years behind developed
countries.”³ Fortunately, there are some correctional forces working to improve education systems.
One such force is the rapid adoption of technology. Markets have responded to the education crisis
by innovating and producing technology-based teaching and learning aids. A 2017 Forbes report
suggested that the global educational technology (ed-tech) industry would grow to be valued
at more than US$250 billion by 2020.⁴ This report aims to understand how ed-tech impacts on
educational attainment, by analysing the issues aecting education and evaluating how ed-tech
has dealt with these factors to date.
Section 1 of this paper summarises some of the factors inhibiting educational attainment. Section 2
discusses the factors in more detail and evaluates how technology-based interventions have solved
(or have the potential to solve) some of the issues. Section 3 discusses the latest developments in
scalable ed-tech and their potential for improving learning outcomes.
A substantial portion of this paper catalogues and critically evaluates the waves of ed-tech
interventions. We nd that, generally, these have had a benecial impact on learning across the
world. Even though many computer-based interventions are costly at scale, their application has a
positive eect on most students’ performance.
After-school programmes using computers and mobile devices have been particularly eective
in improving learning outcomes. Based on our meta-analysis of existing evidence across the
dierent waves of the education system, we argue for an increase in the use of mobile-phone-
based interventions to improve educational outcomes in developing countries. Mobile phone
capabilities have proven eective in encouraging positive behavioural change among the
stakeholders in education systems, increasing learning outcomes, improving teachers’ impact
(via distance training and information dissemination) and encouraging greater engagement of
relevant actors. Furthermore, they are low cost. Mobile phones and basic connection plans are
cheap and have a great reach across markets, whereas computer-based interventions require
expansive infrastructural support such as a regular supply of electricity, internet connection and
expensive hardware (and maintenance), in addition to support sta. This makes them expensive for
remote and economically weaker areas. To increase education attainment in the short term, eort
should be applied to maximising the impact of large networks of existing mobile phones, while
simultaneously investing in improving the overall infrastructure in developing countries.
Numerous factors impact on our current education systems. Many are beyond the scope of this
paper, but we do highlight some key impediments to quality education for all. These include:
poverty, gender, health, early childhood development, and a lack of essential infrastructure – such
as electricity or reliable and fast internet connections to support technological interventions, and
other basics such as school buildings and toilets.⁵’⁶’⁷
Since teachers are integral to education, we also discuss some of the challenges governmentsface
in teacher appointment, training and retention. We explore the interplay of teacher support and
identifying learners’ needs. Finally, we address the issue of meeting learners’ and teachers’ needs
with limited resources, and the balance of trade-os needed to achieve this.
Section 1: Factors inhibiting educational attainment
In developing countries, the average gap in primary school completion rates between the richest and
poorest children is more than 30 percentage points. For those in school, the average gap between
the chances of the richest and poorest children achieving primary-level skills is 20 percentage
points. These gures vary based on gender, location, economy, and conict. However, large gaps
in educational attainment are correlated more strongly to wealth than gender and region.⁸ Many
families cannot aord school fees⁹ and, in many developing countries, even when school fees are
subsidised or waived entirely, parents often cannot aord to pay for supplementary costs such as
transport, books, uniforms, and so on.¹⁰
The opportunity cost of sending children to school seems to be very high for low-income families.
The International Labour Organization estimates that 152 million children between the ages of 5
and 17 years have to work, leaving them no time for school.¹¹ When they do attend school, poverty
results in reduced school performance. Hence, it is not surprising that socio-economic status
continues to be a strong predictor of student success and achievement across regions and age
Studies of data from 24 low-income countries suggests that, while poverty accounts for the largest
difference in educational outcomes, this educational disadvantage is exacerbated by gender,
contributing to about 10 percentage points of difference.¹³ A UNESCO report reveals that more
than 130 million girls around the world are not attending school.¹⁴ In many developing regions,
particularly South Asia and Africa, the bias against girls is extremely high.¹⁵ Some of the biggest
barriers to female education boil down to cultural norms and institutions, which create economic
barriers. A lack of safety from harassment and abuse also results in girls missing out on schooling.
For example, researchers highlighted that in Haiti, many girls report experiencing physical and/or
sexual violence in or on the way to school.¹⁶
There seems to be a strong correlation between distances from schools to households and boy-to-
girl ratios in such schools, especially in societies where there are frequent reports of violence against
women. Researchers have demonstrated that establishing new schools in areas with a low density
of existing schools improves enrolment rates and test scores significantly for girls.¹⁷ Therefore, even
though there are some concrete solutions to bridging the gender gap in schools, there is still a long
way to go before equal access for all genders is achieved, especially in developing regions.
After poverty and gender, health is another large inhibiting factor to educational attainment. Curable
and easily treatable diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis, dengue fever, cholera, diarrhoea and
other ailments lead to serious losses of school days in developing countries. Studies have confirmed
that good health is associated with positive learning outcomes.¹⁸ In many African countries, one
of the major health issues affecting schooling is ‘stunting’. The World Health Organization (WHO)
describes stunting as impaired growth and development due to “poor nutrition, repeated infection
and inadequate psychosocial stimulation”.¹⁹ These studies found that, on average, adults who had
experienced stunting at 2 years old went on to complete one year less of schooling compared to
non-stunted individuals.²⁰ Research from Brazil, Guatemala, India, the Philippines and many African
states finds a strong association between stunting and reduction in schooling.²¹ Improving health
facilities has significant potential for improving educational attainment.
Experimental evidence has established beyond doubt that large school construction programmes
lead to a significant increase in the average number of years of schooling and future economic
returns. It is estimated that the construction of 61,000 schools from 1973 to 1978 by the Indonesian
government led to an average increase of 0.12 to 0.19 years of education for each school constructed
per 1,000 children, as well as a 1.5 to 2.7% increase in wages.²² Yet, even today, there is a huge lack
of basic infrastructure that results in millions of children staying out of school.²³ Regions with few
schools, especially in the sub-Saharan countries, have a high pupil-to-teacher ratio which is not
conducive to learning.²⁴ The absence of schools near households means that children may have to
walk long distances to reach schools, if they can get to the schools at all, leading to low enrolment
and/or high dropout rates.²⁵ As discussed above, this ‘distance penalty’ is higher for girls, with many
girls reporting being physically and/or sexually abused on the way to and/or at school.²⁶
Many schools in developing countries lack basic elements such as light, ventilation, insulation,
furniture, blackboards and laboratories.²⁷ Lack of drinking water and sanitation facilities keeps
learners out of school, particularly adolescent girls.²⁸ For example, in Chad, only one in seven
schools has potable water, while one in four has a toilet.²⁹ There is also a need to invest in basic
educational inputs in countries like Tanzania, where only 3.5% of all Grade 6 pupils had a reading
textbook for solo use, while in Cameroon, the textbook-to-student ratio for mathematics books in
Grade 2 is 1:13.³⁰ This reveals the huge gap between the need for and existence of basic education
infrastructure and inputs in developing countries in 2018.ͥ
Early childhood development
Early childhood is a critical period because it entails the development of vital functions and
abilities.³² The cognitive, social and emotional development of young children plays an essential
role in predicting later school outcomes and enrolment in secondary school. Research conducted
in Guatemala,³³ South Africa,³⁴ the Philippines,³⁵ and Jamaica³⁶ all found that early childhood
development has a long-lasting effect on children’s academic and social abilities. Many of these
studies emphasised the importance of pre-school and primary school for young children. Current
research estimates that more than 99 million children of primary-school age are not attending
school.³⁷ So, it is not surprising that more than 200 million children under 5 years of age are unable
to fulfil their developmental potential.³⁸ Parents in poor households are often not able to spend
time with their children, buy them books and toys, or create a stimulating environment at home,³⁹
which has immediate and long-term effects on the child’s continued educational success, choice
of occupation and age of first employment.⁴⁰
ͥ A World Bank Report titled Textbooks and School Library Provision in Secondary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (2008)³¹
looked at the availability of books in 19 African countries and found that in 18 countries there was a seriously short supply
for most secondary school students.
Teachers are one of the most important stakeholders in the education system. They account for
about 30% of the variance in student outcomes.⁴¹ In most education systems, especially in the Global
South, teacher salaries constitute the highest recurring expenditure.⁴² Yet, evidence suggests that
developing countries are unable to attract and retain quality applicants.⁴³ This is often the result
of broken educational management systems and poor state infrastructure, resulting in overwork,
burnout and other related issues.
As discussed above, there is also significant overcrowding in schools in remote areas of multiple
developing countries. Lack of motivation in teachers in developing countries further complicates
the situation.⁴⁴ This low motivation has been linked with poor training and working conditions, weak
accountability structures and poor growth prospects. While, on average, teachers in developing
countries get paid well, a recent study found that 50% of teachers in Lesotho, Zambia, Sierra Leone
reported having gone to work hungry.⁴⁵ These factors lower teachers’ morale, which adversely
impacts on student learning outcomes.
Teaching at the right level
As well as looking at the impediments to universal education, we must also acknowledge that there
are more children in schools today than ever before. However, despite increasing enrolment rates
and many years of schooling, children across developing countries still lack basic literacy skills. In
many education systems, students move through their foundation years without having mastered
basic literacy and numeracy skills. In 2017, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey
from India reported that less than 50% of all Grade 5 students who were evaluated could read a
Grade 2 text.⁴⁶ Similar surveys in Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana have had similar
findings children perform significantly below competency standards for core subjects.⁴⁷ Since
traditional schooling systems do not usually have remedial classes, most children who progress
through grades without learning basic skills never receive the opportunity to catch up. This also
contributes to the high dropout rates observed in developing countries.⁴⁸ However, students who
are made to repeat grades often still don’t receive the support they need, causing them to suffer
similar consequences. This is detrimental to society as it leads to a huge waste of resources, and a
decrease in confidence in education systems.
Many of the factors impacting on educational attainment need long-term sociopolitical change,
along with an infusion of capital. To reduce poverty and improve health outcomes and infrastructure,
the state and international donors need to step up their work in the remote areas in developing
countries. The ongoing social movement needs constant encouragement to bridge the gender
divide. However, in the past two decades, ed-tech has been useful in improving educational
outcomes for the marginalised. Section 2 reviews the impact of various technology-based
interventions which attempted to address some the factors that often inhibit access to education.
Section 2: Review of existing technology facilitating
educational attainment
This section breaks down technology-based education interventions based on those waves of ed-
tech that focus on:
1. Access to technology: providing information and communications technology (ICT) tools
and hardware to teachers and students
2. Computer-assisted learning (CAL): specially designed software and online courses to
improve learning outcomes
3. Teacher training and professional development programmes on eective ICT use
4. Changing the behaviour of key stakeholders in an educational setting.
Analysis of each ed-tech wave is followed by a discussion of the constraints and the policy
implications for the wave. In this section, we highlight the ‘eect size’ observed by researchers in their
respective studies. In education research, eect size is often measured by standardised coecients
such as the standard deviation from the mean. Education researchers generally contextualise and
compare eects across studies by considering 0.1 standard deviations to be a small eect, 0.3
standard deviations to result in medium eects, and 0.5 standard deviations to signify a large eect,
where standard deviation refers to the spread of the data from the mean.⁴⁹ However, it is important
to keep in mind the context of each study while interpreting their specic eect size.
Access to technology
Access to technology continues to be a major problem in developing countries. For example, only
2% of schools in Malawi have access to computers.⁵⁰ There is an urgent need to increase access to
technology for the future workforce of such developing countries,⁵¹ in order to:
(a) improve the infrastructure of education systems, leading to better teaching and
learning outcomes
(b) reduce the impact of a high pupil-to-teacher ratio via the use of computer-assisted
learning (CAL) programmes (see subsection 2. below)
(c) increase equity by reducing the variation in learning outcomes due to variability in
teacher quality (see subsection 2 below)
(d) improve communication channels between dierent stakeholders in the
education system.
Before we examine the existing research, it is worth highlighting that the evidence on the topic is
patchy. Providing computers or tablets to students, while expensive, did not immediately result in
better learning outcomes. This might be because students (and teachers) take time to adjust to
learning (and teaching) using a computer. Also, such interventions are complex, and learning gains
require that each part of the process ows well, including teaching training. There are promising
results from China and India, where interventions were implemented well, and the scope of the
impact assessment was narrow. In the subsection below, we summarise some key evidence that
has emerged from studies on the topic. We also highlight the need for further studies to test the
impact of ICT in increasing collaboration between teachers and making assessment easier in
developing countries.
Early evidence of distribution of computing devices to increase access to technology was not
very promising. In Peru, researchers conducted a randomised controlled trial, providing 1,000
laptops for home use for children attending primary schools in Lima. The distribution of laptops
had no impact on academic achievement or cognitive skills.⁵² In Colombia, the private sector
donated computers for language teaching in public schools. Evaluation of this programme found
little eect on student’s test scores across grade levels, subjects, and gender.⁵³ Researchers in
Kenya conducted a randomised experiment to measure the eectiveness of three interventions: (i)
providing e-readers for students; (ii) providing tablets for teachers; and (iii) implementing a primary
math and reading programme with tablets for instructional supervisors. The study found that ICT
equipment did not improve literacy outcomes.⁵⁴
In Turkey, the Ministry of National Education launched the Fatih project in 2012. To increase access
to quality education, 700,000 teachers and 17 million students were given tablet computers,⁵⁵ and
the students complained that tablets reduced opportunities for in-class interaction between them
and their teachers.⁵⁶ These results, while discouraging, do not paint a complete picture of the
eects of these programmes on learning. It takes time for students and teachers to gain familiarity
with these computing devices. While these evaluations did not show signicant positive short-
term results, improving access to technology holds great promise for better long-term learning
outcomes. They also inform programme design to improve future interventions.
ICT integration that is implemented with a narrower study scope has had more positive eects. In
China, researchers evaluated the impact of the ‘One Laptop Per Child’ programme which involved
Grade 3 students in Beijing migrant schools. The study found that this improved students’ computer
skills and their mathematics scores (0.17 standard deviation).⁵⁷ Another study in China conducted
a large, clustered randomised controlled trial (6,304 student participants). Some schools’ ICT was
integrated in the teaching programme; some schools received ICT without having it integrated into
their teaching programme; and a third group of schools acted as a control group. The study found
that integrating ICT with teaching programmes led to improvement in student test scores (0.08
standard deviation) relative to the control schools. No impact was found in schools where ICT was
not integrated in teaching programmes.⁵⁸
In a study of the adoption of tablets and e-textbooks in primary schools in Jordan, 80 students were
given pre- and post-tests to measure learning and engagement. The study found that students’
assessments improved and were aligned to the core curriculum and increased motivation.⁵⁹
To reduce the cost of ICT interventions, researchers looked at eective alternatives to the expensive
but popular one-to-one model. One such case study took place in India where less than 20% of
elementary rural schools have a computer.⁶⁰ Through public–private partnerships, established to
increase access to ed-tech⁶¹ and support teacher training,⁶² a non-governmental organisation (NGO)
in Karnataka gave away laptops to 800 schools in a ‘one laptop per school’ programme. Students
were given USB drives to save individual work, allowing for some degree of autonomy. A qualitative
study of the programme concluded that it had a positive eect for a small cost. The division of time
with the computer was a shared responsibility between teachers and students, and the very act of
managing limited resources resulted in students displaying judicious behaviour. While the target
was to help students improve their English language skills, the initiative also helped students to
gain ICT skills. This ‘scaolded’ͥ ͥ approach of distributing ICT equipment in a one-to-many method,
slowly scaling to increasingly complex technology and training, seems reasonably accessible and
could have promising outcomes for many developing countries.
Surprisingly, there have not been many ‘access to technology’ interventions targeting early
childhood development in developing countries – although a study in Kenya and Liberia found
that supplying computers and tablets containing age-appropriate content to young children was
eective for learning.⁶³ In developed countries, researchers have also found other benets of using
tablets with young children. These include using touch-screen tablets to measure the development
of cognitive and motor skills in early childhood.⁶⁴ The results demonstrated that touch-screen tablet
technology can provide reliable data on children’s performance on scholastic skills rather than
via in-person trained assessors which is expensive for the state. Tablets can be used to measure
manual coordination, visual attention, spatial intelligence, and so on.⁶⁵ This approach also allows
for group assessment, reducing the time and resources needed for the tests, and making it a cost-
eective option for large-scale distribution of standardised assessments.⁶⁶
Constraints and policy implications
For a long time, improving access to technology has been said to have multiple positive eects
on education systems in developing countries. As noted above, in some of the cases, access to
technology did improve learning outcomes and potentially led to an increase in equity. However,
current evidence does not suggest that access to technology leads to miraculous transformations.
ICT integration is a challenging task. In the sections below, we analyse the costs and benets of
improving access to technology. We also provide some policy suggestions for improving access.
In a one-to-one computer distribution model, the upfront costs are very high. And yet, there have
been many ‘one laptop per learner’ programmes implemented to establish that such initiatives are
potentially scalable: Uruguay was the rst to provide free laptops to all primary school children in
the country; Peru distributed about a million computers in poor communities; Kenya and Rwanda
together distributed around 600,000 laptops; and India, Thailand and Turkey are distributing
millions of tablet computers to children in schools.⁶⁷ However, there are several factors that should
be taken into consideration:
ͥ ͥ ‘Scaffolded learning’ refers to a variety of techniques used to move students progressively towards more successful
(1) Many regions in underdeveloped countries do not have the basic infrastructure to
support the use of computers (due to irregular supply of electricity, and so on.). In
Liberia, only 6% of primary and secondary schools have access to electricity.⁶⁸
(2) Studies have found that, in countries such as Zimbabwe, computers were found to
be stored away due to the lack of ICT training for teachers.⁶⁹
(3) Integrating ICT (hardware and software) with the regular curriculum is a complex task
that requires capacity at various levels which would be very dicult for some countries.⁷⁰
As countries such as Cameroon, Comoros, Congo, Guinea, Lesotho and Madagascar
currently have no ICT policy and plan,⁷¹ it is not surprising that teachers often develop
negative attitudes about ICT integration in their classrooms, aggravated by inadequate
(4) Cost is a huge barrier for many parts of the world. Considering the cost of
purchasing, setting up and deploying hardware and software - as well as the high costs
of running monitoring and evaluation programs in host countries and sometimes
remote regions - costs of ed-tech programmes often slowly add up to become
prohibitively expensive.⁷³ To add to this, we must consider the setup costs of
supporting infrastructure, such as electricity, internet, maintenance and technical
support sta.
(5) In the past, students and teachers have been reluctant to change their routine
to integrate technology⁷⁴ and view this as an external imposition.⁷⁵ From the study
conducted in Turkey, researchers learnt that students were also dissatised with
their learning while using ICT, and even reported physical discomfort (eyestrain
and headaches) caused by the use of tablets in classrooms.⁷⁶ Teachers also noted
other problems, such as students leaving their tablets at home, the tablets needing
regular charging, and students being distracted by games on their devices.⁷⁷
Despite these limitations, countries such as China have eciently integrated computers into the
learning environment and have seen an encouraging increase in learning outcomes. The cost of
establishing the infrastructure to provide electricity and internet will benet education and other
systems (such as health, transportation, and so on). It is also important to acknowledge that studies
looking at the eectiveness of ICT on learning outcomes may miss some indicators of learning that
are not immediately evident or that are dicult to measure. For instance, students with e-readers in
Ghana were downloading more books.⁷⁸ This is an important consideration in regions of the world
where books are not easy to access or distribute, where many schools either do not have libraries
or have a limited collection of texts (70% of schools in South Africa do not have a library).⁷⁹ E-readers
or mobile reading devices have the potential to be a more cost-eective solution compared to
establishing libraries and related resources in schools at scale. These benets may not be noticed
in short-term reading scores or literacy outcomes, but they may have cumulative eects over an
extended period.
The studies discussed above establish that computer ownership alone will not improve educational
results. Hence, interventions targeted to improve access to technology should be implemented in
moderation, alongside other programmes such as teacher training, curriculum reforms, reducing
class size and teaching at the right level (with the use of extra teachers and/or teaching aids). There
is also a need to increase awareness about eective use of technology among all stakeholders.
Everything from interactive whiteboards and projectors to low-cost tablets and mobile phones has
shown some positive results in traditional settings. As mentioned above, it might be worthwhile
investing in infrastructure (for example, for electricity) and awareness of ICT. Subsequently,
integrating technology in classrooms and providing students and teachers with equipment needs
to go hand-in-hand with training in how to use the technology. It might also be desirable to support
ICT equipment with specialised content or with a user action plan that allows users to hit the ground
running and ensure that learning objectives are met. Finally, considering that cost is a major factor in
ICT implementation, projects should always focus on using minimum equipment with an increased
user base, as opposed to providing expensive ICT tools to a smaller audience.
Computer-assisted learning (CAL)
In the last two decades, the market for CAL has grown.⁸⁰ By 2009, UNESCO had produced a guide
for ICT in education, dening CAL as “an interactive learning method in which a computer is used
to present instructional material, monitor learning and help in selecting and accessing additional
material in accordance with individual learner needs.”⁸¹
With the explosion of the internet, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are the latest addition to
CAL. It has been argued that the adaptive nature of the computer and mobile-based programmes
allows students to experience personalised learning. Since its inception, the market has projected
it as a tool to address education systems challenges such as:
(1) identifying and teaching at the right level
(2) reducing the negative eects of high pupil–teacher ratios
(3) increasing access to education;
(4) improving learning outcomes.
In this subsection, we discuss the existing evidence on CAL, including online courses and MOOCs.
Unsurprisingly, CAL adoption rates in the Global North are quite high. As a result, there have been
many more concerted eorts to understand its impact in developed countries. Over the years,
researchers in the US have found CAL to mostly have a positive impact on learning. However, the
range of learning has varied considerably. Starting from the evaluation of a software called SimCalc
(which integrated an interactive representational technology, a paper curriculum, and a teacher
professional development programme aimed at helping students improve their mathematics
skills), the study found that SimCalc led to signicant improvements (with student-level eect sizes
ranging from 0.63 to 0.56 across experiments) in mathematics learning outcomes.⁸² However,
another evaluation of the ‘I can learn’ programme (which delivers instructions on a one-to-one
basis and gives classroom management tools to educators) using a test designed to target pre-
algebra and algebra skills, found that students who were randomly assigned to computer-aided
instruction, on average, scored moderately higher on pre-algebra/algebra tests (0.17 standard
Appendix 1 lists the modest eects of dierent CAL evaluations (0.17 to 0.19 standard deviation) on
student learning, including the evaluation of Cognitive Tutor Algebra I (CTAI – a tool that provides
the entire mathematics course curricula, lesson plans, training for teachers, and so on). This had no
eect on student test scores in an algebra prociency exam in the rst year but showed signicant
positive eects (0.19 standard deviation) in the second year of implementation.⁸⁴
CAL tools to improve reading ability showed similar mixed results. The most promising was a Los
Angeles study of a programme called Cell-Ed which distributes English language content by voice
and short message service (SMS) on any mobile phone. The programme was designed to help
low-literacy and low-skilled US adults improve their literacy and language abilities. Within a period
of four months, it signicantly increased students’ reading scores, equivalent to a two- to four-year
increase in reading levels, along with an increase in participants’ self-esteem.⁸⁵ Success of such
low-cost and low-tech intervention highlights lessons for policymakers in developing countries.
Like the results in the Global North, studies in developing countries suggest a range of impacts.
In Zambia, a literacy game, GraphoGame (an adaptive mobile word game which gives positive
feedback), was tested with elementary school students. It found that students and teachers playing
these literacy games together led to improvement (0.12 standard deviation) in students’ reading
ability.⁸⁶ Giving e-readers to children or encouraging the use of mobile-based programmes also
showed positive results in Ghana and India. However, the children shared their readers with their
extended social circle,⁸⁷ and the after-school nature of these intervention was attributed as being
the biggest contributor to their impact.⁸⁸
Two other studies from India are worth noting. They looked at CAL’s impact on language learning
and mathematics:
(1) In 2002, researchers conducted a randomised study of CAL across 111 schools. In
the study, students received instruction on how to use the computers. They then spent
two hours per week of shared time working independently with educational software
which helped them learn mathematics by using self-paced games in the local
language. The researchers found that the use of the CAL aids led to higher
mathematics scores, on average, compared to the control group (0.35 standard deviation
in rst year and 0.47 standard deviation in the second year).⁸⁹
(2) In 2013, another set of researchers conducted a randomised experiment. More than
600 children were recruited, and half were given vouchers to access training centres
where they could use the ‘Mindspark’ programme.⁹⁰ This innovative programme uses
games, videos and activities to test students’ learning levels and provides immediate
feedback. The study found that Mindspark increased learning levels across all groups
of students, with high learning gains in mathematics (0.36 standard deviation) and their
local language, Hindi (0.22 standard deviation), with relatively higher learning gains
for academically weaker students.⁹¹
In India, the CAL exercise took place after school. However, the studies in China implemented CAL
during regular school hours and found results that were comparatively modest – improvements in
student’s standardised mathematics scores of 0.15 standard deviation within a couple of months
of the intervention.⁹² This eect size was similar to the results found in the US, where the CAL
programmes were implemented during school hours.
There are some interesting facts to note across CAL studies. First, apart from the mobile study in
India,⁹³ most programmes showed that students at a higher disadvantage gained more from the
programme.⁹⁴ Second, in most cases, CAL’s impact has been gender neutral.⁹⁵ Third, students’
growth largely depended on the quality of the instruction that the software provided and the
amount of ‘scaolding’ in the instructions.⁹⁶ Scaolding is understood as an interaction strategy
to help a learner “span a cognitive gap or leap a learning hurdle”.⁹⁷ One other common factor
across CAL programmes was the need for high technical support and additional sta for successful
implementation.⁹⁸ This adds to the cost of CAL and impacts on the potential for scalability across
the world. As discussed above, teacher’s knowledge and perception of CAL continues to be
integral for its greater success, but teacher training is expensive. This underlines the importance of
encouraging more teachers to consider the benets of technology integration.
Online courses
Online courses do come under the scope of CAL tools, and some of the programmes discussed
above were web-based. However, traditionally, online courses have been used by distance learning
programmes⁹⁹ at institutes of higher education, predominantly in North America.¹⁰⁰ More recently,
the success of Khan Academy and similar organisations, such as Byju’s in India, indicates the growth
of online courses across the K-12 spectrum as well. To add to this, in the past decade, we have seen
the emergence of MOOCs, online interactive courses oered by a university or company, usually
free of charge. The advantage of online courses is that they can expand access by allowing people
to study courses that they would not ordinarily take due to various factors, such as geographical
location, age, job status, and so on. These courses also allow people with disabilities to study at
their own pace. A recent study on MOOCs, published in Science, found that, of 25 million people
enrolled in MOOCs between 2012 and 2015, 39% were from developing countries.¹⁰¹ This led to the
popular belief that MOOCs would signicantly increase access to education and provide learning
opportunities to people in every part of the world.
Closer observation shows that MOOCs are not living up to their promise. First, despite high
enrolment, the completion rate for MOOCs is abysmally low (around 5%).¹⁰² One might argue that
people may be learning without taking the nal test, and so there is inherent value in MOOCs
despite the completion rate. However, the evidence undermines this argument. Currently, more
than 25% of people enrolled drop out even before the MOOC begins, and close to half the people
enrolled do not come back after the rst few weeks of the course.¹⁰³ Low completion rates also
indicate that not being face-to-face in class creates complications with time management. People
who fall behind often do not complete the course. Yet, some researchers who studied the impact
of online courses concluded that, in the US, MOOCs can increase access to Masters programmes,
especially for marginalised communities.¹⁰⁴ Many people who are unable to join higher educational
institutions (due to their location, job, etc.), benet greatly from them. However, studies also nd that
students attending live classes perform better than those attending online classes at the university
level.¹⁰⁵ Similarly, in the post-secondary years, research has shown that students facing the teacher
live in a classroom setting outperform students who access courses online.¹⁰⁶ As discussed earlier,
ultimately evidence seems to suggest that forms of blended learning where there is a mix of online
and face-to-face interaction provides for very conducive environments for learning.¹⁰⁷
Studies looking at MOOCs from a developing country’s perspective concluded that, due to the
conditions of access, language, and computer literacy among people in these regions, MOOCs
currently are not a viable solution to improve access to education.¹⁰⁸ Researchers note that, while
expansion of internet access has led to high enrolment rates from developing countries, such
enrolment and completion is mostly limited to the top socio-economic layer of society. Hence,
the benets of MOOCs are not equitable. Even when students from disenfranchised communities
enrol in these courses, they complain about feeling unwelcome. Such instances have perceived
as social identity threats, when the perceived competence of the group is devalued, (for example,
by discarding or not engaging with the online comments of a member of a race and/or gender)
while trying to learn, leading to underperformance. Researchers argue that MOOCs, which are
predominantly oered in English by Western universities or education providers, need to be more
diverse as they currently lead to experiences of stereotyping and social identity threats for people
from the Global South. One example of this could be strong moderation of the online discussion
boards where MOOC students engage with one another. Diverse courses would ensure that courses
are not just tailored (in terms of rhetoric, content and pedagogical ideas) for an audience from the
Global North.¹⁰⁹ As in a classroom, the race and accent of the instructors and MOOC participants
have an impact on the students, even though such factors are more pronounced in face-to-face
interactions. However, if MOOCs are to play the role of a true equaliser, it might be worthwhile
reducing social identity threats from platforms that oer such courses. This would arguably increase
participation and completion rates and ultimately enhance the impact of online courses.¹¹⁰
Constraints and policy implications
CAL aids seem useful and have shown promise across dierent countries. CAL does manage
to level the playing eld, by giving all students the chance to learn at their individual level while
reducing the impact of a low pupil–teacher ratio. However, to provide these aids to all children,
high infrastructure costs need to be considered. Cost and the capacity development of curriculum
designers, teachers, teacher training sta, and buy-in from dierent stakeholders should also be
accounted for. In addition, if access to these aids are provided via a computer laboratory in schools,
such schools might have to incur expenditure related to security for expensive devices, along with
the cost of repairs and maintenance. A signicant cost involved in providing CAL aids to children
are the licence fees for use of appropriate learning software. Having these programmes/apps
developed/translated to multiple local languages adds to the cost.
Combining these issues results in a signicant upfront cost. For example, the Mindspark programme
used in India in 2015 cost roughly US$15 per child, per month. While this cost is not unreasonably
high, providing access to such programmes at scale would lead to signicantly high expenses.
Even in the case of MOOCs, which are usually oered for free, there are high costs associated with
creating an online course. According to a new study, designing and developing just one hour of an
online course could take up to 100 to 160 hours of production time, which may cost somewhere
between US8,880 to US$28,640.¹¹¹ MOOCs are usually much longer than a single hour.
Interestingly, the jury is still out on the cost-eectiveness of CAL in developing countries. When
leading researchers Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duo conducted their randomised experiment in
India (in 2002–2004), they compared CAL to a remedial tutor programme (where a community
worker helps children develop basic skills which they did not master in school). They concluded
that the remedial tutor programme was signicantly cheaper than the CAL and much more cost-
eective. However, researchers in the Mindspark study, after adjusting for price uctuation, claimed
that CAL was more cost-eective than after-school group-based tutoring.¹¹² This suggests that,
with decreases in technology costs, CAL is becoming more cost-eective in regions like India.
However, based on the cost of labour, availability of quality teachers, access to computers, and so
on, these programmes may still not be easy to implement in some contexts.
Currently, in developing countries, it seems eective to introduce CAL as an after-school programme.
Results from many of the studies discussed here suggest that this leads to higher impact. To reduce
costs, CAL programmes could be rolled out through mobile devices. Like computers, smartphones
can provide adaptive instructions, moulded to the students’ learning styles, increasing student
motivation and channels of communication between students and educators, at a much lower
cost and greater ease of use and implementation.¹¹³ With the cost of internet connectivity falling,
mobile devices can also be used to access online courses and MOOCs. Even though MOOCs do
not have the benets of face-to-face classes, (such as enriching and fullling conversations and
networking opportunities), these courses do oer great exibility and potential to reach students in
remote areas.
If all the infrastructure and cost issues are resolved, it is likely that CAL will have a greater impact
in developing countries. In the long run, it promises to be cost-eective in unintended ways. For
example, computer and simulation software can help schools and educational centres that cannot
aord to set up science labs.¹¹⁴ As science courses requiring labs need expensive infrastructure and
equipment, as well as skilled sta and materials, the comparatively lower cost of setting up digital
centres with appropriate software might increase students’ access to educational material. More
importantly, the computer programmes allow for teaching materials to be adapted, and will resolve
the issue of students not being taught at the right level.
Despite the constantly changing nature of technology, there is currently limited technological
pedagogy training for teachers in the developing world.¹¹⁵ However, tech-innovators have claimed
that ICT can be used in teacher training to increase access to quality education and to provide
21st-Century skills such as creativity and critical thinking to young learners.¹¹⁶ Use of ICT promises
to help with: (1) updating teacher content knowledge; (2) updating teacher pedagogical practices;
(3) increasing teacher technical knowledge and ability to use ICT tools in class; and (4) reducing
the variation in student performance caused by variation in teacher skills. In this subsection, we
summarise some of the key evidence from the study of the use of ICT in teacher training across
dierent education systems.
The success of classroom ICT integration and its impact on student learning relies heavily on the
quality of teachers’ technological pedagogical training. According to UNESCO’s ICT Competency
Framework for Teachers, in a Tanzanian survey of 206 teachers, ICT competence levels fell by 61%
in the beginner category.¹¹⁷ Teachers who possess a weak understanding of ICT knowledge are not
able to eectively use ICT tools.¹¹⁸ A survey of teachers in sub-Saharan Africa found that teachers
perception of eectiveness and barriers to ICT integration was correlated to their technological
pedagogical content knowledge and it impacted on their willingness to accept ICT.¹¹⁹
A study in Kenya found that some teachers were not using ICT tools for fear of being replaced by
technology in the process.¹²⁰ This indicates the need for designing teacher training programmes
that focus on helping teachers understand the connections between pedagogy, content and the
quality of the technology.¹²¹
In the Philippines, the government’s iSchools project gave schools computers, printers, projectors,
internet connectivity and training modules to help teachers use the equipment. The initiative
resulted in improved teacher ICT literacy and positive learning results for students.¹²² In South Africa,
installations of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in the classroom without the training modules did not
lead to improvement in student engagement.¹²³ Clearly, for ICT interventions to be truly eective,
there is a need for more targeted professional development for teachers. Such policy¹²⁴ may also
result in other benets, such as: teachers generating learning tasks that are multidisciplinary and
collaborative;¹²⁵ and teachers leveraging ICT for planning, collaborating with other educators, and
drawing on resources from databases.¹²⁶
We have discussed the importance of improving teacher’s attitudes towards ICT to maximise the
positive eect that technology can have on education. In this regard, there seems to be rhetoric that
experienced teachers are less likely to learn and use ICT in their teaching. However, evidence does
not support this. In a study in Tanzania, the government distributed ICT tools to 2,000 schools and
trained their teachers to use them.¹²⁷ The study found that the prior education level of the teacher
or their teaching experience was not a determinant of their ICT knowledge. However, with greater
training and increased ICT experience, teachers’ likelihood of using such tools in class increases.¹²⁸
This reinforces the need for integrating ICT use and training in teacher training.¹²⁹ It should be noted
Teacher training and professional development programmes
that studies evaluating the dierence in basic ICT skills between pre-service and early in-service
teachers have found that pre-service teachers perform marginally better.¹³⁰ However, this may be
explained by the exible attitude of pre-service teachers compared to the resistance to change that
in-service teachers may demonstrate. While investing in ICT training for pre-service teachers could
have more impact, it makes sense to have more ICT training investment for in-service teachers, as
they constitute most of the teaching force in most countries.
Researchers have explained the dierence in teachers’ ICT adoption rates through an analysis of
teacher attitudes towards ICT integration. For instance, in Kazakhstan, despite eorts to provide
teacher training, (when ICT integration in classrooms and teaching did not reach expected levels),
studies found the cause to be teachers’ lack of condence in their abilities to use ICT tools.¹³¹ In
such situations, teachers need to be supported in understanding how to use ICT to improve their
curriculum, pedagogical practices, as well as to aid with student data tracking. Not surprisingly,
studies also show that the more the teachers use ICT tools, the more they nd them to be useful.¹³²
Researchers looked at secondary schools in Rwanda where geographic information systems were
introduced, requiring advanced ICT skills. They found that teachers’ attitudes depended on their
perception of the usability of the technology, which in turn aected adoption rates.¹³³
While many teachers in developing countries may not have access to personal laptops, researchers
have explored the possibility of teacher training via mobile phones. UNESCO eld projects from
Nigeria, Pakistan and Senegal found that mobile phones can be eectively used to improve teacher
practices.¹³⁴ In Nigeria, mobile phones were being used to support the pedagogical practice and
content knowledge of primary school teachers. They did this by sending weekly tips on English
content and teaching methodologies, along with motivational messages, and information on
location-based resources. In Pakistan, mobile phones were used to send training videos and
multiple-choice questions to teachers in remote areas to develop their early childhood education
professional practice. In Senegal, science and mathematics primary school teachers were sent
pre-approved lesson plans. Qualitative studies across these interventions found that a substantial
number of teachers reported an improvement in content knowledge and student performance.
These interventions also led to an increase in the likelihood of teachers using ICT by 0.76 standard
deviation in Nigeria, 0.46 standard deviation in Pakistan and 0.41 standard deviation in Senegal.¹³⁵
These studies, consistent with our earlier suggestion, encourage the need to exploit the massive
spread of mobile phones in developing countries. Mobile-phone-based, low-cost technological
interventions provide a scalable cost-eective solution. Most teachers are familiar with the use of
mobile phones, which allows for opportunities of slowly scaling up to more complex technological
It is important to highlight that most of the studies on teacher ICT ecacy point to the need for
extended technical support and continuous training to help teachers practice and expand their
repertoire of skills. The implementation of a 10-day teacher training programme for ICT integration
in teaching showed no signicant change in teacher practices in Tanzania.¹³⁶ In contrast, an
intervention in Ethiopia had more success. In a two-day training session, teachers took part using
ICT for lesson design and received continuous feedback. This was followed by lesson delivery and
reection activities over an extended period of time, which proved more successful.¹³⁷ From these
examples, it seems that the success of teacher training workshops is highly reliant on sustained
and eectively planned activities.
Constraints and policy implications
In a short time, the use of technology in teacher training and professional development programmes
has shown very positive results. As noted, it is essential to the success of ICT integration in
classrooms. Some of the challenges identied in the implementation of technology-driven teacher
training programmes are:
(a) teachers’ lack of experience using ICT tools and the resulting fear of technology¹³⁸
(b) teachers’ lack of motivation and resistance to change¹³⁹
(c) the lack of proper ICT-based resources and training materials
(d) lack of capacity of teacher training institutes in adopting ICT-based teacher
training methods.¹⁴⁰
The upfront costs of support sta and resources to provide teachers the technical support they
need is usually very high. Hence, in the short term, the cost-eectiveness of ICT-based teacher-
training programmes can seem unsustainable at large scales for developing countries. However,
with the eective use of expansive mobile networks and technology, these costs can be reduced
signicantly. The return on investment for these programmes is potentially delayed. As teachers
slowly become more procient and collaborative, they will need less support than when starting
out. Also, as education systems become more tech-savvy, and teachers become procient in using
the technology, the costs are expected to decrease as the benets multiply.
Changing the behaviour of key stakeholders in an educational
One of the more complex challenges to improving education systems is the fact that various
actors often behave in sub-optimal manners. There is a high incidence of student and teacher
absenteeism, lack of engagement among stakeholders (such as: low parent–teacher engagement,
low parent–student engagement, low overall community engagement with educational institutions,
schools/colleges), and low level of information about education in disenfranchised communities at
large. Finding ways to encourage dierent stakeholders to behave in a more optimal manner can
have overarching positive eects on the entire education system. This requires a behaviour change
where stakeholders are required to plan for the long term, rather than base their decisions on short-
term costs and benets.
Researchers have been evaluating technology-based behavioural interventions for improving
education systems. Some of the main interventions that have been rolled out target:
(a) increasing the level of information available to the stakeholders
(b) improving communications between actors
(c) increasing motivation.
In this subsection, we summarise some of the key evidence from the research on behavioural
interventions in education. We look at how this research can be leveraged for the benet of future
programme design.
According to classical economic theory, information asymmetry leads to inecient systems. Hence,
it is not surprising to learn that learning outcomes are adversely impacted by lack of information
about quality of education and motivation, especially among low-income households. However,
now there is an emergence of low-cost innovative ways to use technology to spread information
and increase motivation. One such promising intervention using mobile technology was studied
by researchers in Minnesota. This intervention evaluated the impact of Text2Learn, a mobile
phone texting programme for low-income parents of pre-schoolers, which aimed to promote their
engagement in early literacy activities. Under the programme, the researchers sent text messages
to parents over a 12-week period regarding information about early childhood literacy, literacy-
promoting activities, and opportunities to use early childhood community resources. Participating
parents reported an increase in the frequency of engaging in literacy activities with their children.¹⁴¹
While this is in itself a valuable learning activity, it also has great long-term eects. Traditional evidence
on the subject states that children’s learning outcomes improve with parental participation.¹⁴²
Another study looking at improving information and motivation for education was the evaluation of
READY4K!. Similar to Text2Learn, READY4K! sent text messages to parents, containing suggestions
of tasks that parents could do to improve their child’s preparedness for school, along with words of
encouragement and regular reminders. The researchers found that READY4K! increased parental
involvement at home (0.22 to 0.34 standard deviation) and school (0.13 to 0.19 standard deviation),
which led to pronounced literacy gains (0.21 to 0.34 standard deviation) for children.¹⁴³ This eect
is also observed in programmes targeting parents with children in higher grades (grade 3 and 4).¹⁴⁴
In California, a study of READY4K! targeted parents of children in kindergarten. Text messages
were dierentiated and personalised based on the child’s developmental level. This study found
that dierentiated and personalised messages led to children being 50% more likely to read at a
higher level compared to the control group. Parents engaged more in literacy activities (by 0.31
standard deviations).¹⁴⁵ Using such technology-based behavioural interventions appears to be a
cost-eective way of having a positive inuence on early childhood development.
Researchers also found positive impacts when sending information using text messages to parents
of children in middle and high school. In a randomised study in California, these parents were
provided with detailed, biweekly information about their child’s missed assignments and their
grades. The researcher found that the intervention lead to 0.19 standard deviation increase in high
school grade point average (GPA), a 7.5 percentage point decrease in missing nal exam projects,
and a 0.21 standard deviation increase for mathematics standardised exam scores.¹⁴⁶
When a similar study was conducted in West Virginia, the intervention resulted in reduction in
course failure by 38%, increase in GPA for both middle and high school students with a 0.10 standard
deviation increase on in-class test scores, and an increase in attendance by 17%.¹⁴⁷
In another study, an online module delivered brief growth-mindset and sense-of-purpose
interventions to geographically diverse high school students. It was designed to help students
persist when they experienced academic diculty. Researchers found that the intervention led to
an increase in students performing satisfactorily in core courses by 6.4 percentage points.¹⁴⁸ Such
eects are also observed in older students who attend college. In an experiment conducted in
England, motivational text messages and organisational reminders were sent to students, leading
to reductions in the number of students who stopped attending college by 36% and an increase in
average attendance by 7%.¹⁴⁹
Researchers have also tried using mobile phone technology to improve teacher communication
with parents and students. In a randomised eld experiment, students from Grades 6 and 9
received a phone call and a text/written message every day during a mandatory summer school
programme.¹⁵⁰ The study found that this frequent communication increased student engagement,
with an increase in homework completion by 40%, and increased class participation by 15%. Among
high school students, a school credit recovery intervention delivered weekly one-sentence,
individualised messages from teachers to parents. This signicantly reduced the percentage of
students who failed to earn course credit (by 41%).¹⁵¹ Based on the evidence, it seems that low-
cost interventions greatly reduce dropouts and facilitate better parent–teacher communication to
increase parental involvement in children’s education. This results in positive impacts on learning
Constraints and policy implications
All the above-mentioned behavioural interventions targeted the informational and motivational
constraints that led to underperformance. Technology-based behavioural interventions provide
additional information that reduces bias and improves student achievement. The advantage
of these interventions is that they are very low cost and require very low technology, while any
analogous interventions to address the same constraints would be very costly and time-consuming.
Hence, they seem scalable in most contexts. However, it should be noted that they are all new
programmes, and the long-term eects have not been studied yet. Behavioural science literature
states that, in the long run, individuals run high risks of backsliding to their previous state. There is
also very little evidence of such interventions in developing countries. However, based on current
evidence, education systems in the Global South should explore behavioural interventions that tap
into the strength of the vast existing networks of mobile phones to encourage optimal behaviour
from dierent stakeholders and improve learning outcomes. While certain communities/groups
still lack access to mobile phone technology (e.g. women in the Global South are less likely to have
access to mobile phones compared to men), when compared to other intervention designs, there
is still a large scope for exploitation, with reports suggesting that two-thirds of the world population
is now connected with mobile devices.¹⁵²
The success and eectiveness of the interventions discussed in this section depend on their design,
reach, target audience, implementation and cost. As per our analysis, mobile learning interventions
seem to be most helpful for poor and marginalised communities. Mobile phones are a low-tech,
low-cost method of disseminating educational resources and have been successful across waves
of ed-tech in dierent locations. The most innovative use of mobile phones has been in behavioural
interventions that involve students, parents, primary caregivers, teachers (training programmes) and
community leaders. Mobile phones allow for the formation of professional learning communities
and enable the use of learning apps and software.
CAL tools have also been a great success due to their ability to contextualise these solutions to
the needs of the target audience. While most of CAL’s success has been in developed countries
of the Global North, it has also been benecial for students from low-income households. Many
developing countries are also expanding the use of CAL which has been promising. For this reason,
schools are also trying to equip teachers with advanced ICT skills and equipment. Hopefully, with
the expansion of basic infrastructure in developing countries, schools in these regions could soon
increase the scope and frequency of their integration of advanced ICT equipment in educational
Updating the ICT equipment in developing countries needs to be complemented by equipping
teachers with the skills to use these tools. This is both expensive and time-consuming, resulting
in a high opportunity cost. In the short term, use of mobile-phone-based interventions for teacher
training seems most cost-eective. Mobile teacher training modules can help teachers in developing
countries improve their pedagogical and ICT techniques. A greater use of MOOCs and other online
courses is also encouraged, covering a wide range of subjects across primary, secondary and
tertiary education. However, as they are currently designed, these tools primarily benet students
in developed countries. More MOOCs need to be developed specically for developing countries
to have a greater impact. The same can be said of advanced software, graphing tools, simulations,
and others developed for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Most computer-based interventions have a high implementation cost. This means they are out
of reach for many people in the developing world. Computer-assisted learning and access to
technology are currently interdependent issues, relying on each other for their success. However,
their cumulative cost makes it prohibitively expensive for many parts of the world. Addressing this
issue will take time and investment from the international community. Meanwhile, we must continue
to leverage the prevailing infrastructure to move forward.
Section 3: New developments in scalable ed-tech
A detailed analysis of the evidence base on ed-tech clearly demonstrates the many benets of
technology-based innovation. Increasingly, improvements in technology are making computers,
tablets, and other such devices cheaper, which could reduce the current inequality gap. This
could allow us to leverage CAL and adaptive learning which can help teachers and students. For
example, Bridge International Academies in Kenya use technology to train teachers and give them
scripted lessons using a tablet, which they use while teaching. These scripted lessons include
instructional content and classroom activities that ensure a basic minimum quality of classroom
instruction for all children.¹⁵³ This allows teachers who may not have mastered the curricula to be
more eective.¹⁵⁴ Another successful intervention designed by the Bridge academies leveraged
technology at scale. It involved using tablets to track teacher absenteeism (teachers log in daily
to receive lesson plans) and student progress (teachers regularly input student performance data
in the tablets).¹⁵⁵ This provides a two-fold benet – while reducing teacher absenteeism, schools
also have access to detailed student data that allows for the design of more targeted solutions to
help struggling students in the classroom. Furthermore, students at the academies use computers
during and after school hours for assisted learning. This is a good example of the multifaceted
use of existing technology, at a scale that ensures quality education for thousands of children in
a developing country. At the same time, the focus on technology has also been criticised, with
questions raised about the scripted lesson plans undermining the student–teacher relationship.¹⁵⁶
Therefore, it is important to consider the quality of the ed-tech application in various settings.
In this section, we discuss more new and innovative uses of current technology and promising
developments in scalable ed-tech.¹⁵⁷
A promising new use of existing technology is the increase of MOOCs for teacher training and
development of additional skills. Platforms such as TeachScape and Coursera oer various courses
for teacher professional development.¹⁵⁸ In the US, many teachers now use Knowledge Delivery
Systems (a professional learning platform which provides learning opportunities to teachers and
administrators and a platform to engage, share resources, set goals and track progress) courses to
access teaching and learning content to improve their eectiveness.¹⁵⁹ Edthena and EdConnective
are video platform tools specically designed for teachers to share their classroom videos to
improve learning, allow feedback and encourage mentoring.¹⁶⁰ Adjustments would be needed for
such tools to be used by teachers in developing countries.
CAL has been particularly benecial for students with disabilities in developed countries. However,
due to the high level of poverty in the Global South, many children with disabilities are unable to
access these tools. Various small-scale studies by UNICEF and WHO have indicated the huge
potential of assistive technology to improve functioning for children with disabilities.¹⁶¹ Today, there
are many software, computer and mobile applications and websites designed and dedicated
to helping children with disabilities. ModMath is a mobile app developed to help children with
conditions such as dyslexia and dysgraphia acquire mathematics skills.¹⁶² The Braille and Audio
Reading Download (BARD) mobile app, created by the US National Library Service for the Blind and
Physically Handicapped, provides access to braille and audio books.¹⁶³ For children with autism, See.
Touch.Learn has developed a visual learning and assessment system.¹⁶⁴ These programmes are
designed for specic disabilities that inhibit children’s learning, rather than using a one-size-ts-all
model. However, there is still a need for these apps to cater to people who speak dierent regional
languages and for those from dierent cultural backgrounds. Yoza Cellphone Stories, launched in
South Africa, is an example of a technology intervention that is culturally competent.¹⁶⁵ Yoza oers
an online library of novels and stories written by local authors. The Yoza interactive platform grew in
reach without any marketing, taking advantage of students’ access to mobile phones. This low-cost
technology successfully encouraged teenagers with extremely limited access to quality literature
to spend more time reading.
Video games
Innovative use of video games in the STEM elds is also worth noting.¹⁶⁶ GlassLab Games is gaining
huge popularity for its engaging interaction with learning content that results in increased learning
retention. The UN World Food Programme’s educational game Food Force grew to 4 million
players in its rst year and now has 10 million players around the world.¹⁶⁷ Using these games,
CAL programmes are now more interactive and fun than ever, while also acting as a powerful
analytical tool to provide targeted feedback to students and teachers. Tools such as Dreambox use
machine learning algorithms on collected student data to provide a more adaptive experience.¹⁶⁸
Companies like Knewton and Smart Sparrow allow schools and other education service providers
to create and host their own adaptive learning platforms for their students.¹⁶⁹’¹⁷⁰ Increased use of
such platforms could propel the development of more programmes, tools and apps, using adaptive
learning technology.
School management tools
Even though use of technology for school management is not common in developing countries,
markets have recently grown for such management tools in the West.¹⁷¹ Technology-driven
management and information systems are now being used in schools to provide decision-makers
with the information needed for informed planning, policymaking, and evaluation.¹⁷² Such tools
are impacting on leadership, decision-making, human resource management, communication and
planning in schools.¹⁷³ Gibbon is one such management software which oers multiple features such
as tools for nance, sta management, payroll, invoicing and schedules. It also provides teaching
tools such as grade books, rubrics, assessments, planner tools, and library catalogues, and allows
parents to learn about their child’s growth.¹⁷⁴ OpenSIS is another highly regarded school management
software package. It is free and oers features such as faculty messaging, government reporting,
library management, classroom management, and report cards for parents.¹⁷⁵ The fact that free
or aordable school management software is available in the market is highly advantageous for
schools everywhere, whether in the developed or developing world. But their adoption is plagued
by the same problems that aect ICT adoption by teachers: attitudes of school management, the
need for maintenance, lack of appropriate infrastructure, and limited ICT literacy.
Our discussion of the eectiveness of ed-tech has revealed no simple answer to how ed-tech
impacts on learning outcomes. The unique problems and constraints of the Global South make it
dicult to measure the impact of ed-tech inputs in the system. Education in developing countries
faces the challenges of factors such as poverty, gender disparity, low health outcomes, conict
and related political issues, lack of quality infrastructure, and so on. Various interventions have been
designed and tested in countries around the world.
Access to technology (for example, e-readers, interactive whiteboards, computers, handheld
devices) appears to have had positive eects on learning, contingent on easy and cheap availability
of quality multimedia educational resources and proper adoption of ICT. The use of ICT also proves
to be cost-eective and more reliable than analogue solutions when it comes to assessment
of skills. In the long term, ICT tools will be cost-eective as they provide a viable alternative to
expensive science labs and libraries. However, procuring ICT equipment for students and teachers
is accompanied by the cost of teachers’ training and professional development that is essential to
help them leverage the technology in the classroom.
Another hurdle with ICT-infused teacher training programmes is the opportunity cost of time taken
away from actual classroom exercises. Many countries have witnessed teachers resisting large-
scale introduction of ICT in schools, which calls for stakeholder engagement to ensure success.
Yet, there is good reason to believe that proper ICT integration in education systems will have
long-term benets, though there is little evidence currently available. After looking at multiple
studies, across waves of technology-based education intervention, we conclude that successful
programmes are often the ones that make cost-eective choices of the type of technology used.
We believe that using low-cost mobile phones instead of computers, or distributing fewer pieces of
equipment per school (as opposed to following the one-to-one model), is advisable for developing
countries in the short term. With the gradual improvement in overall infrastructure, these countries
should shift towards using more advanced ICT tools in their education delivery system.
On reviewing evidence, we also observed that the positive eects of providing access to technology
are often nullied if they are not supported with quality CAL software. In regions where CAL/ICT
programmes cannot be properly implemented, it would be more ecient to hire more teachers
and reduce the student–teacher ratio in the short term. CAL programmes and software designed
to be adaptive to support ‘scaolded’ learning appear to have signicant positive eects on student
learning, once the cost of obtaining the hardware, software and training students to use it is
covered. It also appears that the best results come out of use of CAL in after-school programmes.
This indicates that some thought should be given to how school time is structured and its impact
on learning.
Multimedia content that engages students has resulted in learning gains across elds of study,
regional areas and age groups. The impact of these eorts is multiplied if the software solution is
contextualised to the learners’ region and their needs.
The main barrier for CAL adoption is the cost, since the hardware must be obtained. The process
of creating localised software may also become expensive. The eect of online courses on tertiary
education has not been as promising – students have complained that online courses do not match
up to the quality of face-to-face courses and this reects in learning outcomes. Often, the design
of these programmes is not inclusive enough, and the lack of diversity could negatively aect the
learning experience for a global audience. However, low-tech solutions such as text messages to
parents about student progress and learning have shown enormous impact on student learning
In conclusion, there appear to be tools and resources for almost all needs, but their adoption and
eectiveness depend on how well the programme design meets the specic context and needs
of the target audience. Various interventions have demonstrated the potential for aordable ICT
programmes. And so, we can safely say that, while ed-tech does appear to uphold its promise to
deliver results, it must be relied on with caution.
Citation Name and description of ICT
Eect size
Roschelle, J., Shechtman, N., Tatar,
D., Hegedus, S., Hopkins, B., Empson,
S., Knudsen, J., and Gallagher, L.
(2010). Integration of technology,
curriculum, and professional
development for advancing middle
school mathematics: Three large-
scale studies. American Educational
Research Journal, 47 (4): 833–878
SimCalc: Integrates an interactive
representational technology,
paper curriculum, and teacher
professional development; aimed
at helping students improve their
mathematics skills.
Student-level eect
sizes ranging from
0.63 to 0.56 across
experiments in
learning outcomes.
Roschelle, J., Feng, M., Murphy,
R., and Mason, C. (2016). Online
mathematics homework increases
student achievement. AERA Open,
2(4), 2332858416673968
ASSISTments: provides timely
feedback and hints to students as
they did their homework and the
tool gives teachers timely and
organised information about
students’ work.
Improvement in
mathematics test
score by 0.18
standard deviation,
with students who
had low prior
mathematics test
scores benetting
the most.
Pane, J., Grin, B., McCarey, D., and
Karam, R. (2014). Eectiveness of
Cognitive Tutor Algebra I at scale.
Educational Evaluation and Policy
Analysis, 36(2), 127–144
Cognitive Tutor Algebra I: CTAI – a
tool that provides the entire
mathematics course curricula,
lesson plans, training for
teachers, etc.
No eect on student
test score on an
algebra prociency
exam in the rst year
but a signicant
positive eect of 0.19
standard deviation
in the second year of
Barrow, L., Markman, L., and Rouse,
C. (2009). Technology’s edge: The
educational benets of computer-
aided instruction. American Economic
Journal: Economic Policy, 1(1), 52–74
I can learn: delivers instructions
on a one-to-one basis and gives
classroom management tools to
Treatment group, on
average, scored
higher on pre-
tests by 0.17
standard deviation.
Yaghmour, K. S. (2016). Eectiveness
of blended teaching strategy on the
achievement of third grade students
in mathematics. Journal of Education
and Practice, 7(5), 65-73
Blended learning platform where
computerised mathematics
instruction and educational
material were developed aligned
to the curriculum for Grade 3
Test score in
mathematics for
treated students
improved on
average by 0.33
standard deviation.
Appendix 1
Citation Name and description of ICT
Eect size
Akgunduz, D., & Akinoglu, O. (2016).
The eect of blended learning and
social media-supported learning on
the students’ attitude and self-
directed learning skills in science
education. TOJET: The Turkish Online
Journal of Educational Technology,
The researchers selected
interactive animations and videos,
on Systems in Our Body for
Grade 7 science and technology
lessons, which were shared with
students in a virtual classroom,
along with carefully prepared
On average, the test
scores of treated
students increased
by 6 points.
Kepceoglu, I. (2016). Teaching a
concept with GeoGebra: Periodicity of
trigonometric functions. Educational
Research and Reviews, 11(8), 573-581
GeoGebra: Provides graphical,
numerical and algebraic
representations of mathematical
objects on the same screen.
72% of students in
the experimental
group gave the
correct answer,
whereas only 22%
of students’ answers
in the control group
are correct.
Banerjee, A., Cole, S., Duo, E., and
Linden, L. (2007). Remedying
education: Evidence from two
randomized experiments in India, The
Quarterly Journal of Economics,
122(3), 1235–1264
Children shared a computer for
two hours per week (two
children shared one computer) –
where they played a variety
of educational computer games
which emphasised basic
competencies in the ocial
mathematics curriculum.
Children in the study
obtained higher math
scores by about 0.35
standard deviation
in rst year and 0.47
standard deviation
in the second year,
on average
compared to the
control group.
Muralidharan, K., Singh, A., and
Ganimian, A. (2016). Disrupting
education? Experimental evidence on
technology-aided instruction in India.
NBER Working Paper No. 22923
Mindspark: An innovative
feature of this software is that it
customises the material being
delivered to match the level and
rate of progress made by each
individual student. It analyses
the data to identify patterns of
student errors, and precisely
targets content to help the
student improve on these topics.
Treated students
showed high learning
gains in
mathematics of
about 0.36 standard
deviation and in the
local Hindi language
of about 0.22
standard deviation
and the researchers
observed a relatively
higher learning gains
for academically
weaker students.
Citation Name and description of ICT
Eect size
Rouse, C., and Krueger, A. (2004).
Putting computerized instruction to
the test: A randomized evaluation of a
‘scientically based’ reading
Program.Economics of Education
Review, Special Issue In Honor of
Lewis C. Solman, 23(4), 323–38
Fast forWord: language-based
audio-visual games that adapt
with the child’s progress,
gradually decreasing
No impact.
Wijekumar, K., Meyer, b., Yu-Chu Lin,
P., Johnson, L., Spielvogel, J.,
Shurmatz, K., Ray, M., and Cook,
M. (2014). Multisite randomized
controlled trial examining intelligent
tutoring of structure strategy for fth-
grade readers. Journal of Research on
Educational Eectiveness, 7(4),
ITSS, a web-based intelligent
tutor, gives students strategy
along with instructions on how
to tackle reading texts.
0.2 to 0.5 standard
deviation in student
comprehension as
measured by
standardised tests.
Mirzaei, A., Domakani, M. R., & Rahimi,
S. (2016). Computerized lexis-based
instruction in EFL classrooms: Using
multi-purpose LexisBOARD to teach
L2 vocabulary. ReCALL, 28(1), 22-43
LexisBOARD: A combination of
dictionary and a collection of
words which provides dierent
meanings of words or
concordance lines of words and
chunks, based on the context
of their use.
Treated students, on
average, scored 3
point higher on an
English language
Jere-Folotiya, J., Chansa-Kabali, T.,
Munachaka, J., Sampa, F., Yalukanda,
C., Westerholm, J., Lyytinen, H. (2014).
The eect of using a mobile literacy
game to improve literacy levels of
grade one students in Zambian
schools. Educational Technology
Research and Development 62 (4),
GraphoGame: A game for mobile
phones with series of levels,
which gradually move on to short
and increasingly longer words.
The game adapts the diculty
level to the child’s unique ability
level and provides positive
feedback to sustain the child’s
engagement in playing.
Students in the
study, on average,
score higher on
English test by 0.12
standard deviation.
Kam, M., Kumar, A., Jain, S., Mathur, A.,
Canny, J. (2009). Improving literacy in
rural India: Cellphone games in an
after-school program. Paper
presented at the Third International
Conference on Information and
Communication Technologies and
Cellphones with preloaded
English as a Second Language
(ESL) learning games were
loaned to participants.
The students, on
average, gained 3.4
points out of 18 with
fairly large variations
(-2 to 9 out of 18) and
students with better
literacy skills gained
more from the
Citation Name and description of ICT
Eect size
Ksoll, C., Aker, J., Miller, D., Perez, K.,
and Smalley, S. (2014). Learning
without teachers? A randomized
experiment of a mobile phone-based
adult education program in Los
Angeles. CGD Working Paper 368.
Washington, DC: Center for Global
Cell-ED: Mobile phone-based
adult education programme in
Spanish where the curriculum is
provided via a series of voice-
and SMS- based operations on
the mobile phone.
signicantly increased
students’ basic and
broad reading scores,
equivalent to a two-
to four-year increase
in reading levels
over a four-month
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... and others [7] but the professional standard "Teacher" requires using digital technologies, including MOOCs, in teaching practice on a regular basis [8]. Although MOOCs seem to get the go-ahead at all levels of education of the Republic of Kazakhstan, free educational opportunities provided by the world scientific communities do not motivate their participants to complete training on time due to informational illiteracy of society [9], ICT phobia for learning [10][11], lack of time [12], and the need to study individually for too long [13]. ...
... In particular, personalised and adaptive learning systems offer the potential to support self-led learning as well as other forms of learning (making this more accessible, impactful and engaging). 1 Using technology to support personalised learning has been proposed as a way to increase learner access to education both in and out of school, enable teaching at the 'right' (ie, the learner's current) level and reduce the negative effects of high teacher-learner ratios (Kishore & Shah, 2019;Zualkernan, 2016). Such affordances could play an important role in tackling the greatest disruption to education in our time-an effective response to COVID-19 which saw 1.6 billion learners losing access to their classrooms in addition to causing ongoing disruption (UNESCO, 2020). ...
Full-text available
Digital technology offers the potential to address educational challenges in resource‐poor settings. This meta‐analysis examines the impact of students' use of technology that personalises and adapts to learning level in low‐ and middle‐income countries. Following a systematic search for research between 2007 and 2020, 16 randomised controlled trials were identified in five countries. Studies involved 53,029 learners aged 6–15 years. Coding examined learning domain (mathematics and literacy); personalisation level and delivery; technology use; and intervention duration and intensity. Overall, technology‐supported personalised learning was found to have a statistically significant—if moderate—positive effect size of 0.18 on learning ( p = 0.001). Meta‐regression reveals how more personalised approaches which adapt or adjust to learners' level led to significantly greater impact (an effect size of 0.35) than those only linking to learners' interests or providing personalised feedback, support, and/or assessment. Avenues for future research include investigating cost implications, optimum programme length, and teachers' role in making personalised learning with technology effective. Practitioner notes What is already known about this topic? Promoting personalised learning is an established aim of educators. Using technology to support personalised learning in low‐ and middle‐income countries (LMICs) could play an important role in ensuring more inclusive and equitable access to education, particularly in the aftermath of COVID‐19. There is currently no rigorous overview of evidence on the effectiveness of using technology to enable personalised learning in LMICs. What this paper adds? The meta‐analysis is the first to evaluate the effectiveness of technology‐supported personalised learning in improving learning outcomes for school‐aged children in LMICs. Technology‐supported personalised learning has a statistically significant, positive effect on learning outcomes. Interventions are similarly effective for mathematics and literacy and whether or not teachers also have an active role in the personalisation. Personalised approaches that adapt or adjust to the learner led to significantly greater impact, although whether these warrant the additional investment likely necessary for implementation at scale needs to be investigated. Personalised technology implementation of moderate duration and intensity had similar positive effects to that of stronger duration and intensity, although further research is needed to confirm this. Implications for practice and/or policy: The inclusion of more adaptive personalisation features in technology‐assisted learning environments can lead to greater learning gains. Personalised technology approaches featuring moderate personalisation may also yield learning rewards. While it is not known whether personalised technology can be scaled in a cost‐effective and contextually appropriate way, there are indications that this is possible. The appropriateness of teachers integrating personalised approaches in their practice should be explored given ‘supplementary’ uses of personalised technology (ie, additional sessions involving technology outside of regular instruction) are common.
Most research on online education compares student performance across online and in-person formats. We provide the first evidence that online education affects the number of people pursuing education by studying Georgia Tech’s Online MS in Computer Science, the earliest model offering a highly ranked degree at low cost. A regression discontinuity in admission shows that program access substantially increases overall educational enrollment. By satisfying large, previously unmet demand for midcareer training, this program will boost annual production of American computer science master’s degrees by at least 7%. Online options may open opportunities for populations who would not otherwise pursue education.
The vast differences in summer learning activities among children present a substantial challenge to providing equal educational opportunity in the United States. Most initiatives aimed at reversing summer learning loss focus on school- or center-based programs. This study explores the potential of enabling parents to provide literacy development opportunities at home as a low-cost alternative. We conduct a randomized field trial of a summer text-messaging pilot program for parents focused on promoting literacy skills among first through fourth graders. We find positive effects on reading comprehension among third and fourth graders, with effect sizes of .21 to .29 standard deviations, but no effects for first and second graders. Texts also increased attendance at parent-teacher conferences but not at other school-related activities. Evidence to inform future efforts to reverse summer learning loss is provided by parents’ responses to a follow-up survey.
Roughly 20% of adults in the OECD lack basic numeracy and literacy skills. In the UK, many colleges offer fully government subsidized adult education programs to improve these skills. Constructing a unique dataset consisting of weekly attendance records for 1179 students, we find that approximately 25% of learners stop attending these programs in the first ten weeks and that average attendance rates deteriorate by 20% in that time. We implement a large?scale field experiment in which we send encouraging text messages to students. Our initial results show that these simple text messages reduce the proportion of students that stop attending by 36% and lead to a 7% increase in average attendance relative to the control group. The effects on attendance rates persist through the three weeks of available data following the initial intervention.