Classrooms are changing. Many five-year olds are now as comfortable swiping a tablet as holding a pen. And googling facts – rather than looking them up in textbooks – is already the norm.
While children in developed countries are regularly learning with tablets, interactive smart whiteboards or even augmented reality, for the developing world, the potential changes that technology can bring are on a different scale altogether.
Here, EdTech is changing the whole concept of a school or classroom, making schooling possible where it has not been before.
According to Unesco, 263 million children or adolescents around the world are not attending school – that is one in every five young people. And very little progress has been made when it comes to reducing that figure in recent years.
This is one of the reasons the Varkey Foundation has created the Next Billion EdTech prize, which recognises leading start-ups making an impact on education in low income and emerging economies.
Here’s how some of the 2018 finalists introduced at the Global Education and Skills Forum are changing the traditional concept of a classroom.
Learning without traditional teachers
From Pashto to Persian, refugees often have language skills that are of value to students leading a much more privileged existence elsewhere.
This realisation led to the creation of Chatterbox, an online language school and overall winner of 2018’s Next Billion prize. Chatterbox harnesses the wasted talent of unemployed professionals who have had to flee their homeland, offering them work as language tutors.
With some fairly straightforward tech – such as online booking forms and video classrooms – refugees and language learners from all over the world can be brought together.
The refugees have often had to leave their livelihoods behind and can then find themselves in new countries with very limited ways of supporting themselves. With some basic training as a language tutor, they can find a new way of earning money, as well as regaining a sense of purpose and professional satisfaction.
In a connected world, it may be time to redefine the traditional notion of a teacher.
Learning without connectivity
Globalization has brought many benefits, but it has also left many people behind. And the same is true of digitalization.
In a world of constant change due to the pace of technological innovation, it can be easy to forget that more than half the world does not have access to the internet yet. And when there is a connection, it may well be slow and intermittent.
Although there has been a proliferation of e-learning - and Moocs (Massive Online Open Courses) in particular – it has proven difficult to make sure those resources are equally available in the developing world.
The frustrating reality of trying to learn with limited connectivity was one of the reasons that Tunde Alawode founded the EdTech start-up Dot Learn, after having taken part in online classes from MIT’s Open Courseware platform from Nigeria.
Dot Learn is a technology that reduces the file size of learning videos so that only one hundredth of the original bandwidth is required. At current data prices in Kenya and Nigeria, this means a student or learner can access five hours of online learning for about the same cost as sending a single text message.
The file-compressing app has already helped more than 50,000 students in West Africa study for the regional university entrance exam.
And it offers content providers the opportunity to reach potentially billions of users for whom online learning would otherwise be impractical or expensive.
Learning without walls
From traditional classrooms to university faculties, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that buildings are no longer necessary in order to gain an education.
TeachMeNow is an EdTech platform that facilitates personalised learning at home, in the office, or on the move. And thousands of users from around the world are taking classes through the website on a daily basis.
Whatever students want to learn – anything from homework to help with specific exams or a completely new skill – can be requested from a database of experts.
The idea is that both learners and tutors will be able to take much more control of their own learning, agreeing their own timetable, price and content.
And such platforms certainly underline the fact that teachers no longer have to be in the same room, or even country.
EdTech entrepreneurs like these determined changemakers will be recognised again at this year’s Global Education and Skills Forum. Together, these technology pioneers are innovating in ways that could have a significant impact on our world.
Find out more in Next Billion EdTech Summit @GESF sessions.