Access to quality education across Asia, especially in developing countries, continues to be a pressing issue of this region. In Asia, there are currently 121 million children that are not enrolled in school between ages 6 and 14, with the majority (8.9 million out of 121 million) being from Southeast Asia. Despite the region’s economic growth over the last decade, there had been no significant improvement in the number of out-of-school children (OOSC) in Asia. It is estimated that 5% of children in the region still lack access to education.
As a powerful tool for achieving sustainable development, education has the ability to solve many complex social issues like economic inequality, racism, and sexism. A report issued by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) in 2015 identified links between education and nearly all the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Aside from the obvious, access to quality education (SDG4), there is significant linkage between education and growth (SDG8) and education and gender equality (SDG5).
As the region continues to undergo significant economic growth, and the widening wealth gap and social inequality continue to be of major concern, education plays a vital role in guiding societal growth in the right direction – in line with the SDGs.
Technology - information and communications technology (ICT) in particular - is already shaping the way education is being delivered. With the availability of internet becoming increasingly widespread, reaching rural and developing areas, it creates new opportunities to provide quality education to communities where there are no formal education systems/schools available.
In recent years, there has been a growing number of programmes and organisations that are leveraging ICT for education. UNESCO’s Flexible Learning Programme develops alternative education programmes targeted at reaching marginalized groups in the region. The programme is currently piloting its “Learning Coins” mobile app which provides monetary incentives for children to read. Another organization, Solve Education!, an NGO that specialises in education technology by using gamification and artificial intelligence to provide easy-to-access ways of learning, has developed a mobile app called “Dawn of Civilisation” as a way to provide English and maths skills to low-income families in Indonesia. This mobile app has reached over 10,000 users, providing nearly 7,000 hours of learning to date, these numbers are expected to keep growing.
The effectiveness of these programmes is attributed to the following factors:
- Have a clear understanding of their target audience in the early stage to eliminate barriers. By understanding why children are not in school, whether it is due to the lack of schools and teachers or the lack of financial stability at home which forces them to work at instead of being in school), it allows the programme to be shaped in a way such barriers are avoided. For example, if the cost of mobile data is high, the app should be developed in such a way that it is accessible offline to eliminate financial barriers faced by low-income families.
- Form partnerships with relevant and a diverse group of stakeholders, including local communities, teachers and parents. No single organization will have all the information required to develop and implement a successful programme. An education-focused organisation will most likely not have in-house expertise on how to develop an app from scratch despite having expertise of what the curriculum should look like. At the same time, parents need to be informed that the mobile app their children are using is for educational purposes, so they can support it by allowing their children to use it. A detailed stakeholder mapping exercise will not only support the programme’s success but also prevent potential conflicting ideas between stakeholders as to how the programme should be developed and implemented. As a bare minimum, you should be involved with: the government, teachers, parents, local NGOs and community partners, technology company/corporates with an interest/relevant sustainability initiative, and your target audience.
- Do not apply a “one-size-fits-all” approach. This is particularly important when developing a programme in Asia where there is a large range of political and cultural differences. Programmes need to be tailored to their target audience in a specific geography where the spoken language, political environment, living conditions and local culture are likely to be significantly different than the audience of another location. The best way to identify what works best is by engaging closely with your target audience.
- Track and monitor progress with representative indicators. Understanding the progress of a programme will facilitate troubleshooting any drawbacks. In the situation where the programme is successful, this information can be used as a reference for scaling it for developing a similar programme. Conversely, it is equally important to evaluate and understand the lessons learned from failed programmes to prevent mistakes from recurring. Providing metrics that support the effectiveness of a programme, you can attract new potential donors to sustain and/to scale the programme. Ideally, chosen indicators should provide an oversight of learners’ knowledge on the curriculum instead of app usage.
ICT could be the biggest driver in providing access to quality education to the 121 million children in Asia that remain out of school. To ensure the effectiveness of ICT programmes for education, collaboration amongst diverse stakeholder groups is needed to create tailored solutions.
Other resources to check out:
- The role of ICT in realizing education for all by 2030: http://www.csr-asia.com/download/ICT4SDG4-Final-Version.pdf
- Out-of-school-children overview: https://bangkok.unesco.org/content/out-school-children-oosc-regional-overview
- How well are the links between education and other sustainable development goals covered in UN flagship reports? A contribution to the study of the science-policy interface on education in the UN system: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/2111education%20and%20sdgs.pdf