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Introducing USAID Principles for Educational Technology Investments

By Guest Writer on June 19, 2024

edutech entrepreneurs

Today, a range of educational technologies are increasingly ubiquitous in many of the communities where USAID works and are relatively inexpensive for educational authorities and learners to access. These tools can target different actors and barriers within an educational value chain. Broadly speaking, these interventions can be divided amongst two camps:

  • technologies that can be used to strengthen efficiencies in educational systems and
  • technologies that directly serve learners in traditional and non-traditional educational settings to improve academic performance.

What makes investment decisions about ICT4Edu so challenging, particularly in low-resource settings, is that as with other interventions, they are just one component of a complex educational system.

10 EduTech Investment Principles

USAID is among the world’s largest bilateral investors in ICT projects for education. Such projects use technology to:

  • increase access to basic education;
  • support the development of literacy and numeracy skills;
  • improve the management of schools and education systems;
  • enhance the relevance and quality of learning; and
  • extend educational opportunities to marginalized and vulnerable populations, including those in crisis and conflict environments.

Once thought of as merely desktop computers with fixed-line Internet connectivity, ICT has expanded to include many different types of devices and pathways for introducing technology into schools—with positive results. ICT integration has shown to increase student motivation, promote change in classroom practices, and support other improvements in education systems.

USAID adheres to ten key principles when conceptualizing, designing, and implementing ICT in education systems.

1. Use ICT to support education and development goals.

Technology can be used to address areas where system capacity is poor, schools are underperforming, or there are gaps in student learning. A well-designed technology solution can be used to disseminate resources, connect students to information, enhance teachers’ practices and students’ performance in all subject areas, improve school management, and support data-driven policymaking.

2. Use ICT to enhance student knowledge and skills.

If schooling is intended to be relevant to work and important to a society, success in school should be accompanied by the development of a broad body of knowledge and a complete range of skills—including socio- emotional learning (SEL), literacy, numeracy, information literacy19 and independent-learning skills that contribute to achievement in later life. ICT could be used to help students build these skills.

3. Use ICT to support data-driven decision making.

Regular and reliable data are essential to planning and policy, financial management, management of school facilities, decisions about school personnel (including teachers), and support for student learning.

4. Include all short- and longer-term costs in budget planning.

Estimating full capital and operating expenses of technology projects in schools requires consideration of all equipment and activities needed to ensure that hardware (and software) are installed, operated, maintained, repaired, and replaced, and that teachers and other personnel have the skills and resources they need to use their new tools to meet project goals.

5. Explore technology alternatives to find appropriate solutions.

The proliferation of new tools and new approaches is accelerating in all countries; these innovations challenge project developers to think creatively about emerging opportunities. Program designers should consider alternative ways of meeting proposed educational objectives, including broadcast or other technologies, low-cost/low-power computers, and mobile telephones.

6. Focus on teacher development, training, and ongoing support.

In-service teacher professional development is frequently among the most important and complex components in an education technology project. Teachers are essential to student learning outcomes.

7. Explore and coordinate involvement of many different stakeholders.

It is vital to engage multiple stakeholders in education technology projects, as they frequently cut across several sectors and entail great expense as well as technical and organizational complexity. International and local organizations can make valuable contributions, e.g., donor agencies, charitable foundations, NGOs, private-sector technology firms, government agencies, and ministries of education.

8. Develop a supportive policy environment.

Establishing policies, plans, and central agencies to shape the use of technology in education can help ensure that initial expenditures and activities support government objectives and that high-impact activities receive ongoing funding.

9. Integrate monitoring and evaluation into project planning.

Planning (and budgeting) for monitoring and evaluation of education-technology projects should begin during the first phase of project design. In most circumstances, it is important to use randomized studies and experimental statistics; such methods typically require collecting baseline data or data from control-group samples. Advanced planning, budgeting, and preparation are essential if these measures are to be put in place.

10. System strengthening precedes system transformation.

Developing-country school systems rarely have the capacity to effect substantial change in teaching, learning, or school operations—whether technology is used or not. Schools and school systems that lack basic levels of management, leadership, teacher professionalism, resources, and other core components must build the stable foundation needed for the equitable and effective delivery of public education.

EduTech Principles lightly edited from the USAID ICT4Edu How-To Note

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2 Comments to “Introducing USAID Principles for Educational Technology Investments”

  1. I like the part on exploring technology alternatives, as this is crucial for Africa, where diverse contexts require tailored solutions.
    For instance, low-cost, solar-powered tablets provide durable, internet-free education in remote areas.
    Similarly, M-Pesa revolutionized mobile banking in Kenya, bypassing traditional infrastructure.
    Innovations like offline content, mobile learning platforms, and radio-based education, people in Africa can address local challenges – by using options that are relevant to their reality.

  2. Debra Stoner says:

    Techies Without Borders, a USA-based nonprofit, uses ICT alternatives to deliver free up-to-date Continuous Professional Development medical education content to doctors, nurses, EMS, and health providers in 19 countries with limited infrastructure. The initiative works in areas of limited or no electricity and Internet using inexpensive USBs and small Raspberry-Pi computers.
    The medical education content is selected based on local partner input and needs. This is especially important in regions such as Africa where disease and injury patterns differ from other global areas such as Oceania.
    The design is scalable, cost-effective, and renewable as the medical education content is constantly updated monthly using a cloud-based server. The content is available offline and can be updated when the Internet is available.