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The Future is Blended: Finding Pathways to End Learning Poverty

The persistent global education crisis, recently exacerbated by the COVID19 pandemic, is irrefutable evidence that prevailing prescriptions for education access, quality, and equity are not working effectively, despite commendable efforts by the global education community.

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” (G.K. Chesterton)

As the world spins furiously into the heart of the 4th industrial revolution, it may appear from certain vantage points that the global education sector is seemingly stuck somewhere on the sidelines. Unlike many other sectors, education has not yet fully grasped how to embrace the opportunity that digital technology represents. 

There are plenty of reasons why we should be further along by now. For one, edtech is an incredibly fast-growing industry. The IMARC Group projects that the global edtech market, which reached US$194.6 billion in 2022, will top US$452.4 billion by 2028. For another, in low- and lower-middle-income countries (LLMICs), where edtech market penetration is only nascent, intervention by philanthropic organizations, like the Mastercard Foundation and the Jacobs Foundation, is providing an important boost to acceleration.

At the multilateral level, the World Bank has been an active supporter, contributing, among other things, a useful technology pack. A set of resources designed to provide decision makers some knowledge on personalized and adaptive learning technologies. Information to support their exploration of how various solutions might fit into the tapestry of strategies being devised to solve context-specific pedagogical and broader education delivery problems. 

UNICEF and the Lego Foundation have also established the Responsible Innovation in Technology for Children project. An initiative intended “to develop, with children from around the world, a framework that maps how the design of children’s digital experiences affects their well-being, and to provide guidance as to how informed design choices can promote positive well-being outcomes.”  

We even have Giga, an initiative launched by UNICEF and ITU in September 2019 to “connect every school to the Internet and every young person to information.”

LLMIC education systems, as a result, are becoming increasingly intentional about integrating ideation related to “e-learning” and “ICT” and “remote learning” and “digitization” into their education sector plans. 

This is all great progress and very much needed momentum too. But the global education sector nevertheless appears to be stuck in a perpetual rut taking two steps forward and two steps back. 

Winston Churchill is oftentimes quoted for recommending that one should “never let a good crisis go to waste.” He was right, and while the jury is still out, early evidence suggests that the protracted school closures precipitated by the COVID19 pandemic were largely a lost opportunity in most education systems. Many remote learning interventions during COVID19 were no more than patchwork-quilted, knee-jerk reactions that left several discernible holes in the fabric of education delivery. In the wake of the worst of the pandemic, few education systems appear to be at a higher state of readiness to harness the best of education technology as a means to secure the best opportunities for all children to learn. 

In several circles today, any talk about global achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 by 2030, will summarily be dismissed by pragmatists as nothing more than the naively wishful postulations of the overzealous and over-optimistic among us. Yet, it need not be so. We still have a full seven years to make this very good crisis work in our favor. But significant sole-searching and heart work will lie ahead should we dare to cut a pathway that leapfrogs counterintuitively towards the slaying of dragons, the destruction of learning poverty, and the long-awaited redemption of education. 

To succeed, we must come to terms with the true nature of our problem. We know the dragons exist. But we cannot agree on which fairy tale best tells us precisely how dragons can be killed. This blog series seeks to provide a modicum of clarity and perspective on the issue. 


Photo by Pixabay

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Learning poverty is preventing children from learning reading and math, and life skills in Africa, Central America, South Asia, and the Middle East. But you can change that.