Technology instead of teachers?

Josephine Lister, editor at HundrED, believes technology can step in when teachers aren’t available

Technology is usually cast as the bad guy – the cause of descending literacy rates, preventing children from spending time outside, a powerful distraction from other more ‘fulfilling’ pastimes. However, the uses for technology are finally being realised, and the opportunities it enables can help to tackle a myriad of problems in education.

Having access to the internet presents a unique opportunity that we haven’t ever seen before. Provided you have access to an Internet-enabled device and a connection, you can look up information on anything, anywhere in the world, immediately.

A recent article detailed the difficulties education faces in Niger, West Africa – one of the lowest performing countries in terms of education. Niger is a prime example of the key issues that developing countries face. How do you provide education to the masses when the population is exponentially growing, a large section of the population lives in a rural setting (miles from any school), and there are a significant number of teacher absences?

Could the Internet help to bridge the gap? Having access to the Internet and technology allows children to take ownership of their learning and explore solutions and information themselves. One example of this is Project DEFY (design education for yourself), which uses the opportunities that the Internet and technology present to provide an inspired answer to this problem. The project sets up self-learning centres in areas where receiving a quality and stable education isn’t a reality.

Each learning centre has computers and access to the Internet, as well as tools and making materials that a community might already have. By having the Internet ready to use, anyone in the community can research into anything they’re interested in and effectively teach themselves.

Having access to the Internet and technology allows children to take ownership of their learning and explore solutions and information themselves

Not only do community members teach themselves but they also teach each other. As each person completes projects they’re working on, they can then share their new expertise with others. Everyone is able to adopt the role of the teacher as well as the learner, empowering individuals and supporting the idea that their personal talents and interests are important and valid.

Once the learning-centres are set up the spaces can be self-sustaining. The project originates from India, where the first learning-centre has been running for three years, two of which have been without the physical presence of the DEFY team. Two more were set up in 2016, one in Bangalore and the other in Uganda within a refugee settlement camp – bringing education to those who have been displaced. Project DEFY partnered with SINA and NAKIVart to implement the Ugandan Nook.

Even though the project doesn’t solely focus on the education of girls, the creators of Project DEFY have found that it has enabled young women to partake in education and that girls’ involvement in education has improved. In communities where girls may not have been allowed or able to go to school, they now have access to resources so that they can teach themselves – all the while helping to bridge the gender gap.

Not only does the project make use of the opportunities presented by the web, it also feeds into contemporary education ideals too. Personalised learning is becoming increasingly desirable as student-led education means that young people feel valued, motivated, and can follow their own individual interests and passions. This is perhaps best seen in the rise in popularity of Montessori schools, where children learn through play and self-exploration.

Traditional education systems can find it hard to implement student-led or personalised learning into their structures, but it is easy for these pedagogical concepts to be interwoven into Project DEFY’s learning centres as it is based on these exact principles.

Having spaces like these learning centres help us to create environments where young people can safely express, experiment and experience different types of learning and discover their own passions. The two driving forces behind the concept were the ideas that ‘learning happens naturally’ and ‘information is available freely’.

Technology has made a project like this possible. No longer does economics dominate who can acquire knowledge and who can’t. Once access is provided, the Internet can provide an opportunity for everyone everywhere in the world to learn.

Find out more about Project DEFY here.