Roundtable – Developing edtech with Dave Saltmarsh

In the second in our series, Steve Wright finds out how edtech in the developing world is advancing and driving educational change.

Dave Saltmarsh is Global education strategist at Jamf, who provide technology management for schools and businesses.

Q. Which developing countries are benefiting most from edtech?

Unfortunately, most developing countries have not modified their teaching approaches in order to take full advantage of the technology that they are attempting to incorporate.

ICT is often seen as a skill-building programme, and thus not related to other subject areas or in terms of developing students’ abilities across critical thinking, problem-solving or creativity. What’s more, any collaboration that is taking place is being done at a very low level and, often, is a case of individual work being combined, rather than actual collaboration of thought. A powerful collaboration should involve critical thinking and edtech that supports discovery through active learning.

In fact, many developing countries are still continuing the classroom structure of rows, benches or desks facing the front of the classroom, where the teacher provides direct instruction to passive students. Implementing edtech without changing instructional practices often relies on internet connectivity for access to content beyond what the teacher has available.

When the material is limited, it fails to support the large variance of students’ readiness, as a result limiting the students’ exposure to the knowledge of the teacher.

If developed countries with significant edtech implementations are to be used as models for developing countries, active learning classrooms should become the educational standard. Having visited schools across the world, I have seen success in schools that have remodelled to create learner-centred environments with alternative spaces for learning. This ultimately puts the students at the core of the learning process, with the teacher recast in the role of coach or facilitator. This way, technology is used as an enablement tool to support the change in pedagogy – and not simply as a stand-alone skill set.

Q. What kinds of edtech are being employed in developing countries? And which are proving successful?

Common edtech platforms in developing countries tend to be low-cost and don’t require any change of instructional practices. However, these aren’t actually successful. It is common to see that developing countries are focused on providing a quick fix to access without the wider consideration of all learning support platforms. For decades, the notion of TPaCK (Technology, Pedagogy and Content Knowledge), alongside the SAMR model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) has guided other countries to shift the focus from what edtech is taught to how technology is being employed in schools.

Developing countries are implementing technology without aligning themselves to new teaching approaches, or going beyond the basic substitution level suggested by SAMR. SAMR levels of edtech use support the lowest or most basic use of technology as simple substitution, with a gradual increase through augmentation, modification and eventually redefinition. Many schools find these changes very difficult to embrace, and thus accept basic substitution – new technology, same teaching practices as before – as success, when in reality, little to no benefit is seen.

ICT classes are still focused on teaching the basic components of computers, word-processing and spreadsheets in isolation as necessary skills. However, most education ministries in developing countries have recognised that teaching critical thinking and creativity is essential for success in what we have termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Basic substitution will not facilitate the innovation or transformation required to succeed. The key concept of this revolution is a shift in teaching focus, towards promoting critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity.

Many programmes remain focused on emulating the classroom structure of a teacher lecturing to a class of students, meaning that content is often delivered in the same method and at the same pace for each student, regardless of their interest, knowledge level or readiness. To overcome the challenges, developing countries have the opportunity to leapfrog to the Fourth Industrial Revolution by shifting to technology that enables mass personalised learning experiences. Edtech that supports this shift must allow personalisation of content, affordances and pace of all students, while also providing teachers with the necessary tools to manage such experiences.

Most education ministries in developing countries have recognised that teaching critical thinking and creativity is essential for success in what we have termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Dave Saltmarsh

Q. What do educators in developing countries want most from edtech suppliers?

I reckon most of the time they don’t want change due to the lack of system-wide leadership, training, and adjustments to class sizes. However, if they do, they want help with managing the edtech-enabled classroom, and with matching resources to students’ needs, as well as discovering, selection and deployment of resources.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing different countries around the implementation of edtech?

The biggest challenge is to connect the implementation of new technology to the wider challenge of shifting teaching models. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the potential for any individual with access to high-quality technology and internet to succeed, will require changes in terms of how ‘school’ is defined. Yet this shift will only happen if developing countries are willing to implement changes to their teaching model: a model that was once designed to support the old industrial revolution where basic skills, compliance and conformity were valued. Those are not the skills needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The future relies on the selection of edtech that supports the teachers’ and students’ new roles.

Further reading

Building Learning Foundations programme, Rwanda:

Rwanda hosts 2018 international conference on ICT for development, education & skills:

Omidyar Network Ecosystems Framework:

Technology-supported CPD for teachers – lessons from developing countries:

RTI Global Learning XPRIZE Data Summary: