Template for Success

As technology bridges Africa’s education gap, global teacher prospects grow.

GUEST COLUMN | by Alice Bonasio

CREDIT Train for Tomorrow AfricaHere’s one statistic that’s hard to wrap your head around: In order for every child to receive a primary education by 2030, we need to recruit and train 25.8 million school teachers. To put this into some perspective, that’s the equivalent of recruiting and training over one third of the entire population of the United Kingdom, and to do so across some of the most poorest and most remote areas of the planet.

The solution, some argue, is to leverage technology to bridge that logistics gap and stretch existing resources to meet the demand.

Yet although this might seem like an impossibly ambitious goal, there is no shortage of passionate individuals willing to join the teaching workforce. The crucial obstacle, however, is the chronic lack of training capacity to empower those individuals to teach.

This problem is most evident in sub-Saharan Africa. The region currently needs 2.7 million teachers and with a fast-growing school-age population this demand will grow by nearly 50 percent in the next decade or so. The Ghanaian Ministry of Education estimates that around 63,000 of the country’s primary school teachers and a further 31,000 secondary school teachers remain untrained.

As the number of primary school teachers in Ghana rose sharply by 61 percent over the last decade according to UNESCO the available training resources simply could not keep up and schools were forced to hire teachers with little or no training. This meant that the percentage of trained teachers fell from 72 percent to 53 percent from 1999 to 2013.

That trend is only set to increase as the demand for teaching soars. To meet its agreed Sustainable Development Goals of providing every child with 12 years of quality education by 2030, Ghana needs a further 189,000 teachers, in addition to training existing ones.

The lack of resources and the challenges of reaching teachers in remote and geographically dispersed areas makes this a daunting task, all but impossible to achieve using traditional training methodologies, which are time-and-labor intensive by nature.

The solution, some argue, is to leverage technology to bridge that logistics gap and stretch existing resources to meet the demand. And this is precisely what a project called Train for Tomorrow, which was launched by the The Varkey Foundation  earlier this year, is aiming to do.

Train for tomorrow is Africa’s first interactive distance learning program aimed specifically at teachers. It works by enabling two-way interactions between trainers and teachers in geographically remote and dispersed locations, meaning they can be reached at a much lower cost. Over the next two years it will use the $2 million grant it received from Dubai Cares to train around 5,000 teachers in Ghana.

The project was inspired by an earlier initiative called Making Ghanaian Girls Great (also known as MGCubed) which successfully used solar-powered computers and projectors to broadcast live lessons by master teachers to schools in deprived and isolated areas.  Funded by the UK Department for International Development, MGCubed taught basic numeracy and literacy to over 8,000 boys and girls, and also provided additional after-school club activities to vulnerable girls on issues around early pregnancy, early marriage, girls’ rights, and financial literacy. The results showed improved maths scores across the board as well as significant attendance increase from 54 percent to 80 percent in less than two years.

What this shows is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel where it comes to using edtech to impact global development. The collaboration and viral spread of content that the internet facilitates is most evident in social media, but it goes far beyond cat memes and clever quizzes. The same technology can be used to create simple and effective solutions, which can be leveraged at relatively low cost to reach a large number of people. And the greatest impact is undoubtedly to be found in empowering teachers, since the ripple effects of knowledge distribution are rapidly multiplied as each trainee is empowered to better teach many children in turn.

The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”; enabling every child in the world to access education would indeed be something magical, but it’s also not beyond the realm of reason. The most exciting thing about using technology in education is that, once a concept has been successfully tested, it can usually be scaled at relatively low cost. That’s why projects like Train for Tomorrow are worth watching, because if they can train 5,000 teachers across Ghana in the next two years, it is not actually that large a leap to imagine that similar initiatives could reach the 2.7 million teachers needed across sub-Saharan Africa, or indeed the 25 million around the world. We will be watching with interest.

Alice Bonasio is a technology writer, strategic communications consultant and edtech buff. Write to: alicebonasio@gmail.com

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cool Tool | Reading Horizons Discovery 7

CREDIT Reading Horizons DiscoveryThe seventh version of this literacy platform includes a wide array of new features providing teachers with the resources to give K–3 students a solid foundation for reading and spelling. Using relatable characters to guide reinforcement and corrective feedback, the research-based platform incorporates multisensory, Orton-Gillingham principles and a unique marking system. It easily adapts to meet the needs of all students through whole-class, small group, or one-on-one instruction, or in combination as part of a blended learning environment. The flexibility of the software allows for targeted instruction and intervention with English language learners and struggling readers in a variety of settings such as afterschool and summer programs, and independent learning centers. The newest iteration includes a tool to guide the pace of whole-class and small-group instruction, assessments to determine reading levels for each student, and an iPad app. The new Check-Up assessments can be used to quickly determine each student’s level of mastery immediately after each skill lesson has been taught. To track long-term progress, their Reading Assessment powered by the Lexile® Framework for Reading gives teachers a Lexile measure for each student. Teachers can use results from assessments to select appropriately leveled books for each student. The new iPad app gives students easy access before, during, or after school via an Internet connection. Learn more.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cool Tool | MIDAS Education

CREDIT MIDAS EducationHere’s one system where you can use one log-in to handle all of your teaching and learning needs. Call it an “EEM” (Education Enterprise Management) solution, MIDAS does not make a district’s disparate systems “talk” together; it replaces them all with one system built on Amazon Web Services. When users create or select an assignment, MIDAS updates the parent portal, the grade book, all class pages, Google Drive, and your master file with one click. An acronym for Massively Integrated Data Analytics System, it is built on a single database, which allows all stakeholders to build their own customizable data dashboards that update in real-time. In addition to managing curriculum and assessment information, MIDAS also facilitates individualized instruction by giving “permissions” to all stakeholders to surround the student with a system of support based on their role and relationship to the student. Parents can set up automated “triggers” to notify them of impending attendance or grade concerns. Administrators can be notified of SPED, behavior, or student achievement issues by student, class, grade level, school, or across the district. Most importantly, the students themselves can take an active role in “owning” their education. MIDAS does all this while automating the reporting and compliance needs so teachers can focus on teaching. Learn more.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cool Tool | Kids Discover Online

CREDIT Kids Discover OnlineTo provide teachers with age-appropriate, accurate, and engaging nonfiction for elementary and middle school students, long-time educational publisher Kids Discover has developed Kids Discover Online, a digital collection of its entire library. The web-based platform brings articles and nonfiction texts to life through interactive GIFs, historical photos, and illustrations. Readers in third through eighth grade can choose among three different Lexile levels. Before designing and developing the collection, the publisher engaged in more than six months of research, surveying teachers, students, and school administrators to find out what would work best for them. To create its online library, they partnered with subject experts from leading institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, and The Smithsonian Institute to ensure the the accuracy and quality of the content. To keep students engaged with its more than 1,000 science and social studies lessons, the platform offers lively infographics and the Discover Map, an interactive concept map that demonstrates the linkages between different units and topics in the library. Teachers have the ability to build cross-curricular lessons by mixing and matching content from across the library. The platform can play a key role in a flipped classroom setting, and teachers use it for activities from quiet reading to leading student research. It’s optimized for screens as large as a whiteboard and as small as a mobile phone. Whether districts have implemented 1:1 programs using tablets or Chromebooks or have chosen a BYOD approach, the platform provides high-interest nonfiction resources that students can view on the device of their choice. Learn more.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tools to Reach Everyone

Ease of use makes the difference for emergency notifications.

GUEST COLUMN | by Pat Scheckel

CREDIT singlewire InformaCastDuring a school emergency, time is crucial. Whether its an injury, intruder or active shooter, notifying personnel of the situation in a timely manner to start responding and managing the crisis can make all the difference. But, it’s not just about having the proper procedures in place, it’s about having the tools to reach everyone, wherever they are in a building or campus. To help with this challenge, many schools are implementing emergency notification systems are to bring together disparate systems and notify everyone. However, with rapidly changing technologies, it can be difficult to know which solution will be the best fit for your school.

Schools should look for systems that are easy to use, offer multiple message options for notifications, alerts to help manage almost any scenario, and new technology that leverages investments in existing systems.

Schools should look for systems that are easy to use, offer multiple message options for notifications, alerts to help manage almost any scenario, and new technology that leverages investments in existing systems.

Easy to Use

In an emergency situation, asking for help should be as easy as a push of a button. Whether that’s a discreet panic button, a built-in feature on a desk phone or the swipe of a smartphone, the last thing you want is for people to worry about remembering a complex set of steps to trigger a notification. It’s also important to utilize a system that can send to multiple communication methods with a single push. Systems that offer the ability to build groups make it easy to notify everyone on multiple devices without the need to draft and send separate messages.

Multiple Message Types

When sending a message, it’s important to be able to provide the appropriate amount of context. Look for a system that lets you send text, audio, and images to give your staff the information they need to manage the situation. SMS, push notifications, email, desktop notifications and text to speech functionalities help ensure messages reach everyone, wherever they are.

Respond to Any Situation

A truly robust system will go beyond alerts for intruders. School officials should look for additional features that monitor for severe weather alerts that might impact schedules, and bell systems to automate class changes, recess, and end of day bells. The ability to initiate lockdowns, monitor and record 911 calls and alert people about medical emergencies are also important features for many schools.

Technology Integration

School budgets are limited, so look for a system that can integrate with existing technologies to help save on costs. Door locks, overheard paging systems, panic buttons and other legacy technology should be able to work with an emergency notification system to help keep people safe and aware during an emergency.

Mobile Matters

Perhaps the most important feature to look for in an emergency mass notification system is its mobile capabilities. Mobile devices provide direct access to alert people of a situation. A system that offers push notifications, text and audio messaging, group conference calling and real-time response monitoring can help ensure a successful outcome during an emergency.

Pat Scheckel is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Singlewire Software, the developer of InformaCast, a leading emergency notification system. K-12 schools and college campuses use InformaCast to communicate lockdowns, intruders and severe weather alerts to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , | 1 Comment