Using EdTech to bridge the digital divide: lessons from SPRING

Using EdTech to bridge the digital divide: lessons from SPRING

In this blog, we reflect on the lessons we have learned from SPRING businesses that engaged with adolescent girls through EdTech.  Zinnie Cowing and Libby Bligh, from the Evaluation Partner team, reflect that these lessons can help other businesses offer girls technology-based learning solutions that can help all girls to learn, not just a wealthy few.

The Covid-19 pandemic has flooded the market with technology-based alternatives to traditional face to face experiences. One such area that has seen explosive growth since March 2020 is Education Technology (EdTech). EdTech includes media such as apps, YouTube channels and more traditional classroom-based learning delivered through videoconferencing software.

Whilst this growth in e-learning has surely helped children and adolescents during school closures, it exists within a global context of rising inequality and a growing technological divide that provides opportunities to “the connected” whilst leaving behind those poorer communities, which are already more vulnerable.

Over the course of SPRING, we identified four key lessons for EdTech solutions to reach as many girls as possible, so that EdTech, too can help leave no one behind.

  • Lesson 1: Girls do not always have unlimited access to smartphones or other mobile devices.

Many girls did not have their own smartphones and often share them with other family members. In some poorer communities one phone may serve a number of different families. This lack of personal, individual access to mobile phones limited the potential reach of TotoHealth’s SMS service, which provided young mothers with important information related to child and maternal health. The girls relying on shared phones were also wary of personal details being made available on these devices.

  • Lesson 2: To reach adolescent girls with EdTech, businesses must engage with girls’ gatekeepers

Regardless of phone ownership, parents or other family members may still stop their child from accessing specific content because of a lack of understanding. Similarly, they may want to know why the daughter needs more phone credit or data. Situations such as these place the girls’ parents in the role of gatekeeper. In some situations an older male relative, such as an older brother, may play this role. These gatekeepers need to understand and see the benefit of the EdTech products to support their daughters or sisters. Businesses need to engage directly with these gatekeepers as well as targeting adolescent girls with their products and services.

  • Lesson 3: Girls may need some support to help them access and use EdTech platforms 

Girls that have limited access to technology do not always know how to access or use new EdTech products. Maya, Sehat Kehani, Toto Health and 360ed all reported that in-person support helped girls to engage with their platforms, and to ultimately benefit from them. Without this support, girls are reliant on family members taking the time to help them to use the EdTech platform, and are therefore more vulnerable and less empowered to engage independently.

  • Lesson 4: Simple solutions are always the most inclusive and sometimes the most effective

Linked to the lesson above, high-tech EdTech platforms such as 360ed’s augmented reality app that helped girls to understand their bodies and their sexual and reproductive health were not shown to significantly enhance learning outcomes. However, simpler approaches, such as TotoHealth’s SMS service, were shown to be very effective. Because these solutions often rely on more basic – and therefore cheaper – equipment, more girls are likely to be able to access them, making the solution more widespread and inclusive.

The experiences of SPRING’s EdTech businesses therefore show that investing in EdTech can help businesses reach adolescent girls. But, businesses need to be mindful of jumping straight to high-tech solutions and need to keep inclusion and accessibility at front and centre of the development of their EdTech products and services. In this way they help to bridge, rather than perpetuate the digital divide.