It’s fashionable these days to come up with lists and post them on your blog:  “Top ten tech tools to use in the classroom” or “Top 100 free educational web sites for teachers”  or “Top ten rated education apps for your pre-schooler” or “Top 5 companies I would invest in at any price”.  So here’s my entry in the fray:  Top Three technology tools that might improve educational outcomes in the developing world.
Over the last couple of years we have researched and met and tinkered with lots of educational technology tools.  We continue to try to answer the question that many have wrestled with:  can technology be used to fundamentally re-think and improve education?  Joel Rose does a good job tracking the history of our attempts to answer this question in this article in the Atlantic.  I visited with Joel at his School of One in NYC a couple of years ago.  It’s an innovative school.  It’s a good article.  It’s got catchy subtitles like, “From Prussia with Love” – referring to how the basic factory model of one teacher, many students was brought to the US by Horace Mann from schools he observed in Prussia in the early 19th century.  Despite all of the technology, schools haven’t changed too much since then.  I am not convinced that in the time frame we operate in – ie the here and now of about 1 billion kids in the developing world with no access to a quality education – that schools in the developing world will really change too much either.   We have to support the existing model and improve it on a dramatic scale.

So the question is: what technology tools might actually improve outcomes in the developing world?  I say might because it seems most applications are just beginning to be built explicitly for the developing world: schools with unreliable electricity and internet, teachers and administrators with limited technology training and students who know what Facebook is but lack the literacy skills to really consume it.   So here’s the list:

Nomadedu – Neil D’Souza is working to build education hotspots for the developing world.  These are digital libraries with a local hotspot, powered by solar panels.  He has also built a basic authoring environment so locals can create their own content (videos and quizzes) and submit it to the digital library.  Check him out here and his work for herders and other off the grid populations in Mongolia.

MPrep – With simple mobile technology, MPrep is building an educational ecosystem that gives deprived students access to quality study tools and provides teachers with meaningful data about their students.  They are building content aligned to Kenyan standards and off to a strong early start.

Tangerine – Developed by RTI in partnership with USAID, Tangerine is an online delivery and scoring tool for the widely used EGRA and EGMA assessments.  These tests measure basic literacy and math skills across countries and languages for primary grade students.  The test results arm teachers and administrators with important information about what’s working before the students take higher stakes exams. The Tangerine platform and a laptop or android-tablet dramatically reduces the time required for test scoring and reporting

These technology tools are in their infancy from an adoption perspective but they will have a positive impact because they work to make teachers more effective and because they enable the creation of local learning content.  So keep an eye on these offerings and send us your favorite to add to the list – there must be more than just three high potential tools out there for the developing world!