In Part 2 of our series on our adventures in sustaining academic improvement with technology, I caught up with Laura Hetzel to hear about her recent project working with our schools in Ghana.

Laura recently completed her MBA from the University of San Diego and she spent three months in Ghana this spring working on a host of research projects looking at operations and academics at our schools.  The coolest thing about her time in Ghana, in my opinion was an intensive week-long experiment with Khan Academy in two schools in Koforidua.  Of course the standard in education is to pilot a solution for quite some time before “passing judgement” on the program but I was amazed at what we learned about the technology as well as the teachers and students that we are serving.   Passing judgement was not the goal here, we are working with our schools on incremental steps to improve academic outcomes and learning more about the role that technology can play.

Here’s how the study worked. At each school the study was to last five days and each student would receive one hour of teaching per day on a lesson related to the Ghanaian national curriculum. A pre and post test was administered on the lesson.  Each JSS 1 class was split into three groups with a variety of skill levels represented in each group:

  • Group 1 – Taught by the ICT teacher only using Khan Academy
  • Group 2 – Taught half with the ICT teacher using Khan Academy and half with the math teacher using traditional classroom teaching
  • Group 3 – Taught using only with the math teacher using traditional classroom teaching

Here’s a sneak peak at the key findings.  A blended or hybrid learning environment has some promise in the developing world context BUT:

  • Without sustained extrinsic motivation, many teachers are reluctant to use technology as a tool for academic learning because they lack foundational technology literacy themselves.
  • Khan’s videos don’t work well for non-native English speakers but the exercises/activities and related progress monitoring is very helpful for measuring individual students’ strengths and weaknesses.

GATES: Laura, tell me about your project and your time in Ghana!

LAURA: I graduated from Wellesley College in 2005 with a degree in Chinese Studies. After graduation I moved to China where I lived and worked until 2010, when I moved back to the U.S. to go to graduate school. 

My trip was for 3 months from April 14th to July 14th. I was given two main goals for the trip: 1) Develop a program that would encourage schools in Koforidua to make use of Edify computer labs outside of school hours. 2) Research best business practices at a group of schools in Kumasi. A third objective was added following the teacher technology training that was offered by TechAide:  Learn about how teachers might take what they learned about technology in to the classroom, specifically Khan Academy.

GATES:  What a great set of goals!  Perhaps in future posts you can tell us about the best practices that were identified for computer lab usage.  Based on your observations, what are the barriers to using technology as a mechanism for raising academic achievement in the schools you observed?

LAURA:  Teacher training on how to integrate technology into the classroom is a big issue. The computer skills of many of the teachers are low, which creates huge challenges when they are asked to use computers and programs as a part of their lessons. The TechAide training was incredibly valuable for the teachers who attended because they were able to gain some of the computer skills needed to incorporate technology in the classroom. The training also demonstrated to the teachers how the use of technology could both make their jobs easier and engage students. Many of teachers and the proprietors who attended the training said that this was some of the most valuable training they had ever received. 

However, the teachers brought to the TechAide training by each of the schools was only 2 to 3. With the high turnover of teachers at schools, it is possible that, in a few years, the knowledge gained at this training will be lost. Somehow the teachers who receive this type of training also need to be trained in teaching their skills to the other teachers at their school and also bonded to the schools for an extended period of time. 

Finally, the teachers who attended the training were highly motivated to use what they had learned, but this motivation does not last in the long run. To keep the teachers motivated, their use of the computers and the programs in the classroom need to be motivated. 

GATES:  You’re touching on some of the things we learned with TechAide teacher training as well.  We think it is so incredibly important to bundle training, high quality educational sotfware and even lesson plans and other teacher supports in order to realize the potential of having technology in these schools.  What was the biggest challenge in working with schools in Ghana to use Khan Academy? If you could change one or two things about Khan Academy to make it more useful to low-cost schools in Ghana, what would it be?

By far the biggest challenge in using Khan Academy was the videos. Ghanaian students have a difficult time understanding the American accent, this is compounded by the fast pace at which the presenter speaks. The students struggle to comprehend the English spoken, which detracts from the math being taught. It would be great if the videos could be done by a Ghanaian either speaking English or Twi. 

GATES:  Now that you have been back in the US for a few weeks, what will be your lasting memories and/or lessons learned from your time in Ghana/

LAURA: One of the main things I learned was how much the local market and environment affects the success of a school, and these things change dramatically from neighborhood to neighborhood. What is true for Kasoa may not be true for Kumasi and visa versa. Because of this, it is important to design programs that are flexible and work with the schools to adapt programs to what works for them. There is no cookie cutter solution. While working in this manner is challenging, it also forces you to be creative and puts you in situations where you have the opportunity to develop profound relationships and deep cultural understanding with the people operating, teaching in and attending these schools. 

GATES: What advice would you have for Edify schools as they consider how to make best use of a computer lab for their schools?

LAURA: I think Edify schools should pay close attention to motivating teachers to make use of the computer labs. Teachers need to build confidence with the technology by playing and experimenting with it. Without the freedom and motivation to do this, they will not use the technology in the classroom in an effective and sustainable way.   

GATES: Laura, thank you so much for important work.  I guess you can learn quite a bit in only 5 days!  Khan Academy is one tool with lots of attention and potential in the developing world.  We have a lot to learn and your research is pushing us in new ways.  Blessings to you!