Effective & ethical EdTech projects

Last week I came across an article in The Conversation Africa about school visits by tourists in Zimbabwe. It argued that these visits should be discouraged because of the ethical challenges they present. Think about classes being disrupted, photos of learners taken without consent and child safety jeopardised.

My first instinct was to agree. Look at me in the photo taken during a school visit in Lesotho in 2002. I felt overwhelmed by the poverty I found in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And surprised that my fellow travellers were handing out pens and notepads. The “thank you, thank you very much” from the children’s choir was still ringing in my ears. All I could think was “you shouldn’t be thanking anyone for anything, education is your basic human right!”.

However, the article also points out that touring companies donate much-needed funds and resources to schools in exchange for the opportunity to visit. Engaging with children and teachers in such different circumstances has an eye-opening impact on many tourists, as it did on me. On that scenic Lesotho mountain top, I realised that using my skills to help bridge the digital education divide would bring me more joy than my corporate career had so far.

I believe that the interest in supporting schools is well-intended and it can benefit everyone involved. However, tour operators and schools need to balance these benefits fairly, and avoid the side effects of disruptions and privacy breaches.

I see similarities with digital education projects I’ve witnessed over the years. Corporate donors and school districts celebrating the launch of computer centres with speeches and performances and receiving glowing media coverage. Yet, I’ve often wondered what journalists would find if they’d revisited these centres a year or two later. In many cases they’re not used and have become dysfunctional.

I feel sad for these digital white elephants and the missed opportunities to bridge the digital divide they represent. It is even more worrying in light of the divide widening because of rapid technological developments. This results in a global shortage of people with analytical, creative and digital skills. The arguments for companies to engage in 21st century EdTech projects have moved from corporate social responsibility to strategic necessity.

So how do we do better? How do we ensure that well-intentioned coding & robotics labs don’t suffer the same fate as the computer centres before them? We need to apply the same 21st century skills to this challenge that we want new generations to develop: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication.

I’m excited to present our new Flying Cows of Jozi services that incorporate this approach. We guide organisations to design, develop and deploy 21st century hashtag#EdTech collaborations responsibly and respectfully.

Read about our Digital Education services or contact me directly to find out more.

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