Series: 190,000 young people learning more in stronger systems

Digital innovations can play a key role in strengthening education systems, but rarely are they the silver bullet solution that many promise. In our experience working with government, co-designed and relatively low-tech digital tools can help improve efficiency and collaboration. But we’ve learned a lot on this journey about what else is needed to make that happen in reality.

PEAS approach to developing digital tools that support quality, inclusive secondary education

Across PEAS network, we’ve developed digital tools where we see potential to improve the efficiency and quality of secondary education without undermining our sustainability goals. For example, we have invested in creating the digital tools that help our team better support and supervise our secondary schools. We’ve seen these types of innovations leverage a relatively small investment to deliver a big impact, empowering the team members that use them rather than replacing them. Similarly, in our schools we’ve equipped leaders with the tools to understand their schools better and we’ve leveraged existing hardware to test learning software that supports teachers to develop students’ skills.

We take the same approach in our partnership with Ministries of Education. We have taken time to understand our government partners’ goals and the barriers to achieving them. Based on that, we’ve developed digital tools that strengthen support and supervision, help leaders make data driven decisions and track their schools’ progress, and made use of existing platforms to establish communities of practice.

What we’ve learned developing and using digital tools with government partners

1.       Digital tools can help improve efficiencies in the government system and help systems work better. Recent evidence shows that the digitised inspection tool PEAS developed with the Ministry of Education and Sports in Uganda enables users to generate inspection reports “promptly and efficiently”. The average time it takes to compile and submit a report has been significantly reduced – from 60 days to just one or two. This is an estimated reduction of 97%. The digitised inspection tool is also improving the accuracy of inspectors’ scores and helping them follow MoES’ guidelines more closely.

2.       Increasing transparency and access to data can help target support. Working with a limited budget, helping managers access the right data to target support is critical. We’ve seen this within our school network and are working with DES in Uganda to use the digitised inspection tool to help managers target resources towards schools that are struggling, rather than being tempted to focus on those that are easier to access.

3.       Connecting people in communities of practice can improve collaboration, peer accountability and support. Internal and external evidence suggests that effective use of digital platforms, such as WhatsApp, has helped improve communication among school leaders and government staff; made it easier to share strategies to promote student welfare, safeguarding and remedial learning; and contributed to cost efficiency.

4.       There is a lack of infrastructure to support uptake of digital tools, but this is slowly changing. Through internal mapping, we found that 71% of secondary school leaders across 150 schools have access to desktops, laptops or tablets, . This means they are able to access the digitised school improvement planning tool that PEAS has developed with DES. There’s more work to do to ensure all leaders have access to tools to access this, and other digital innovations. But this poses a challenge to sustainability. Although we see this changing in the future, digital solutions cannot be the only solution right now for all challenges and instead must be part of a wider system of support.

5.       Limited digital experience means introducing new tools needs to come with wraparound support and training to make it work. We know that school leaders and teachers have not had sufficient support to develop their digital literacy skills. Ongoing training and support is needed to ensure that this doesn’t impede access to valuable tools such as online platforms for virtual training or the DES-PEAS digital school improvement planning tool. At the same time, it’s important to create simple and intuitive tools that are easily accessible, and combine these with low-tech approaches that leaders and teachers are more comfortable with such as WhatsApp and phone calls.

6.       Creating more complex digital tools comes with a big risk of distraction. Creating new digital tools takes time and collaboration to design, test, adapt, improve and embed in government systems. End user involvement is critical to make them fit for purpose, but this can come at the expense of those same end users getting the basics right. It’s important to plan ahead, have clear point persons and manage timelines effectively to minimise this risk.

What we want to do next…

We have exciting plans to continue to share and embed PEAS’ digital solutions with government to improve access to quality education across the countries we work in. We also want to develop new innovations, such as a teacher development app that supports leaders to deliver effective school-based training to ensure all teachers are able to provide student-centred learning.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our systems strengthening work, please contact info@peas.org.uk. If you would like to support our work, please contact partnerships@peas.org.uk.

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