For the past three years, OneAfricanChild has developed a partnership with Learning Equality through a learning platform called Kolibri. We both share a vision for increased access to quality basic education through the provision of quality educational resources, training of educators and leveraging of technology for effective learning. As a community-led organization, OAC has been working with children in resource-limited communities since 2013, providing them with soft skills to become active and global citizens. We believe education can be transformative and Learning Equality shares this vision. In 2018, OAC received funding from Learning Equality through its hardware grants program to implement Kolibri in resource-limited communities that lacked access to the internet. The following contains excerpts from a Q&A session with Learning Equality’s Partnership Lead, Lauren Lichtman.
OneAfricanChild: Hi Lauren, How did Learning Equality come about?
Lauren: We came about due to the growing recognition that there are relevant learning resources available on the Internet. Yet, 40% of the world doesn’t have consistent access to connect to, or yield benefits from, those learning resources. This is compounded by the fact that in resource-limited areas, there are often bigger classrooms and less time for teachers to support individualized learning. Also, there is potential for technology to be more fully leveraged to really help to support those processes. We started off bringing Khan Academy’s videos and exercises to those without the internet over 8 years ago, and we’ve really built from there.
OneAfricanChild: What’s Learning Equality’s vision for education?
Lauren: We are really focused on equitable access to quality learning opportunities, and thinking about the different barriers that we can overcome to create these opportunities. In particular, we recognize that Internet access should never be a barrier to participate in global movements and advancements in learning technology. We envision contexts where all learners can benefit from innovative technology, and to do this we focus our attention on equity. In terms of our vision for thinking about our Kolibri Product Ecosystem, we’re focused on adaptability and building a flexible technology that is easily relevant. As an organization, we are driven by the possibilities within a relevant and easy to access learning ecosystem. Our user-driven and needs-driven approach to product development ensures Kolibri can work for a variety of audiences, who can then adapt it to make sure it meets the needs of different local contexts.
OneAfricanChild: Why did you select the model your organization currently utilizes?
Lauren: In general, we take an open approach to building education technology and to leveraging openly licensed materials. In Kolibri, specifically, we take a completely offline access and distribution model to leverage it through a “do-it-yourself” model. This model helps to support this vision of adaptability that we talked about earlier. And so, our partnership model helps support that in two ways:
One is by working closely with organizations, so we can really understand how they use and benefit from Kolibri and the kinds of impact that they can have. We then feed all that back into our ecosystem to build better products. The second part of that model is supporting community-driven adoptions of Kolibri. Through that, we have an open-source product that is easy to use and set up. It is also not necessarily high-tech in that sense, as anyone can use it, but it’s a tool with some indicators of being high-tech. It’s actually very low maintenance because you don’t require significant digital literacy skills to both set it up and for it to run. Equally, educators have to think about how to blend these support materials into different learning environments and how to leverage different infrastructures. So, we focus on this do-it-yourself model. As a result, it requires us to work closely with organizations like OneAfricanChild to understand how Kolibri is being used and adapted in different ways so that we can make sure that we are continuing to meet a diversity of learners’ needs.
OneAfricanChild: If you had the opportunity to impact grassroots educators, what key strategies, techniques, and practices that make the learning process as effective as it is intended to be would you recommend?
Lauren: There are a variety of ways that we can think about supporting blended learning technology. One thing that is consistent is that educators’ time is valuable and oftentimes limited. We think about the ways in which technology can enable them to be more efficient, so they can free up their valuable time for other activities that cannot be automated or supported directly by technologies.
Take lesson planning for example as a way that technology can support teachers. We know that there’s so much time that goes into lesson planning. Educators only have a few minutes before a class starts. Kolibri supports this process, which enables teachers to better balance the rest of their workload. One of the key ways we can help educators is to better support presets of aligned materials, so that they are able to be leveraged in the classroom. This includes everything from quizzes that we are working on to be distributed offline to having the contents aligned to a national curriculum. These kinds of strategies help to support the discoverability of materials so that our educators can better leverage them.
Another thing to think about is how to integrate digital materials with the content and pedagogy that are already used in the classroom, rather than thinking about it in opposition to textbooks or other mandated materials. So, oftentimes, when picking a solution like Kolibri, we’re not necessarily thinking that it’s the only solution that exists in that particular learning environment, but rather that it is something that can supplement and fill the gaps that already exist.
I think that approach helps to support educators’ adoption of and buy-in with Kolibri. Because of the way that it’s structured, we’re helping to support and narrow down the options available to educators. This is because – going back to the first point – there isn’t so much time. So, if we are inundated with lots of content and tools and not really thinking about how it can be used and adapted, it’s not going to be used. Instead, if we are thinking about what already exists and how Kolibri can help to support it, it gives teachers a better understanding of how it might be then leveraged in their classrooms.
OneAfricanChild: What are current initiatives and projects being explored by Learning Equality?
Lauren: One thing we are really excited about is the work that we are doing around curriculum alignment. In a lot of places, teachers are actually doing this process in small ways through textbooks. But, globally, there isn’t as much recognition around what the process of curriculum alignment is or how there are materials that are available on the Internet. Equally, there isn’t as much recognition of the kinds of openly available materials, such as the ones that we’ve curated in our Kolibri Content Library, that can be leveraged to reduce the burden on teachers by adopting new technologies.
We’ve been doing quite a lot in this area to help to explain what the process of curriculum alignment is, why it is important, what some of its prerequisite steps are, how it aligns with other activities that are already going on, and how it can reduce educator’s burden. So this year we hosted a webinar, launched a report along with Google.org, Vodafone Foundation, UNHCR, and UNESCO, and we’ve been doing individual capacity-building sessions with curriculum designers.
We’ve also developed a set of training materials that are self-guided to help use our Kolibri Studio tool. In this process of curriculum alignment, we’ve been building capacity working with curricular bodies in the Ministry of Education, and at times, funding consultants to actually do this process. We’re learning a lot along the way and sharing it out with our community. It’s building momentum and impact. We are really excited with the opportunity to generate valuable public goods to the broader digital learning landscape.
OneAfricanChild: Lastly, if you could speak directly to every Nigerian educator on improving learning in the classroom, what would you say to them?
Lauren: In general, we see the value and potential of education technology in a classroom when it makes sense. It does not always make sense, though. For Kolibri, it does require thinking about Kolibri with an open mindset and to start taking the necessary steps to evaluate whether a tool like the one that we provide can help to support you in your own learning and also in your teaching practice. As such, we value the peer support and coaching included in our Kolibri EdTech Toolkit. We totally recognize how much teachers already have on their plates and how much is expected of them. We are really excited about the potential of Kolibri to help empower educators to be better instructors and support learning in a really challenging learning environment where they are working. We see you, and we are doing as much as we can to help to improve what you are already good at. Not only that, we are excited and honoured to do that.
OneAfricanChild: Thank you, Lauren, for sharing Learning Equality’s vision and programs with us.