Helping Countries Get Smarter About Funding Education

Why We Invested: Global Edtech Readiness Index
Erin Simmons
Global Head, Operations and Strategic Projects

In a world inundated with data, putting information to good use can be tricky. Education is no exception, particularly when it comes to figuring out how to implement quality learning at scale. Imagine the potential we could unlock by organizing massive, systemic learning data into actionable, practical recommendations for educators and policymakers. Together, with the World Bank, we are doing just that, by coupling this data potential with the

opportunity to “build back better”

in a post-COVID world.

Nearly every country in the world sees room for improvement in their educational system. And, the challenges are far more dire for learners in nations whose achievement significantly lags their peers. For instance, in Senegal, 74% of children are considered by the World Bank to experience “learning poverty,” meaning they cannot read or comprehend a basic story by the end of primary school. More than half of students in low- and middle-income countries are subject to these systemic deficiencies; in some of the world’s poorest nations, the rate jumps to 90%. Further worsening these conditions, by late April 2020, nearly 85% of the world’s children were out of school.

All around the world, countries have sought to eradicate “learning poverty” by investing heavily in reforms, some including technology. And now, these investments are more important than ever. The idea: Educational technology (edtech) has the power to transform how children learn at scale. Unfortunately, the impact of purchasing edtech devices often falls short.

Creating a true edtech-friendly learning environment is far from easy, as many families, communities, schools and countries are finding out in real time. It requires education ministers to assess their own system’s weaknesses with brutal honesty, policymakers to find funding to fix them and educational leaders to mobilize both public and private sectors to pitch in. Imagine tackling these thorny issues in a country like Senegal where resources are scarce, challenges plentiful and comprehensive data limited?

Yet, it has been done. A 2019 study by Imaginable Futures (published when Imaginable Futures was Omidyar Network’s Education Initiative) and RTI International, “Scaling Access & Impact: Realizing the Power of Edtech,” identified four countries with successful edtech programs, including Indonesia, a lower- to middle-income country. What these countries share, despite their economic differences, is a set of conditions — an ecosystem — organized around using technology to provide quality, equitable learning experiences to all students.

A Benchmark to Enact Change

Our study and its resulting report were designed to give countries a road map for actionable change. To help countries navigate that map, Imaginable Futures is partnering with the World Bank to develop and launch the Global Edtech Readiness Index. It’s a benchmarking instrument that allows participating pilot countries to assess how ready their ecosystems are to roll out edtech solutions, in service of equitable and quality learning experiences, at scale.

Rather than simply counting computers in a school, the index will assess countries according to eight indicators, including connectivity, teacher training, digital learning resources and online assessments. Each nation will receive a scorecard that encapsulates the extent to which they can invest in edtech at scale across their educational system.

From there, educational leaders can spot the gaps. Policymakers might realize they need to invest more in adding connectivity. School systems may decide to work with teachers to build expertise using technology effectively inside and outside the classroom. And foundations may conclude it’s more effective to help schools obtain Wi-Fi before investing in hardware. The scorecard could even reveal untapped markets.

For better or worse, scorecards tend to be excellent motivators. If one country receives a lower score than its neighbors for lack of internet-ready content, then policymakers may feel compelled to rethink the curriculum. As Mike Trucano, World Bank's senior education and technology policy specialist and global lead for innovation in education, puts it: “We want to distill some key factors that are relevant to countries asking the question: ‘How can we use new technologies at scale to benefit all of our learners to address “fill in the blank” educational problem?’”

The Global Edtech Readiness Index is part of a larger initiative — the Global Education Policy Dashboard (GEPD) funded by a partnership between the World Bank, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, U.K.’s Department for International Development and government of Japan. The dashboard provides policymakers with a system for measuring the drivers of learning outcomes in basic education around the world. In doing so, the dashboard highlights gaps between current practice and what evidence suggests would be most effective in promoting learning, and gives governments a way to set priorities and track progress as they work to close those gaps.

Rather than simply counting computers in a school, the index will assess countries according to eight indicators, including connectivity, teacher training, digital learning resources and online assessments. Each nation will receive a scorecard that encapsulates the extent to which they can invest in edtech at scale across their educational system.
Erin Simmons

Spreading the Word via World Bank’s Massive Network

The World Bank is a great conduit between the public and private sectors. Aside from being one of the largest sources of funding in the world, they work with countries and companies on policy advice, risk assessment and technical assistance. Part of that role includes collecting vast quantities of data and designing and implementing instruments that make sense of it all — a job statisticians have already begun to tackle for the Global Edtech Readiness Index.

With Imaginable Futures’ assistance, the World Bank will test out the index in four of the thirteen countries participating in the GEPD. From there, the World Bank and other partners can refine the index and roll it out as part of the broader initiative.

Eventually, the World Bank hopes to incorporate the GEPD into its closely watched Human Capital Index, which quantifies how health and education bolster productivity. It can also use its sizable Rolodex of decision-makers — whether private investors or government officials — to put the Global Edtech Readiness Index into context and action.

Using an index to raise awareness worked well when the Human Capital Index launched in 2018. Within a year, 72 countries have already pledged to improve conditions for their citizens to be more productive. But what makes the Global Edtech Readiness Index particularly profound to Imaginable Futures is its potential to inform policies that leverage edtech investments to improve learning at a national, and even global, scale. Any effort that creates a world of enthusiastic learners both within and beyond school walls is time well spent.