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Gender equality and edtech: what are the barriers and enablers to enhance equity in and through edtech?

Research output: Other contribution

Publication date26/07/2023
DescriptionUNESCO GEM background paper
Number of pages58
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This background paper reviews the literature-based evidence, a set of household surveys and a series of practice-based interventions in relation to educational technologies (EdTech) and gender in the context of Low-and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), with focused research in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. We illustrate that the main categories of factors to consider to design EdTech interventions to support girls’ education are the access, use and content of EdTech. We introduce a framework that summarises the findings of this background paper and that can be used to consider these evidence-based factors throughout EdTech interventions. To design inclusive EdTech interventions to support girls’ education these factors need to be explored through gender, political economy and intersectional lenses. The evidence for EdTech to support girls’ education tends to point to barriers and enablers that need to be considered to design inclusive and egalitarian EdTech interventions (these are summarised in the framework introduced in Page 44). For example, in relation to the access of EdTech, we found that a barrier to inclusive and equitable quality education for all was that girls tended to be less likely than boys to own or be able to access mobile devices in LMICs. We also found that an enabler to improve EdTech access was to use EdTech for nudging and changing inequitable beliefs, although this needs to be carefully considered within context.There are barriers that need to be considered for all EdTech interventions aiming at supporting girls’ education in LMICs. These are barriers related to reaching the most marginalised girls with EdTech, for example by ignoring political economy factors or the need for additional support for marginalised children (e.g financial, health or social support); neglecting to collect gender data throughout EdTech intervention; and disregarding the role of contextual inequalities, intersectionality and gender norms in supporting egalitarian learning through EdTech. While these factors are challenges for all educational interventions to some extent, there is a particular risk that without careful consideration, EdTech interventions could exacerbate existing ‘digital divides’ and increase inequity.
There are enablers that have shown significant potential to support girls’ education through EdTech, both directly and through addressing the barriers. These are the use of co-design practices to improve the inclusivity, impact, contextualisation and sustainability of EdTech interventions; the application of holistic approaches to consider the interconnected realities of reaching and impacting children (for example by collaborating and engaging with diverse stakeholders); the inclusion of context and political economy analysis with data related to gender and system-level dimensions of equity to improve the contextualisation of EdTech interventions; and, the disaggregation of data by characteristics relating to inequalities and marginalisation to improve the efficacy and equity of EdTech interventions. To create inclusive educational improvements in girls’ education through EdTech, interventions need to pay significant importance to three cross-cutting themes, namely sustainability, contextualisation and intersectionality. This needs to be done by considering how to create sustainable impact by defining the direct and indirect actions that could be taking place once EdTech interventions are finalised, and by recognising that there is no silver-bullet practice for EdTech design as any EdTech intervention can only lead to positive impact when designed with built-in approaches for local contextualisation. Adopting an intersectional lens could be particularly useful to evaluate potential gender inequalities in a given context, for example by exploring how gender intersects with poverty, disability, ethnicity, religion, among other socioeconomic indications, in a specific region. However, at present, this level of attentiveness to context is rare in most EdTech evaluations.The main findings from the data in household surveys reveal that across Kenya, Sierra Leone and Tanzania, the ownership of mobile phones is significantly higher than television or radios. While ownership is high there are notable differences in both ownership and use of different types of technology between male and females in all three countries. When it comes to mobile phones, affordability around the use of mobile internet, for example, is a barrier that extends to both males and females but affects the latter significantly more. While a gender divide exists, some of the largest differences in the use of technology relate to characteristics typically relating to marginalisation (e.g. location, poverty, education). These intersecting factors when intersected with gender create a greater barrier to the use of technology for females, compared for males. A series of design considerations are presented in this background paper -these are promising and practice-based indications (identified in well-established EdTech interventions in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Tanzania) that could be explored to improve the gender equity and inclusion of EdTech interventions. The use of digital personalised learning and the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms using local data can help ensure that adaptivity and feedback are appropriate for the diversity of learners' levels and backgrounds. The application of co-design practices can help promote uptake, by ensuring that initiatives are culturally appropriate, and including girls in the process may make the contents more relatable and engaging. Gender-responsive pedagogies may be particularly promising, but there is a gap in terms of research in the context of EdTech, and a need for more support for teachers more generally. The implementation of holistic approaches -which take a broader focus than just the educational intervention, to help address the related social and economic barriers -has also been shown to be effective, and the inclusion of digital literacy capacity-building is also key aspart of EdTech interventions.