To mark Mobile Learning Week 2018, ITU News caught up with Nivi Sharma, the Managing Director of BRCK, whose mission is to connect Africa to the Internet, through providing a WiFi infrastructure to allow anyone with a smartphone to have free and open access to the internet. In 2011, Nivi co-founded eLimu, the first company to digitize the Kenyan Primary School curriculum for revision and literacy. Nivi has dedicated her career to developing simple and holistic solutions providing digital access to everyone, from children and youth to adults. In November 2016, BRCK’s Kio Kit was named top innovation at the ITU Telecom World Awards.
Some of the people look at e-learning and educational technologies in isolation. They think about an e-learning platform and devices, but it’s much more than that.
There is infrastructure, hardware, software, content, pedagogy, training, support, and M&E [monitoring and evaluation]. All of those need to be taken into account when you are going to create a holistic solution rather than just put a device or a platform or a software into a school. I ended up writing a blog post while thinking about your questions, which is available here.
So that fits both as an opportunity and a challenge. An opportunity because there are so many different pieces and parts of the puzzle, and we need and different minds thinking about these things.
There is infrastructure, hardware, software, content, pedagogy, training, support, M&E. All of those need to be taken into account when you are going to create a holistic solution.
But it’s a challenge, because we are still seeing that governments and institutions are thinking: “Let’s buy tablets, let’s build a computer lab for these kids and that will tick our box for digital access in this school.”
The solutions we are seeing implemented are not holistic and that is a big challenge.
The way BRCK and Kio Kit tries to address that is that we have tried to put as much as we can in that little box — well actually it’s a big box, which includes infrastructure, connectivity and charging capabilities.
It’s got software in there, it’s got hardware in there, it’s got content in there. When we deliver it, we provide training on the pedagogy; we provide support. Probably one of the only things we don’t have is the M&E that goes around it, and that measures learning impact and then can help governments make policy decisions based on data-driven experiences.
While many digital learning solutions are designed and produced elsewhere, we designed this solution while sitting in a Kenyan classroom, watching the teacher, watching learners, watching how they interact, and watching what incentivizes her as a teacher.
While many digital learning solutions are designed and produced elsewhere, we designed this solution while sitting in a Kenyan classroom.
Keeping in line with that heavy focus on user experience, we found that there were so many features we could have had. We could have had individualized analytics per student. But when we presented that dashboard, we found that it intimidated teachers, who would prefer not to use it.
So just because technology can do a thousand things, it does not mean that putting a thousand things in front of a teacher or a school or a student makes sense. Our focus on e-learning experiences led us to believe we need to keep it as simple as possible until teachers start building their confidence.
We are also learning more and more that mobile learning cannot be implemented in a prescriptive manner. We have to leave it open-ended and say: “Here are some options for you, this is a library, and which books you choose to pull off the shelf will be up to you.” Because we ourselves have moved away from a prescriptive method of how to use a Kio Kit. We saw teachers doing things in ways more creative and more effective than we had ever imagined.
It’s really hard to apply M&E, because not one organization implements all the components that are required to make a solution successful.
Another thing I’m keen on thinking about, is: If you do some M&E and you find great results for an e-learning platform that improved learning outcomes for a school in Manchester, you can’t expect to come to rural areas in Kenya and have the same results. It is going to have to be contextualized again for the local landscape and think about the needs of that particular area, of that particular school, or the preferences of that particular teacher.
Because we ourselves have moved away from a prescriptive method of how to use a Kio Kit, we saw teachers doing things in ways more creative and more effective than we had ever imagined.
One of the things we would really want to push the global community to think about is investing in good M&E for educational technology. As a private company we can’t afford to do that and keep our prices competitive for our customers. But we would love to see all of these organizations that are putting money into experimental solutions to focus on M&E for the e-learning solutions out there.
The kit needs power to plug into. In Kenya, we are fortunate that about 85% of our schools are wired to power. If you charge it overnight in the office or the storage room or the head teacher’s office then it’s good for the next 8 hours. So it’s good for the next day. So you charge the kit — all 40 tablets are charged wirelessly. You just drop them into a slot and they are charged.
We have sold over 200 Kio Kits and they are now in 14 different countries all over the world, including refugee camps in Kenya, the Solomon Islands and Mexico.
We are proud to have designed and engineered a solution in Africa for the world.
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