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Connect To Learn: Improving access to – and quality of – education

Connect to Learn program participants using a laptop computer
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Since its founding nearly a decade ago, Connect To Learn has become a leading example of how technology can be used to improve access to education and make education more inclusive, even in very remote parts of the world. As part of our efforts to share our best practices, we released a new report recently that describes our approach, evolution, interventions and challenges, as well as examining recent developments in the field of ICT-integrated education.

What is Connect to Learn?

Connect To Learn (CTL) is a public-private partnership between the Center for Sustainable Development at the Earth Institute of Columbia University (CSD), Ericsson and Millennium Promise (MP). The primary purpose of CTL is to increase access to secondary school – especially for girls – through scholarships, as well as improving the quality of education through life skills programs and integration of technology tools and digital learning resources in schools. Ericsson provides mobile broadband and cloud-based infrastructure, CSD provides exposure to cutting-edge research on education, and MP helps operationalize this research in under-resourced schools and their communities. To date, Connect To Learn has benefitted more than 120,000 students in 25 countries around the world.

As mobile broadband becomes even more ubiquitous, reaching out to the most remote regions of the world, it offers unparalleled opportunities to transform education. ICT has the power to raise the quality of education by increasing the efficiency of education systems, innovating pedagogical practices, expanding learning and teacher professional development opportunities beyond the limits of schools, and building students’ 21st century skills.

Closely linked to the Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs present an ambitious roadmap to addressing the challenges the world faces. Well before their adoption, however, Connect To Learn was already laying the groundwork for addressing SDG 4’s targets through concrete, data-driven solutions. We have every intention to continue building upon the lessons learned to date and scaling our impact.

While the potential of technology to play a significant role in addressing many of the world’s challenges is great, we believe it is critical that stakeholders implementing technology solutions are firmly rooted in research and experience of implementing organizations in developing country contexts so that solutions can be tailored appropriately and adequately resourced. Without such attention to design detail and localization, technology interventions can easily waste a lot of time and money with little to show as a result.

Leveraging broadband in resource-poor schools globally

Since Connect To Learn was first implemented as part of the Millennium Villages Project, the report include many examples from the Millennium Villages sites in 10 sub-Saharan African countries. It also includes insights from scale-up operations in Myanmar and India.

The projects described in the report range from early grade literacy to education beyond secondary school. Each focus area section includes examples of field-based interventions followed by an outline of the next steps. These focus areas are aligned to the SDG targets and provide clear pathways to achieving the education targets.

Using data to continuously improve learning outcomes

One important aspect of how Connect To Learn works is that we leverage technology and data to provide real-time feedback that we can use to help us make critical decisions regarding student learning outcomes, and improve program design and delivery. We also use the data we collect to track our progress toward SDG targets.

Key takeaways

The report concludes with an exploration of the necessity to provide opportunities to develop both basic and more advanced digital skills for schoolchildren, out-of-school youth and adults in even the most resource-poor settings, and looks at some of the key Connect To Learn initiatives focusing on digital skill development. It also points out some of the key challenges we face on the path to achieving SDG4. Perhaps most importantly, electricity shortages remain common in rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and full 4G mobile coverage is still limited, which impacts the rollout of quality education solutions.

Connect To Learn will continue doing the work of demonstrating how education quality can be enhanced, and learning and life outcomes improved through integration of technology tools in diverse education settings. We are looking for like-minded partners to join us in this effort in order that by 2030, we can proudly say that the world we share is one where all women and men, girls and boys can reach their full potential.

If you would like to learn more about Connect To Learn’s work and best practices, I encourage you to read the full report.

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