Investment Manager at 500 TukTuks
Education is one of the main drivers of wealth disparity not just in Thailand but throughout Asia. Technology or Education Technology (EdTech) specifically, has been seen as a potential equaliser to bridge this gap. The potential is clear but we have to be very careful. Jaime Saavedra (Senior Director and Head of World BankGlobal Education & Skills Forum) states that “the potential for technology to be an equalising factor is big (but) unless we do something, the technology of now (has) the potential to be the opposite."
With that in mind, let's take a look at a few EdTechs tackling inequality in their own unique way.
We hear a lot of people talk about increasing access of education to lower-income students as a means to reduce inequality and definitely increasing access is very important as it helps to level the playing field. An example of a great initiative can be seen with BRCK Education, a solution that turns any classroom into a digital classroom. The Kio Kit is now in over 100 locations across 17 countries.
Although increasing access is great. Solving education is a very complex problem. Only increasing access will not be enough as the divide in usage will remain. Research from Sociologist Paul Attewell has helped to shed light on this issue of the divide of access and the divide of usage. Although access has constantly been increasing due to decreasing costs of device and data as well as novel solutions such as the Kio Kit, the divide in usage remains a problem. Paul’s study found that “young people from more affluent neighbourhoods will have more opportunities to use tech for more creative and production-orientated uses”.
Social and cultural differences are much more challenging to overcome and is reflected in the difference in outcome and usage across socioeconomic classes. Just by only expanding access giving the wealthy and the poor the same access to the same Ed Techs is not going to solve the problem.
A potential reason for this mismatch could be explained by the fact that most developers of EdTech solutions have a big social distance between them and the students leading to a lack of true understanding of the students and blind spots.
EdTech developers should mitigate these problems by making sure the solution is practical, cost-effective and fits with the students’ needs and readiness. Let’s look at a few more examples of this.
One commendable edTech initiative is OpenStax College, an initiative out of Rice University. OpenStax aims to solve the problem of expensive textbooks that usually costs over $100 dollars per semester which is definitely a big burden for low-income students. By reducing the cost to attend class and access materials, these students can hopefully find extra motivation to pursue and thrive in their studies. OpenStax does this by creating peer-reviewed (to ensure quality), openly licensed textbooks, making it free in digital formats and at a very low cost for print.
Another novel yet simple solution that creates a great impact is the Desmos Calculator. It is basically a free online graphic calculator. Why is this important ? it provides students a free tool that is needed for subjects like statistics, algebra and calculus. Without Desmos, the typical option would be to buy a graphic calculator which usually costs $100 upwards. Desmos in sum, helps level the playing field by providing lower-income students a needed tool for free.
Finally, Alison, one of the largest free learning platforms for education and skills training. It aims to create access for anyone around the world to study anything, anywhere, at any time for free. It has over 14 million learners, 2 million graduate study from a choice of over 1,000 courses. Moreover, there are a few course types to choose from to fit each student’s needs. For example, those looking to get a job might take a job-specific course. Whilst those looking to complete higher education could take a free diploma course. So you would only need a computer and internet access to have access to all these courses.
How about Thailand? What can we do to support Thai education system? Let's fight inequality together at: https://www.disruptignite.com/conference