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The spread of misinformation, aided in no small part by today’s leading technologies, is threatening to obscure our notions of truth. The aftermath of the US election is testing the mettle of our democratic institutions to withstand unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Misinformation is also a public health concern: Covid-19 is being fought on two fronts as conspiracy theories become rampant, posing as much danger as the virus itself. 

Never has it been so important to teach our students how to critically examine claims and separate fact from fiction. It’s something we could all learn to do better.

Data is an essential ingredient of evidence but the two are not synonymous. Every data point is wrapped in context - only by engaging with the story behind the numbers do we arrive at meaningful insights.
Efficacy is not effectiveness
With Covid-19 vaccines now on the horizon, governments and health experts are turning their attention to the logistical challenges of rollout. Here lies a distinction between efficacy and effectiveness; a vaccine may be proven to work, but is of limited value if we cannot deploy it in a timely and scalable manner. To ensure that the goals of vaccines - widespread immunity and economic recovery - are met, we need to understand how they will be administered with different populations in different contexts.

The distinction is of great importance to educators, too. An efficacious product or service is one proven to work under ideal and controlled circumstances - for instance, when teachers and students are equipped with the time and support needed to take full advantage of their newfound resources. It is entirely possible to have an education initiative that is efficacious but wholly ineffective because those conditions are not always easy to engineer at scale. 

Robust programme design ensures that what is proven to work in small-scale settings can also extend to larger and more diverse contexts. Just as critically, we need red-flag systems to highlight cases where efficacy is not being achieved, and to take corrective action. A hallmark of Whizz’s most successful projects is the ability to harness real-time learning data to measure learning outcomes on a continuous basis and apply course corrections throughout the life cycle of implementation.

Efficacy tells us that an initiative has proven potential. Effectiveness ensures that potential is realised in diverse real-world settings.
In search of evidences: Whizz speaks at EEG webinar
Whizz’s Director of Education, Dr Junaid Mubeen, spoke at the EdTech Evidence Group’s recent webinar entitled ‘EdTech Evidence: what is it and why should I care about it?’

Dr Mubeen’s key takeaways:
  • Evidence demands specificity: The term ‘evidence-informed’ risks becoming a trope, much like ‘following the science’. EdTech providers must underscore their theory of change and frameworks for defining and measuring educational impact.
  • Evidences not evidence: The education space tends to be monolithic in its understanding of what constitutes rigorous evidence. Randomised Control Trials are held up as the gold standard, but it is one valid approach among many (and not without its own issues). Providers should adopt a pluralistic approach by invoking a range of methodologies and ensuring each claim they make is commensurate with the rigour of their evidence.
  • Capture the story: Edtech innovations are replete with data. It is important to connect to the human story that underpins the numbers. For impact to transfer from one environment to another, we need to understand the contextual factors enabling success and evaluate whether they can be realised elsewhere. Efficacy studies are often designed to control away and eliminate variation. Our aim, instead, should be to capture as much context as possible to highlight how programmes should be tailored to particular environments. 
Watch the webinar >
With Covid-19, girls bear a greater educational burden
We are all affected by Covid-19, but not equally so. The disruption wrought by the pandemic has placed girls at higher risk of falling behind in school and dropping out, owing to their exclusion from distance learning opportunities. UNESCO estimates that “over 11 million girls and young women may not return to school in 2020 due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone.

It is girls who carry a disproportionate burden of household chores and childcare responsibilities for younger siblings, leaving them less time to study. Gender-based violence is also on the rise, fuelled by increased levels of stress and isolation.

We have observed similar distressing trends in our worldwide implementations. In Kenya, many parents have expressed discomfort with their daughters using smartphones to access learning; they reserve few such concerns for boys. Schools have reported that many girls have been forced to find jobs or enter marriage to shore up income; they are unlikely to return to formal education.

It is not all bleak. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a partner school has reported how they kept their ICT lab open during school closures, prioritising access for girls not only to enable continued access to learning, but to ward off the threat of gender-based violence. Staff engaged the local community door-to-door to persuade parents of the benefits of keeping girls in school, where they could access virtual tutoring and other learning support.

We often hear that Covid-19 ‘doesn’t discriminate’, yet the emerging evidence is clear that some groups suffer more than others. To Build Back Better is to recognise the varying needs of different communities, and to attend to the specific needs of the most marginalised students.
Making sure all students recover from learning loss
Estimates of ‘Covid learning loss’ continue to pour in - our own data shows that this loss amounts to upwards of six months (more on this soon). Catchup and recovery is at the forefront of every policymaker’s agenda right now.

It’s not enough to quantify learning loss; data must drive meaningful action. As a simple example, data from Maths-Whizz breaks learning loss (measured in years) into individual topics, allowing teachers, school leaders and policymakers to identify curriculum areas most in need of their attention. It looks something like this:
Catchup is, at heart, an equity issue. To avoid the Matthew effect all too common in EdTech (whereby affluent communities benefit disproportionately from solutions intended to bridge the opportunity gap), system leaders must identify solutions that work for all students, including historically marginalized and vulnerable student populations.
A staggering projection from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics shows the contrasting fortunes that await schools depending on their response strategy. School systems that invest in student catch-up strategies beginning in the 2020-21 school year can expect to return to pre-pandemic learning levels in four years.  Schools systems that do not invest in dedicated catch-up strategies are forecast to take twice as long to recover.
Prepared for the Future: A new indicator that combines completion with learning (GEM Report)
Article summary:
  • A new global indicator will provide a simple, comprehensive measure of progress towards the education goal SDG4.
  • The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), working through the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML), is proposing a new, holistic, indicator that combines measures of completion and learning. 
  • The aim is to ensure that global leaders and education policymakers have the evidence they need to zero in on where they stand on their SDG 4 commitments, especially in light of increased dropout rates due to Covid-19.
Read the full article >
Whizz recommends...
Book: Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education
Justin Reich takes on the hype behind much of today’s EdTech. The book offers a critical examination of why much-vaunted technologies like MOOCs, digital learning games and adaptive tutors have a tendency to reinforce existing educational practices rather than transforming them. Reich’s thesis is that education reform depends less on step-change improvements in technology and more on incremental progress, guided by the learning communities those technologies are designed for. We couldn’t agree more.
Podcast: World Bank EduTech Podcast 
Released every other week and covers a range of topical issues including connectivity policy, educational impacts of Covid-19 and learning through play.
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