Improving Digital Education in Latin America

As Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) aims to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (“inclusive and equitable quality education”), it faces several significant challenges: low student performance, poor teacher training, and high dropout rates. Students in the region spend 2.5 years less in school than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average. Moreover, poor performance in standardized tests suggests that even students who finish their mandatory years of schooling struggle with the basic skills required to successfully enter the labour market.

Governments in the region have explored the use of educational technologies to address some of these challenges. Latin American ministries of education spent over $2 billion USD on digital devices to improve education since 2008. However, these investments have typically led to limited improvements in learning performance. There are many reasons for this, including devices that never get used, lack of integration into teacher’s pedagogical practices, limited accountability, and inconsistent monitoring and evaluation. For example, the LAC region spends about $80 billion USD a year on primary education, but since 1985 there are only 13 rigorous evaluations of programs to improve learning in math and language (*). The understanding of what works, when and how, is limited, compounded by the fast pace of technological change and limited regional expertise in understanding the impact of technology in education.

This initiative, coordinated by Centro Ceibal para el Estudio de las Tecnologías Digitales en la Educación (Centro Ceibal), a digital education research center located in Uruguay but with an international reach, aims to generate relevant policy knowledge to facilitate more inclusive, equitable and quality education through digital tools. More specifically, it will build a network of researchers and policy makers to produce knowledge and recommendations to inform policy and interventions in digital education. It will do so by testing, adapting and scaling promising digital innovations. It will also promote a culture of evidence-based policy making among government officials by strengthening research institutions and capabilities within government agencies. IDRC will invest CAD$ 1.3 million during the 3 years of the project, while Fundación Ceibal and ANII, the National Research and Innovation Agency of Uruguay (Agencia Nacional de Investigación e Innovación) will be contributing 1.5 million USD during the same period to support solution-oriented knowledge on some of the issues identified by the project.

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(*) To be included the evaluations had to comply with the following criteria: (I) were implemented in a primary school; (ii) they aimed to improve the learning of mathematics or language; (iii) the results were published after 1985; (iv) the treatment group was compared to the status quo; (v) the effects were measured at least 12 weeks after the start of the intervention; (vi) the effects were estimated using experimental evaluations, discontinuous regression, instrumental variables or differences in differences; (vii) the tests measured learning in content taught in both the treatment and control groups; (viii) the effects were measured using a continuous measure of learning; (ix) the sample included at least 200 students and 10 groups, such as schools, if the randomization was carried out at the group level; (x) the standard errors were computed by adjusting by clusters whether the randomization was carried out by groups (for example, schools); (xi) enough information was reported to calculate the effect sizes.