Addressing Educational Gender Inequality Through Tech-Ed Solutions in Sierra Leone

How can stakeholders in developing countries leverage innovative technologies to ensure equal access to quality education in remote communities?

This executive summary lays out highlights from the report Addressing Educational Gender Inequality Through Tech-Ed Solutions in Sierra Leone, written by Max Bell School Master of Public Policy students as part of the 2021 Policy Lab.

Access the executive summary of the report here and read their full report here.

Many countries, including Sierra Leone, face a crisis in providing quality education to girls. There are several challenges around this issue, including high dropout rates, overage girls in classrooms, low literacy levels, etc. One possible way to address these disparities is through Mobile Learning Lab (MLL) technology. The MLL is a particular application of another technology called Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education (RACHEL)—essentially a portable server that can be accessed without the Internet. RACHELs are simple, inexpensive, and do not require the Internet, a crucial feature in remote villages where online connectivity is not always readily available. They are pre-loaded with customizable educational content. What distinguishes MLL from other RACHEL applications is its portability. MLLs do not replace local curricula or compete with local teachers, but supplement their efforts. MLLs’ focus on self-directed learning allows students to pursue learning objectives independently, building confidence and technological literacy. The MLL is not itself specifically designed to address gender disparities in education. But it has many elements integral to its design and application that make it well suited to serve this purpose. By providing learning materials that are self-paced, students, including girls, can use MLLs to expand their knowledge in topics of interest, to bring them up to speed in subjects where they are falling behind, and enhance the quality of their education which varies widely in rural settings.

The MLL can also be preloaded with important content that is not often addressed in school or home settings, such as sexual and reproductive health. The mobility of an MLL means it can be targeted directly at girls in localities that are at-risk of dropping out or failing school. We mainly used a Human Rights-Based Approach toEducation (HRBA-E) as a framework to guide our research and recommendations. Our research indicates a preliminary set of best practices for the MLL, based on previous interventions. These include designing targeted and time-limited interventions for specific age groups; setting clear learning objectives aligned with the national curriculum; collaborating with local implementation partners; and cultivating community ownership. MLLs have already been deployed in Sierra Leone, Guatemala, and Uganda, among other twenty jurisdictions from Central America, Africa, and Asia. The experiences from these jurisdictions shows that the MLL builds numeracy and literacy skills as well as human skills such as self-confidence. These experiences can be used to inform the implementation plan for a scalable model in Sierra Leone and other places with similar characteristics. Stakeholder engagement is an essential, however challenging, element of MLL deployment. Aside from local communities, other key stakeholders include the girls themselves, the government, businesses, not-for-profits, local schools, and parents/caregivers. MLL projects should identify stakeholders, establish just information-sharing practices, and uphold participatory decision-making and implementation. The voices of the most vulnerable groups must be included, which can be encouraged by incorporating, for example, a Grievance Redress Mechanism.

There are several pathways to funding MLL projects. The government is currently interested in digital learning projects. Private sector infrastructure in Sierra Leone is modest, but there are larger mining and telecommunications companies that may have an interest in MLL from a Corporate Social Responsibility perspective. Public-Private Partnerships may be a promising model. Another pathway may be private foundations focused on Africa, education, and technology. Micro, small, and medium enterprises can also be a valuable source of working capital finance for the project through a minimum-fees-based approach.

MLL projects should respect and adapt to the socio-cultural context in which they are deployed. Projects should be validated with all stakeholders, not only sponsors or funding organizations, but also local executing partners and beneficiaries. To make MLL interventions financially sustainable, they need to be conceived of as a social investment rather than as a short-term intervention. In the interest of financial sustainability and feasibility, MLLs may be best thought of as a social business model with a gender approach: an opportunity for empowering women through a capacity building program supported by initial funds from the private or public sector.

Download the full version of this report here.

This Policy Lab was presented by our MPPs on July 15, 2021. Watch the video below:

About the authors

Gina Maldonado

MPP Class of 2021

James Samimi Farr

MPP Class of 2021

Nayantara Sudhakar

MPP Class of 2021

Gulrukh Qidwai

MPP Class of 2021

Photograph of Max Bell School MPP Student  Sarah SayaniSarah Sayani

MPP Class of 2021




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