Ariam's ARCADE

Many Abilities//Many Paths//Many Communities

The focus of this year’s mEducation Alliance Symposium was the role of the teacher and community educator, and how technology can provide greater support for their professional development, motivation, networking, and delivery of instruction in traditional and non-traditional educational settings.”

I was embarrassingly excited when the announcement was made a few months ago. I’m not sure there’s anything considered less sexy at an ed tech conference than teacher PD (…although I would disagree), but more critical for student outcomes.

Florian presented on UNICEF Kenya’s overall work around education technology (universal accessible textbook, Kenyan Education Cloud etc.) and then we dove into our presentation on Prototyping Professional Development: Upskilling Teachers for Digital Literacy. It was fun to present our approach on designing, delivering and iterating on quality PD for teachers, and learn from what others were doing at the conference. I was particularly interested in the landscape review of large-scale teacher PD models produced by TPD@Scale Coalition.

They identified five key factors that continuously arose in the landscape review critical to scaling TPD: scale, spread, depth, sustainability and shift. The emphasis on implementing immediately at scale was one that clashed with our design principles around iterating and testing for different needs and contexts (and then of course scaling what works), but I’m open and curious to see what comes forward from the final landscape review in February. And last but certainly not least…


I got to spend some quality time with the Muppets thanks to Worldreader.

Reposting this from ICTworks : )

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a discussion that quickly shifts from a failing ICT for Education initiative, to the assumed root cause: “teacher technophobia”.


Two superstar educators who rock the use of technology in the classroom.

There is a widely held belief that education technology interventions could be successful if not for the resistance from teachers who have irrational fears of technology. Larry Cuban has written about this flawed narrative for decades. Teachers are often blamed for failing to integrate technology into the classroom, but are those of us who are responsible for preparing teachers really equipping them to do this and how?

Maybe we’re the point of failure, not teachers…

We know that teachers are a key part of any solution. Yet, there is less critique and analysis of professional development processes and support given to teachers to support ICT interventions.

Professional Development Patterns:

Here are a few ways we fail teachers in our professional development processes:

  1. Ignoring PD Needs: Teachers are handed technology and expected to know how to integrate it into the classroom with no professional development or training.
  2. Poor PD Practices: Teachers are provided with basic orientation on a technology with very little practical application. Imagine PowerPoints and lots of talking, no doing.
  3. Limited PD Interventions: Teachers are provided with one PD session which involves practical application before an intervention begins, but there is no follow-up to understand what happened during the intervention and no other PD sessions for the remainder of the intervention.
  4. Tech-focused PD: Teachers are trained to use a specific technology which might or might not accompany content/curriculum. This is often very structured and teachers are provided a play by play of what should happen in the classroom.

Some might argue that scenario #4 is a model for success. To that, I ask, if your teachers were provided with a different piece of technology (that’s well designed), would they be able to create and facilitate a successful learning experience? If not, then you have not built their capacity to integrate technology into the classroom, only their capacity to use one tool.

If teachers appear to be “technophobic”, they often have very good reason, all of which are rational. These include:

  • Not believing in the technology or its application, because sometimes there really is no need to use technology.
  • A prior poor experience using technology in the classroom with little to no curriculum or educational support.
  • Trained to be a technology keeper/administrator versus an empowered educator, and therefore marginalized in the classroom.

Enough on our collective professional development failures. What are some solutions or approaches we can take?

Principles for Professional Development

Designing high-quality and engaging teacher professional development is a core focus of Nairobi Play. To truly build the capacity of our teachers to use technology effectively, our goal is not only to transform classroom practice, but transform how teachers approach and think about teaching, regardless of technology (because we know ICT4Edu is just an amplifier).

Based on our experiences and research others have conducted in the field, here are just a few principles we’ve borrowed and created to enhance our professional development (more to come in a follow-up post):

  1. Model. We want teachers to show not tell, but that means our professional development should reflect that same practice. Limit the powerpoints and presentations. The best way to help teachers understand what good facilitation with technology looks like is to model it for them (I DO/WE DO/YOU DO). For a more immersive experience, try Japanese lesson study. In 2015, while at Global Kids, my team and I used the lesson study approach to work with educators from the NYC Parks and Recreation Department and it produced many valuable learnings.  
  2. Teachers are designers, not just deliverers. For technology to be an amplifier in the classroom, teachers need the skills to design the learning experience. If you are working with teachers who have only used rote learning techniques, they need to be exposed to and trained in new pedagogies which empower them to be creative, flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of their students. Good professional development equips teachers with the skills to design their own lesson plans, be creative with technology, reflective on their facilitation techniques, and leverage the interests of their students while at the same time meeting learning outcomes.
  3. Not one Tool, Any Tool. Good professional development takes a pedagogy-first approach. This goes back to the point above, have you trained your teachers to use one technology, or any technology? This also means that teachers know how to adapt a digital activity into an analog activity and achieve the same learning outcomes.
  4. Professional Development has no end, ever. Yes, there may be budget constraints, but PD cannot be designed as a “one-time thing”, otherwise it will never be effective. PD should be incremental and iterative, continuously building on new skills and responsive to teachers needs and areas for growth. Maybe that’s six face-to-face PD’s a year, monthly educator meetups, and an active whatsapp group.

Professional development  has traditionally been neglected in the ICT for Education field not because it’s not important, but because of the classic argument that it’s too expensive and doesn’t produce enough quick wins.

Considering all the money that’s been dumped into technology without producing any wins, it’s time we act on investing in human potential as our top priority if we expect to make progress and deliver on the promise of technology’s ability to amplify real learning.


A few additional readings/resources:

Last weekend I saw Morgan Neville’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, an intimate portrait of the passionate life and work of Mr. Rogers. To say there were a few tears in the audience would be an understatement. A.O. Scott’s review in the New York Times accurately describes the film’s “curious melancholy”. He writes:

“What Mister Rogers tried to teach us — how to navigate “some of the more difficult modulations” in everyday life — might now be classified as emotional literacy. He acknowledged that anger, fear and other kinds of hurt are part of the human repertoire and that children need to learn to speak honestly about those feelings, and to trust the people they share them with.”

Emotional literacy and the demonstration of other SEL skills is what our global community needs right now. My own nostalgia for Mr. Rogers and that feeling of “curious melancholy” stems from our shift away from navigating through difficult “modulations”, and a dangerous draw to other “isms”, alienation, fearmongering and ethno-nationalism.


Copyright PBS.

Most recently, Denmark’s passage of a new set laws which force immigrants living in low-income neighborhoods to assimilate illustrate how fearful, angry and desperate Western countries have become to control their cultural narratives and histories. If immigrants do not comply with the law, which requires them to spend time away from their children and receive mandatory instruction in “Danish values”, they can lose social benefits and even receive prison time.

Denmark is a good example of a society acting from a place of fear, rather than a place of empathy, understanding and sincerity. How can immigrants integrate when they are physically and socially alienated? How can immigrants integrate if there is little to no exchange of cultural values, perspective-taking or communication between communities? The Danish government and parts of the society believe that immigrants are incapable of integrating, and maybe that’s by design. Sarah Schulman’s book “Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair” is an exciting text to pull from which provides a useful framework to explain some of these dynamics. Look forward to writing about this in an upcoming post and how it has influenced the underpinnings of the Nairobi Play model around global citizenship and intercultural competence.

I visited Lamu after a fun week of Nairobi Play PD in Kakuma, and while taking a walk on the beach I stumbled upon two children with a bicycle. One of them was half-seated on it, and the other one was demonstrating or modeling how to ride it. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen or experienced before, but it reminded me of our innate sense of learning by doing and gaining new skills. It’s strange that we often fail to incorporate this approach in our capacity-building of others (I’m specifically referring to guiding educators on how to adopt learning technologies in the classroom).


Two children in Lamu (Kenyan Coast).

As the boy on the bicycle flailed off the path due to his lack of balance (panicking with his hands off the steering wheel), his friend immediately came to his side to set him straight, give him feedback and reinforce what he had demonstrated at the beginning of their journey. With every trial, the new cyclist gained more confidence, momentum and skill, and his friend gradually inched back. Eventually he took off on his own down the path, with his friend jumping and cheering in the background. After a few minutes of successful cycling he fell over, but it didn’t matter, he was all smiles. It was clear he felt a sense of pride and accomplishment, and this experience was only the first of many adventures.

This iterative process of building the capacity of others is natural, whether it’s teaching a toddler how to walk, a child how to read, or an adult how to drive, but when we build the capacity of educators to learn how to use technology in the classroom, this iterative process seems to be non-existent, and I’m not sure why. What I’ve seen in the development field has often been no professional development or an initial training (poorly designed lecture) with no follow-up. More to come on this in a follow-up post.

This doesn’t mean that better learning doesn’t involve strategies and processes. This article from the Harvard Business Review, “Learning is a Learned Behavior”, provides a nice overview of the importance of organizing goals, metacognition and reflecting on learning to strengthen mastery of a skill, all which should be embedded in good professional development.

Looking back at the last few weeks, this is one issue I hope the Nairobi Play Project can generate best practices around and contribute to the field. What can a successful model for iterative educator professional development look like, and specifically for educators in low-resource contexts with little to no experience with project-based learning or using technology in the classroom? And the research begins…

A few weeks ago I attended the Scratch Benefit and it was wonderful to see the genuine love and support for the Scratch community. Mitch’s opening presentation powerfully illustrated it’s reach. With 200 million Scratchers globally it has the user base of the 6th biggest country in the world.


Scratch has 200 million users.

For a learning technology that’s pretty remarkable but not surprising…for Scratch that is.

Many of the solutions I’ve tested and evaluated designed for low resource settings are disappointing replicas of rote learning models, only amplifying bad practice. They rarely (if ever) provide children and adolescents with opportunities to harness their own creative potential. They don’t demonstrate evidence of impact, they’re not engaging or fun, and they’re not grounded in learning science and design, which is why they have low rates of adoption and ultimately fail.

There’s a movement in the United States (with some level of institutional buy-in) to employ technologies like Scratch to support children develop 21st century and STEAM skills through project-based learning and similar pedagogies, but this hasn’t been as prevalent in other parts of the world. There are a number of makerspaces on the African continent, but so far these are emerging to meet demands in the technology and manufacturing industries.

It’s understandable why in “developing” regions of the world there’s considerable focus on closing gaps around traditional literacies like reading, writing and math, but platforms designed and deployed in these contexts can still support meaningful learning versus rote learning. It’s paradoxical when there’s evidence that shows that technologies which support and align with progressive education can help children develop these basic foundational literacies.

When I reflect on the failures around many of these technologies and the success of Scratch, I think the key differentiator is that Scratch is a community which supports learners, families and educators. Scratch is not a technology, but a movement around how to participate in quality and joyful learning, which all children deserve.

I hope we can start designing more leaning technologies which challenge colonial and top down models of education, rather than amplify them.