No Image Available

Steve Dineen

Read more from Steve Dineen

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Learning technologies: Improving education for children in developing nations


Steve Dineen explains why those with expertise in learning technologies should apply their knowledge in the developing world and how lessons learnt from corporate training can be applied to help the children of developing countries.

Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty. Over 115 million children between the ages of 6 and 12 are not in school in the developing world. In sub-Saharan Africa, only one in three of those who attend school complete a primary education, let alone a secondary education.
The idea that every child should have access to a high quality education is both morally right and practically useful. If a poor education can perpetuate a cycle of poverty across generations, raising educational attainment can underpin improved healthcare, economic growth and political stability (The Centre for Global Development 2006). The goal of delivering universal education is, unsurprisingly, seen by many as the most important of the UN's millennium development goals.
The learning technology industry is uniquely placed to improve access to education in the developing world. We have both the expertise to deliver high quality learning material and the experience to know what works and what does not. Nevertheless, working far away from home can present new obstacles. Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the lowest road densities in the world, whilst many of India's roads are anarchic. Internet penetration remains below 10% in much of the developing world, partly a product of low PC usage in poor countries and partly because many do not have the requisite levels of literacy to use personal computers. Low internet penetration is further compounded by the fact that many villages are not on the electricity grid. These factors help to explain why a person in a developed country is 600 times more likely to have internet access than those in the least developed countries.
"The learning technology industry is uniquely placed to improve access to education in the developing world. We have both the expertise to deliver high quality learning material and the experience to know what works and what does not."
Working in the developing world is not without its challenges but this does not mean we should spare ourselves the bother. Theodore Roosevelt's dictum that "nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain [and] difficulty" rings true here. Running a successful social enterprise is not only fulfilling, but brings its own material rewards.
Applying learning technologies to the developing world can bring immense social equity by enhancing brand recognition, expanding business networks and providing a valuable developing ground for new innovation and staff development. Just as, in Ghana, we apply lessons learnt from training large corporations in the UK, so we apply our experience of working in uniquely trying environments back into the corporate context such as the experience we have gained from the adoption of social learning technologies. If the underlying learning principles are the same both at home and abroad, anyone wishing to apply their learning expertise in the developing world still needs to take account of key differences. A few steps are fundamental to success:

Understand the lie of the land

To truly understand how to make a difference in the territory concerned, it is necessary to get an idea of the operational context. The challenges are mentioned above, but there are also opportunities. 50% of Africa has mobile phone access, there are more people in India with access to a mobile phone than have access to adequate sanitation and new devices such as India's potential $35 tablet promise to become powerful learning tools. Internet access via mobile phones far exceeds fixed internet access in many developing countries and this trend looks set to continue. Mobile phones have the potential to change the way the internet is used in much of the world as the costs of internet-enabled handsets come down further. This presents a real opportunity for remote learning technologies but they will only become more accessible if they are designed with the hardware people are using in mind. 

Invest in relationships

In the developing world, more so than in the west, human relationships are at the core of decision-making. Without them, it is very hard to get anything done and they take time to build. We fast-tracked our understanding by partnering with UK organisations that had been assisting in education technology programmes across Africa, and by visiting their partners on the ground in West Africa.


With poor internet connectivity in much of the developing world, physical delivery of software is much more of a logistical challenge than at home. Without a first rate distribution network, which is expensive to fund, achieving your goals is impossible. The answer to this problem is to develop local partnerships rather than trying to go it alone. It is often possible to build mutually beneficial relationships with organisations that would otherwise be potential competitors to solve real world problems.

Apply commercial thinking

It is tempting to be charitably minded when addressing problems in such an emotive area. Such an approach is ultimately self-defeating. Driving adoption is best achieved by engaging local vendors and they will need to be part of a sustainable model to be able to develop their own businesses. For a social enterprise to work in the long run, it should be able to support itself after a year or so. Africa, especially, has a history of western companies with charitable goals helping for a year or two or until their funding runs out, leaving their local partners and end beneficiaries high and dry with unfilled promises. Every western company that begins to help but pulls out because the model is not sustainable makes it harder for the next company to build trust with local partners and make a difference.
Likewise it can be tempting to decide that there is a set way that things should be done, even if this does not translate itself into the local context. A social enterprise should be run like any other, adapting itself to change to create a product that is relevant and interesting to its market.
Running a social enterprise is not for the faint-hearted but it will make the biggest difference to the most people in the shortest amount of time. Being personally involved and using your brain and resources, rather than just making a charitable donation, is far more rewarding when you can directly see the end result. It is seeing the end result that genuinely makes you feel great and because it increases your company's social equity, you may find it indirectly improves your financial performance too.
Steve Dineen is executive chairman of Fusion Universal. He has over 15 years' experience creating, developing and running world-leading education companies serving over half of the FTSE 100 companies. He has been an advisor to leading learning organisations as well as public sector organisations such as the UK Ministry of Defence.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!