Stories of Education Continuity during COVID: Leveraging Edtech without Internet using Kolibri
What can we learn from each other? Almost every education system on earth has been affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. As part of a joint initiative HundrED in partnership with the OECD, The World Bank, and the Global Education Innovation Initiative from Harvard University, has collected stories from across the globe about the solutions education systems are using to continue learning, and how they are adapting these solutions to different student and teacher needs during the crisis.
This article looks at how selected HundrED Innovation Kolibri, has been addressing the equity gap in learning during COVID by providing supportive learning experiences in environments where there is little or no Internet connectivity.
Kolibri is an adaptable end-to-end suite of openly licensed learning resources, tools, and do-it-yourself support materials, designed for teaching and learning with technology but without requiring connectivity to the Internet.
It is developed by Learning Equality, an ed-tech non-profit focused on fostering effective interventions in marginalized contexts by creating and supporting open-source tools to enable equitable access to quality educational opportunities for learners and educators with limited or no Internet access. Learning Equality's pioneering offline-first platforms have reached over 6 million learners in more than 200 countries and territories around the world, from rural schools to orphanages, community centers to refugee camps and learning hubs, like the ones highlighted in this story.
As part of a four-country collaboration (Jordan, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania), the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) Connected Education team and Learning Equality have been working with the UNHCR’s Jordan office since 2018, with support from Google.org, to assist with use of Kolibri across 10 Connected Learning Hubs.
These Hubs, located across Amman, northern and southern governorates, as well as in Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps, closed down temporarily with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to closures and social distancing measures, UNHCR Jordan’s implementing partners, Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD), CARE, and Blumont/IRD ran these centres, with the support of coaches, to provide 13 to 17-year-old learners with daily access to digital Arabic learning materials on Kolibri.
With the onset of the pandemic, Learning Equality and UNHCR Jordan evaluated how to ensure continuity of learning during the closures of the Hubs, which resulted in several initiatives to support learners at home. In Jordan, there was a swift effort within weeks to place the offline servers in the Hubs on the public Internet, and boost connectivity through paid Internet bundles. UNHCR Jordan also leveraged new materials developed by Learning Equality to provide pedagogical and technical resource guides in Arabic to use Kolibri at home with or without the Internet. The initiative aimed to address three main challenges:
- Limited available infrastructure;
- Limited availability of discoverable, relevant resources that can be leveraged during the pandemic and beyond; and
- Limited support for educators, particularly around use of technology
The combination of an adaptable technology platform with a relevant content base and an implementation model that can be accessed in environments without consistent Internet connectivity has enabled the delivery of digital education to learners with a diversity of educational backgrounds, as well as language and learning needs.
Addressing the equity gap in learning is at the core of Learning Equality’s work. The global challenges it aims to address, including lack of connectivity and the need for tools to support learning in low-resource environments, have become more readily apparent with the onset of COVID-19.
Globally, Kolibri continues to address the breadth of learning needs during the pandemic and support continuity of learning going forward. It is flexible and adaptable to varied learning needs and environmental constraints, and it is devised to work within or complement existing infrastructure and initiatives. This Kolibri Product Ecosystem is centred around an open-source learning platform that provides robust functionality to support the kinds of personalised and differentiated learning that are typically only available in online learning environments. This is complemented by a specially curated library of open learning resources, a tool to support curriculum alignment, and a toolkit of resources to support the use of this platform and open educational resources in varied blended learning environments.
More generally, what makes Kolibri innovative is a focus on equity: it is an adaptable solution created for and responsive to the diverse learning needs in these environments. It has an offline distribution and access model, meaning that it can be preloaded onto a device like a laptop, low-cost Raspberry Pi or a USB, brought to a location without Internet connectivity and/or shared peer-to-peer, and accessed over a local area connection. It can be leveraged in contexts with limited access to electricity, and where the Internet is costly and/or not prevalent.
Kolibri is low maintenance: while it is not low-tech, it is a robust learning platform extensively tested in low connectivity contexts that does not require significant digital literacy skills to use.
Educators and learners with limited exposure to technology are able to get started with Kolibri swiftly. Kolibri responds to the needs of the low-resource learning environments where it is being used: it leverages hardware that already exists, and responds directly to limited teacher capacity and training, limited digital literacy, large class sizes, and differing learning abilities amongst a group of learners.
Lastly, Kolibri is free of charge and open, it can be used and adapted for one’s own needs, it can benefit from open contributors to build and improve the product, and new functionality is driven and prioritised by the feedback and needs from the Kolibri user community.
Amid school closures, Kolibri enables a continuum of learning possibilities: a learner who is at home can have access to Kolibri offline and an educator with Kolibri can provide remote support via WhatsApp. When there is periodic connectivity through an online server or when a learner periodically visits a learning environment with a central Kolibri server, the teacher can assess and support learner progress at a distance using Kolibri’s built-in educator support tools.
If you are interested in learning more about how Learning Equality was able to mobilize and develop resources, foster effective use of protocols, manage implementation challenges, monitor success, and how these solutions can be adapted to new contexts download the full report for free on the OECD website.