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Tech firms’ innovation can help city children – UNICEF

Developing ‘blended’ online learning opportunities is how technology companies could inspire hundreds of millions of schoolchildren in cities worldwide, says UNICEF.

It’s one of the conclusions from new research by the United Nations’ children’s charity into how investing in ‘smart’ initiatives in emerging cities could benefit around two billion people.

The research shows that businesses who invest in technology solutions ranging from swart water metering to emergency response systems, which are designed for emerging urban centres, can not only generate huge revenues but deliver real social change for children and people who need it the most.

‘Blended learning’

Researchers looked at Nairobi, Jakarta and Mexico City, and identified a range of technology areas where industry can best collaborate, innovate and invest. One of these was the concept of ‘blended learning’, where teachers could use online content in the classroom to engage with children as they learn. This has the potential to benefit between 500 and 600 million children in the long term.

Another area was multi-modal skilling, which UNICEF says has the potential to equip between 60 and 120 million young people in developing with the practical and life skills they will need as move into adulthood.

The research, Tech Bets for an Urban World, was conducted by UNICEF alongside technology company Arm. It identified five areas: basic services, connectivity, infrastructure,  human mobility and violence & hazards. The researchers then travelled around Mexico City, Jakarta and Nairobi, interviewing women and children in schools, homes and across the community, plus local technology innovators.

Investing in innovations

Erica Kochi, Principal Adviser for UNICEF Innovation, said: “Tech companies can do good business by investing in innovations that lift children and their families out of poverty. They have the potential to deliver more than corporate social responsibility – they can deliver long-term life-changing solutions.”

Blended learning technologies, says UNICEF, increase student engagement and can be adapted to different learning styles, and complement traditional content delivered by teachers in the classroom. It teaches children and young people the digital skills they will need in later life, and also allows for learners progress to be tracked and measured more effectively and accurately.

The research highlights the example of Maria, the principal of Rey Meconetzin School in Mexico City. She is focused on integrating technology and teaching into primary years education to enable children to have a better learning experience and be prepared for a digital future.

‘Customise lessons’

“Interactive methods of teaching let teachers customise lessons to suit the needs of individuals or tailored groups of students and different media formats let teachers gauge if a child is more visual or if they learn better by tactile learning or through audio input.”

Yet she is also aware that such new methods are not as easily accepted by older generations, and thus can create tension, saying: “Children are engaged in an online learning process because it’s dynamic, however many parents are skeptical their children are just ‘playing on computers’.”

So Maria is at pains to emphasise the critical role that teachers will continue to play in the classroom by providing the personal guidance, adding that ‘students are familiarising themselves with the digital skills they need for the future, but teacher engagement and relationship building will, and can, never be replaced’.

Social inclusion

By 2030, up to two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, with approximately 1.8 billion of them under the age of 24. Tech bets for an Urban World highlights that the technology sector has a crucial role to play in driving sustainable growth and social inclusion worldwide. It confirms the potential of the private sector to accelerate progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Author: Simon Weedy

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