Technology for supporting education: uses and challenges for marginalised communities

By Mark Gaved
Marginalised communities in low- and medium -income countries are limited in their access to technology to support their education. The key barrier is cost, though there are other significant challenges, including linguistic, social and cultural barriers. Families and teachers are aware of how technology might improve children’s education and there is widespread enthusiasm to engage with tools that will make a difference. However, there are also concerns of potential ill-effects. ReMaLIC has carried out interviews with children, parents, and teachers and as the project continues we will be sharing our insights.

‘Technology’ in this context should be understood in a broad sense. More recent developments like smartphones and the internet may be harder to access for poorer, more marginalised communities. Established technologies like radio, television, and basic phones are more available, and also used to improve children’s education.

“At home, we do not have technological devices. […] I watch T.V for learning my lessons” (Male student, Sudan)

Internet and telecommunications infrastructure is more limited in poorer countries and marginalised communities are particularly affected. These communities are more likely to live in remote and rural areas or poorly connected urban areas (like informal settlements), and they are least likely to be reliably connected to digital networks (Dawadi et al. 2020). This can have the effect of institutionalising and reinforcing digital divides along existing lines of marginalisation. Families from these communities are also less likely to have disposable income to purchase technologies or mobile data plans to support their children’s education.

“I feel so sorry that I could not buy a mobile phone for his study. The school asked me several times but I could not.” (Parent, Nepal)

Teachers may be discouraged from integrating ICT in education because of issues around the lack of ICT infrastructure in schools (Laudari and Mahar 2019). Lack of training can also affect the levels of digital literacy among teachers, which in turn affects their confidence or ability to effectively teach children. Access can be seen as the first level of ‘digital divide’, but literature and ReMaLIC’s experiences show that further levels of inequality, such as training, and the ability and support to put training and access into practice to enhance educational opportunities, are significant challenges to be overcome.

“…we are not using technology in our school […] The authority of this school is not taking any steps to do it and I don’t think that can be happening….” (Teacher, Bangladesh)

Government and NGO initiatives can help bridge divides by implementing innovative approaches to access, and providing support using more widely available technologies. In Eastern Sudan, for example, an initiative has supported conflict-affected children, girls and children with disabilities currently excluded from the traditional education model by providing community workers with solar powered equipment and tablets. This overcomes the lack of electrical infrastructure in schools, and by using portable devices enables tutors’ flexibility in where they teach. Facilitators are trained in pedagogical techniques, as well as digital skills.

In Bangladesh, widespread ownership of basic mobile phones has enabled innovative approaches to tuition, particularly during the pandemic lockdown when schools were closed. While only 44% of rural households own a television, 94% own a basic mobile phone. In one recent initiative, families were given a free number to call to access remote tutoring, and also to access Interactive Radio Instruction (Islam and Wang 2021). Interactive radio instruction (IRI) combines radio broadcasts with active learning, requiring teachers and students to react to questions and exercises posed by radio characters and to participate in group work, experiments, and other activities. It can be accessed by FM radios, delivered by CDs, and increasingly, accessed via phones.

ReMaLIC has come across several examples of creative sharing of technologies, for example where groups of children have sat together sharing one phone to take part in lessons. Sharing of educational technology is a common strategy to widen access and distance learning programmes can affectively use television, national radio and community radio, as well as online and via mobile phones (Upadhyay, 2020).

Linguistic minorities may not be as well provided for both in terms of educational content, as well as digital tools. In Senegal, for example many children may speak a mother tongue such as Wolof that is transmitted mainly orally, while tuition and educational materials may be in French. Digital interfaces and web browsers may require competency in national and international languages such as French or English, leaving speakers of local languages further marginalised. For example in Nepal, a word processor might only be able to be used in English or Nepali, but not Tharu.

Cultural issues may also come into play around use of access to ICT. There is sometimes a gendered disparity in access to ICT, sometimes due to traditional cultural norms of giving educational preference to boys, but also the social and parental perception of its abuse: the concern that children, and particularly girls will be exposed to risk and bad influences.

“We have the opportunity to buy the mobile phone but we don’t buy it. Because we are very careful with the girl.” (Parent, Bangladesh)

“They do not allow us to use mobile more [than just studies] because we’ll become addicted to mobile so that we’ll pay less attention to our studies” (Female student, Nepal)

ReMaLIC has discovered interesting examples that we had not expected. For example, in an urban school we visited in Senegal, children were forbidden from using their mobile phones at school and there was no WiFi, whereas a rural school had WiFi as part of their infrastructure and could be used by teachers to support teaching. Children here were seen in the school playgrounds between lessons searching for educational material. ReMaLIC is shedding new light on current practices and challenges around the use of technology to support education and we will update on our findings as analysis continues.


Dawadi, S., Giri, R. and Simkhada, P. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on the education sector in Nepal – challenges and coping strategies. Sage Preprint. Available at:

Islam, A. and Wang, C. L. (2021). Impact of IRI based mobile lessons on educational outcome of primary graders: A randomized controlled trial in rural Bangladesh. Monash University, Australia.

Laudari, S. and Maher, D. (2019). Barriers of ICT use in EFL teacher education courses in Nepal: An activity-theory perspective. Journal of NELTA, 24(1). 77-94.

Loh, Y.A. C. and Chib, A. (2021). Reconsidering the digital divide: An analytical framework from access to appropriation. Information Technology & People, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. Available from :

Upadhyay, A. (2020). EdTech in Senegal: A rapid scan. DOI:10.5281/zenodo.3936687. Available at:

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