When a rather important ministry ofﬁcial unexpectedly arrived at our EduTrac launch workshop in Kandahar recently, I was surprised. He walked right in and asked the participants what they were learning. One middle-aged male teacher from rural Kandahar said “We are learning SMS to be able to talk about our problems with those responsible for doing something about them.” The ofﬁcial offered to give his phone number to them and one enthusiastic teacher said, “You should just sign up and use the service.” I was tremendously impressed with the participants.
Two weeks ago, our country ofﬁce and partner NGO, the Social and Humanitarian Assistance Organization (SHAO) launched EduTrac. I want to share what we learned along the way, but ﬁrst some background.
In many remote areas, adolescents who brieﬂy or never attended school at an earlier age need another opportunity for learning. Formerly out-of-school children learn in condensed curriculums at Accelerated Learning Centres (ALCs). It’s critical to ensure that children have what they need to learn in ALCs.
EduTrac was started in Kandahar where there are a high number of out-of-school children, but it’s also one of the most difﬁcult provinces to work in because of conﬂict and remoteness. Teachers use EduTrac to report on attendance, salaries and the receipt of supplies. Over 1900 SMS were sent and received, and there was enthusiastic support from the teachers about real time reporting and getting feedback on the problems they identify.
So, what did we learn along the way?
Basics: We started with too many features; only two features are necessary: registration and polling, with group chat (my favorite) being a luxury. We had several features ready to go but did not train on them. The features can be discovered by teachers using a help keyword and they can be informed of them through later messages.
Registration: Most information about teachers can be obtained later using polls; asking for it upfront slows down trainings if there is one SMS more than it needs to be. To register, teachers send a text message with the word ‘register’ in any of three languages, which tells EduTrac their language preference (and phone number); then, just basics like their school ID.
Polls: Polls are the main feature, and the design borrows from what works in UReport: Ask the question, give feedback and praise, and then be sure to follow-up; and let the teachers propose the questions too. We ask questions about real bottlenecks to child learning that are also actionable.
Group Chat: In design talks with teachers, we asked ‘What would you communicate about using SMS?’ Teachers (and other public sector workers too) would always want to chat more with peers. Essentially, they wanted group email or a simple chat forum using SMS. After early frustrations, we made it as simple as we could using a single keyword to get a message routed to the group. In future we will use separate numbers for chats so that no keywords are needed.
Gender: We wondered whether a mixed gender training would work. It turned out to be ﬁne from a cultural perspective but impractical for a somewhat unexpected reason. Female teachers wore burkas, which entirely cover their bodies and faces in public, including during the training. The women strained to read the SMS on small mobile phones through the burkas mesh screens. I was clueless to this, but gratefully a female colleague invited the ladies to an adjoining room within ear shot of the training room where they could remove the burkas, and guided them through the workshop.
EduTrac was pioneered by UNICEF Uganda. UNICEF Afghanistan uses innovations to support the realization of children’s rights to life, health, learning, identity, and safety.
Programme Manager, UNICEF Afghanistan