A worldwide effort is underway to provide basic education to millions of children who don’t have a school to attend. Technology offers one means of providing education at an affordable cost.

The American University of Nigeria (AUN) was invited to the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. to present its distance education model at the 2016 Mobiles Education Alliance, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. AUN’s model attracted attention because it doesn’t rely heavily on technology for obvious reasons: in the northeast of the country the electrical supply is spotty, Internet access severely limited, and computers unaffordable.

While AUN does employ tablet computers with preloaded software created by AUN computer science and communications students and faculty, the heaviest educational lift is provided by the older educational technologies of print and radio.

The buzz at the conference was that a key multilateral aid organization is reportedly working to produce a device that costs only $10, compared to the $50 digital reader that AUN uses. But there was more buzzing, including from visitors to AUN’s exhibit at the conference who were impressed by the storybooks produced by AUN students and faculty.

A representative of the Qatar Foundation commented that the AUN model relying on a media mix and on-site facilitators might work, when contextualized, with young Syrian refugees that have flooded into nearby countries in the region during the protracted civil and proxy war there. Other participants expressed interest in supporting AUN’s programs in northeast Nigera.

Advocates for girls’ education were heartened by assessment results of the Technology Education Learning for All program (TELA), where all students, but especially girls, dramatically increased their test scores after six months of instruction.

Conference participants welcomed another development whereby Internet access is expanding to more parts of the world without the need for costly telecommunications infrastructure. But everyone agreed that this is only part of the solution. Also needed is money for hardware, teacher education and curricular reform. The scope of the challenge is massive, but not as large as the consequences of doing too little.

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