What can we learn from schools in the developing world? You’re probably used to seeing this question the other way around. That’s because we rarely look at people we perceive as less fortunate and ask, what are they doing right?

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But a closer look at a classroom without technology, or even furniture, demonstrates the essence of what teaching is all about. Examining how teachers can get by without technology can improve and simplify our own relationship with high tech teaching tools. So pull up a seat on the floor and have a look.

Back to Basics

When it comes to the art of teaching, the most effective tools are the ones we’ve had since the stone age: storytelling, conversation, curiosity, and listening skills.

Imagine you had to give your lesson around a campfire or in an empty room with a dirt floor, how would you do it, what would you need to change? How would you engage your audience without interactive technology? Suppose the power went out, how would you carry on with your lesson? These questions will help you minimize your own distraction and get to the core of what you’re trying to say.

Tech is Only a Tool

Peace Corps Volunteer Lyla Fujuwara set up a computer school in Rwanda where computers are scarce. With limited resources, she had to prioritize. “What is the main purpose of technology?” she asked. The answer: technology solves problems. Her students would learn computer skills, of course, but these skills were only a gateway to lessons in creativity and complex problem solving.

Technology is a great vehicle for your story, but it is not the story. It’s useless without the human element, and no app or interface can make up for a weak story or poor planning. Technology provides some amazing answers for ‘how’ to teach, but it’s up to you to ask ‘why?’

Students Make Great Teachers

Many children in developing countries take on responsibilities that adults in wealthier nations couldn’t even imagine. This hard-won maturity is incredibly useful in the classroom, it enables older students to help teach their younger peers. This is important since many rural schools put students of all ages in a single classroom. Student-led classrooms have one important advantage over more teacher-centric ones–these students learn more. They get a chance to practice and play with the material rather than just committing it to memory. Student-led learning strengthens bonds of community, and a strong community makes for better student-leaders.

Teachers have a special kind of power, the power to empower others. This is true in a classroom with a dirt floor, and it’s true of someone designing an e-course.

No One is ‘Primitive’

Notice how we haven’t used the term ‘third world’? That’s because the human race is not a race to the finish line. Every country has unique challenges in education, and nations with iPads in the classroom aren’t necessarily better than ones that can’t afford chalk. Anyone who’s served in the Peace Corps will tell you that they learned more from their host culture than they ever taught about ours.

The same is true for the relationship between you and your students. The best teachers step into the classroom with a desire to learn. The best online training is constantly improving based on feedback from users.

When we treat those without tech know-how as primitive we end up hurting ourselves. We end up taking tech for granted and using it as a crutch rather than a tool. Someone working with donated laptops, or no laptops, doesn’t have the luxury to make that mistake.