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SABER-ICT

Surveying ICT use in education in five Arab States

Michael Trucano's picture

revisiting the past while looking to the futureWhen I was back in school, and long before I had come across names like Wilbur Schramm or Manuel Castells, I remember learning about the power of new information  and communication technologies to help change societies. Even from the (perhaps rather limited) perspective of someone growing up in a prairie state in the American Midwest, whether it was the role of pamphlets in the American Revolution or the more contemporary examples of audiocassettes in the Iranian revolution or photocopiers helping to spread samizdat culture and messages in the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, it was clear that the emergence, adaptation and innovative uses of new 'ICTs' could help committed groups of people upend the existing status quo.

(Whether such 'upending' is a good thing or not depends, I guess, on your perspective, and the specific circumstances and context. Flip through the pages of UNESCO's Community radio handbook, for example, and you may well be inspired, but read a recent paper from a researcher at Harvard about the role of RTLM radio in the Rwandan genocide and you will be chilled to the bone. Technology is a magnifier of human intent and capacity, as my friend Kentaro Toyama likes to say.)

More recently, the events of the 'Arab Spring' have been popularly attributed, in part, to the use of new ICTs and ICT tools like Twitter and SMS. Whether or not one agrees with this attribution (and about this there is much scholarly debate), there is no denying that rhetoric around 'ICTs' and the Arab Spring has increasingly marked and colored discussions about the use of educational technologies in many Arab countries. In announcing a recent report documenting technology use in education in the region, for example, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) begins by noting that, "Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, arguably the most significant ICT-assisted “learning” phenomena of the recent past, data from five countries provide a snapshot of ICT integration in education." It continues:

"Great strides have been made in the last decade to harness the power of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to help meet many development challenges, including those related to education. However, evidence shows that some countries in the Arab States continue to lag behind in fully implementing ICT in their education systems.
 
According to a UIS data analysis, which was based on a data collection process sponsored and conducted by the UNESCO Communication and Information Sector and the Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization (TAG-Org), policies for the implementation and use of ICT in primary and secondary education systems have not necessarily translated into practice. This is revealed in the newly released data from five participating countries."

Results from this data analysis were recently published by UIS in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Education in Five Arab States: A comparative analysis of ICT integration and e-readiness in schools in Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Palestine and Qatar [pdf], one part of a larger multinational effort to collect and analyze basic data related to ICT use in education around the world (results from a similar exercise in Latin America, also led by UIS, were featured on the EduTech blog last week; recent posts have also looked at related sorts of efforts in Europe and Central and West Asia).

Surveying ICT use in education in Latin America & the Caribbean

Michael Trucano's picture

¡más computadoras, por favor!Almost a decade ago, delegates from over 175 countries gathered in Geneva for the first 'World Summit on the Information Society',  a two-part conference (the second stage followed two years later in Tunis) sponsored by the United Nations meant to serve as a platform for global discussion about how new information and communication technologies were impacting and changing economic, political and cultural activities and developments around the world. Specific attention and focus was paid to issues related to the so-called 'digital divide' -- the (growing) gap (and thus growing inequality) between groups who were benefiting from the diffusion and use of ICTs, and those who were not. One of the challenges that inhibited  discussions at the event was the fact that, while a whole variety of inequalities were readily apparent to pretty much everyone, these inequalities were very difficult to quantify, given the fact that we had only incomplete data with which to describe them. The Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, an international, multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators, was formed as a result, and constituent members of this partnership set out to try to bridge data gaps in a variety of sectors. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) took the lead on doing this in the education sector, convening and chairing a Working Group on ICT Statistics in Education (in which the World Bank participates, as part of its SABER-ICT initiative) to help address related challenges. At the start, two basic questions confronted the UIS, the World Bank, the IDB, OECD, ECLAC, UNESCO, KERIS and many other like-minded participating members of the working group (out of whose acronyms a near-complete alphabet could be built):

What type of data should be collected related to ICT use in education?

Not to mention:

What type of data could be collected,
given that so little of it was being rigorously gathered
across the world as a whole,
relevant to rich and poor countries alike,
in ways that permitted comparisons across regions and countries?

Comparing ICT use in education across all countries was quite difficult back then. In 2003/2004, the single most common question related to the use of ICTs in education I was asked when meeting with ministers of education was: What should be our target student:computer ratio? Now, one can certainly argue with the premise that this should have been the most commonly posed question (the answer from many groups and people soon became -- rather famously, in fact -- '1-to-1', e.g. 'one laptop per child'). That said, the fact that we were unable to offer globally comparable data in response to such a seemingly basic question did little to enhance the credibility of those who argued this was, in many ways, the wrong question to be asking. Comparing ICT use in education across all countries remains difficult today -- but in many regards, this task is becoming much easier.

Analyzing ICT and education policies in developing countries

Michael Trucano's picture

find me some policies that I can learn from ... or else!For the last year or so, we have been collecting policy documents related to ICT use in education from around the world, with a specific interest in trying to document policy intent in developing countries, especially in East Asia. This is one component of a larger initiative at the World Bank called Systems Approach for Better Education Results, or SABER. As part of our SABER-ICT project, we are trying to help policymakers as they attempt to assess and compare their own policies against those of comparator countries around the world.  Here's a very real scenario:

An education minister approaches the World Bank and asks for help in formulating an 'ICT in education' policy, in preparation for what is intended to be a large scale investment in educational technologies.  She asks us:

What might be important to include in such a policy?

Developing a national educational technology policy

Michael Trucano's picture

lots of paper files on digital policies"We think we need to develop a national policy to help guide our efforts to use information and communication technologies [ICTs] in education.  What should such a policy contain?"

This is a question we get not infrequently here at the World Bank.  Sometimes this is in response to recognition that a country is about to spend a lot of money buying computers for schools, and there is a realization that there is no policy in place to help guide this effort. Other times it is a result of recognition that there has been no or little policy guidance in this area despite the fact that lots of money has been spent (for example) buying lots computers for schools -- and this hasn't worked out quite as well as hoped. Some countries have had policies in place -- sometimes quite good policies -- and they are now looking to 'move to the next level', but aren't exactly sure what that means, and so are seeking outside input, especially because of the challenges and opportunities offered by new technological developments. (We see other scenarios as well, but will stop listing them now.)

There are a few ways to help answer such a question.

One approach is to help guide policymakers through a systematic, consultative process to formulate and policies related to, and plan for, the deployment and use of educational technologies, as part of a wider policy formulation and planning process that looks at broader developmental and education goals, and then seeks to investigate and articulate how and where the use of ICTs can help meet these objectives.  This is a process that was (for example) followed as part of the World Bank's World Links program a decade ago, and which was extended and formalized through the development and use of the ICT in Education Toolkit for Policymakers, Planners and Practitioners, which was supported by a number of organizations (and used extensively throughout Asia by UNESCO as part of its advisory work in this area). Of course, not all policy planning processes are as systematic and well laid out as that identified by the Toolkit -- many of them are, in practice, rather ad hoc. 

Another way to answer the question (and these approaches aren't mutually exclusive) is to show people what other policies say, to the extent that you can find them. Whether systematic or ad hoc (or somewhere in between), there was input that seemed to us to be missing from pretty much every ICT/education policy development process in which we have been engaged.  Wouldn't it be useful if there was a comprehensive global database of ICT/education policies from which countries could find inspiration and establish useful benchmarks for their own related policies?

How to identify and locate national ICT and education policies

Michael Trucano's picture

they come in many shapes and sizesAs part of our advisory work here at the World Bank on ICT and education topics, we are often asked not only for advice, perspectives and information, but also for strategies on locating various types of information.

For example, we often get asked by countries for examples of 'ICT and education policies' to help inform their own planning processes in this area.  We get this request so often that we have decided to (more) systematically document and catalog these sorts of policy documents in the coming months, with the assistance of some of our partner organizations, and make them widely available as part of a global ICT/education policy database. We'll provide periodic updates on this work on this blog. 

Until then, and it case it might be useful to anyone looking for such things, we thought we'd post some thoughts on how others might locate and retrieve these sorts of documents themselves, as we have done previously for topics like Tracking ICT use in education across Africa and Finding (useful) research on ICT use in education in developing countries.

Building national ICT/education agencies

Michael Trucano's picture

one model of evolution -- in practice it looks much messier! | image attribution at bottomMany developing countries have embarked upon – and others are seriously considering – large-scale roll-outs of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in their education sector.  Similar processes began in most OECD countries 10-20 years ago, in many middle income countries more recently. Structurally, education systems organize themselves in various ways to fund, implement and oversee these sorts of initiatives, which are typically quite expensive – and complex – and the related organizations evolve, in ways incremental and radical, over time.

Despite the highly varied local contexts, in most countries, a single institution is core to the implementation of ICT/education initiatives.

What do we know about how such institutions work, and what suggestions might we have for governments creating such institutions for the first time, supporting these sorts of agencies over time, and/or restructuring such organizations to meet future challenges?

ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch -- and Learn From

Michael Trucano's picture

KERIS looms increasingly large on the international ICT/education scene | image attribution at bottomAs part of engagements with ministries of education around the world, I am often asked to provide lists of countries considered to be 'best practice examples of ICT use in education'. I am asked this so often that I thought I'd provide a representative list here to help point people in some useful directions, in case doing so might be of any interest.

But before I get to the list ...

First, I'd like to say that I prefer the term 'good practice' to 'best practice'.  This may seem to be unnecessary semantic nitpicking, but in many if not most cases and places, learning from and adapting 'good' practices is often much more practical -- and more likely to lead to success.  

And: Given that many initiatives seem immune to learning from either 'best' or even 'good' practice in other places, I am coming to the conclusion that it may be most practical to recommend countries that have had 'lots of practice' (of any kind).  Is this ideal?  Obviously no -- but it tends to yield better results. For whatever reason, there appears to be a natural learning curve that accompanies large scale adoption of ICTs in the education sector in many countries, and that there is an important element of 'learning by doing' that appears to be important, even if this means 'repeating the mistakes' of others. (This is a process often known in international development circles as 'capacity building'.)

Comparing ICT use in education across countries

Michael Trucano's picture

still lots of questions ...At a fundamental level, attempts to answer many of the pressing policy questions we have about the use of ICTs in educational settings around the world -- and the impact of such use -- are complicated by the fact that we still do not have reliable, globally comparable data in this area.  As hard as it may be to believe -- especially given the large investments being made in this area and the increasing strategic importance of this topic in many countries -- basic answers to many basic questions about the use of technology in schools around the world remain largely unanswered.  Such questions include:

  • How many schools are connected to the Internet (and what is the quality of that connection)?
  • How many teachers have been trained to use ICTs?
  • How many schools have access to sufficient reliable power? 
  • How many computers are being used for learning purposes in schools?
  • In what subjects are computers meant to be used, and to what extent?

 
This is about to change.

Making ICT and education policy

Michael Trucano's picture

public domain image from Jossifresco via Wikimedia Commons

India is currently engaged in a consultative process to formulate a new ICT and education policy.  The United States is doing the same to prepare its new National Educational Technology Plan.

In the context of a discussion of ICT/education policies, GeSCI's Jyrki Pulkkinen takes a step back and asks, who really needs policy? While he doesn't provide answers to this question himself in his note (yet -- I suspect this is coming), he follows up with a set of high-level, practical guiding questions for people involved in these processes.  

When thinking about the questions that Jyrki poses, I had a few questions of my own: What are best practices for the development of such policies and plans?  Where can we turn to for examples of such policies and plans to help inform work in this area?