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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.

Surveying ICT use in education in Europe

Michael Trucano's picture

igniting new approaches to learning with technologyOne consistent theme that I hear quite often from policymakers with an interest in, and/or responsibility for, the use of ICTs in their country's education system is that they want to 'learn from the best'. Often times, 'best' is used in ways that are synonymous with 'most advanced', and 'most advanced' essentially is meant to describe places that have 'lots of technology'. Conventional wisdom in many other parts of the world holds that, if you want to 'learn from the best', you would do well to look at what is happening in places like the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Singapore. (Great internal 'digital divides' of various sorts persist within some of these places, of course, but such inconvenient truths challenge generalizations of these sorts in ways that are, well, inconvenient.) Policymakers 'in the know' broaden their frame of reference a bit, taking in a wider set of countries, like those in Scandinavia, as well as some middle income countries like Malaysia and Uruguay that also have 'lots of technology' in their schools. Whether or not these are indeed the 'best' places to look for salient examples of relevance to the particular contexts at hand in other countries is of course a matter of some debate (and indeed, the concept of 'best' is highly problematic -- although that of 'worst' is perhaps less so), there is no question that these aren't the only countries with lots of ICTs in place (if not always in use) in their education systems.

What do we know about what is happening across Europe
related to the use of ICTs in schools?

The recently released Survey of Schools: ICT in Education Benchmarking Access, Use and Attitudes to Technology in Europe’s Schools provides a treasure trove of data for those seeking answers to this question. Produced by the European Schoolnet in partnership with the University of Liège in Belgium, with funding from the European Commission, the publication features results from the first Europe-wide survey of this sort across the continent in six years:

Broadband for schools?

Michael Trucano's picture
if only this tree were outside my school!
if only this tree were outside my school!

Schools should be connected to the Internet. Most people, I suspect, would agree with that statement (although a few dissenters may contend that such a statement does not go far enough, and that all schools *must* be connected to the Internet.) Indeed: Lots of countries around the world have been, and are, engaged in efforts to connect all of their schools to the Internet -- and for those schools that are already connected, to connect them faster.

The efforts of the United States in this regard that began under the 'e-rate' program in the 1990s have been much studied and emulated around the world, and countries as diverse as Malaysia, Morocco and Turkey have sought in various ways to utilize Universal Service Funds to help connect the un-connected. Korea has perhaps gone the furthest in rolling out very fast connectivity to all of its schools. Armenia will soon (if has not done so already) have completed connecting all of its schools to the Internet; when I last checked (in late 2012), Uruguay had almost done so as well. Given current technology infrastructure and available funds, not all countries are of course yet able to connect all schools, even if they consider this to be a priority. (Even in a country as developed as Uruguay, 70 schools were reported still to be without electricity in early 2012 -- not being connected to the electrical grid can make efforts roll out connectivity to all a little more difficult ....) In countries where almost all schools can be connected via existing means, a lack of supporting government policies and/or incentives for groups to connect the unconnected schools can mean that, even where connections to the Internet are technically feasible, they may not be commercially or practically feasible. Some recent work by the World Bank found that 95% of all schools in Indonesia could theoretically be connected to the Internet now, if the political will could be found and provided certain policies and incentives were put into place. (Connecting the remaining 5% of schools -- no small number, in a country as large and diverse as Indonesia, with over 13,000 (!) islands and 250,000 schools  -- would be much more difficult, as many of the schools in this 5% category are quite remote, and there are as a result often significant, and very costly, infrastructure challenges to overcome.)

OK, if all schools should (or must) be connected to the Internet, what should be the nature of that connection?

Again, most people would probably agree that, in 2013, all schools should have broadband connections to the Internet. This is, in fact, a common theme in many of the national policies related to ICT use in education one encounters around the world, especially in the more 'advanced' (OECD) countries, and increasingly in middle income countries as well. Reasonable people may (and do!) disagree about the extent to which school connectivity should be prioritized compared with other pressing needs in the education sector, but, while there may be a lack of consensus on the relative importance, the general importance of connecting schools, and indeed in doing so at broadband speeds, is a widely held goal in much of the world (even if it is not always practical in the near term). That said:

What exactly does 'broadband' mean when we are talking about connecting schools to the Internet?

It turns out there is no simple answer to this query. Indeed, there are lots of different answers, depending on where you are and the context in which you are posing such a question.

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.

Learning from national ICT and education agencies

Michael Trucano's picture
KERIS -- at the cutting edge
KERIS -- at the cutting edge

Over 100 education policymakers from 32 countries gathered last week in Seoul to share lessons, experiences and opinions in response to the following question:

How should an education system structure itself to meet new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities related to the use of information and communication technologies, and what roles and responsibilities could/should a dedicated ICT/education agency or unit play?

This was the theme of the fourth global symposium on ICT and education, an annual event that the World Bank has co-sponsored with the Korean Education & Research and Information Service (KERIS) and the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) and other partners, including UNESCO Bangkok, Intel and the IDB. (Proceedings from previous symposia are available herehere, here and here.)

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'.)


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