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What's changed: Ten reflections on ten years of technology use in education

Michael Trucano's picture
afasf
illuminating things in Seoul
Earlier this month, the Korea Education Research & Information Service (KERIS) hosted the tenth annual Global Symposium on ICT Use in Education in Seoul. For the past decade, the World Bank and the Korean Ministry of Education have co-sponsored this event as part of a longstanding strategic partnership exploring uses of technology in education, together with other partners.

One of the early, decidedly modest goals for this event was simply to bring together key decisionmakers from across Asia (and a few other parts of the world -- it would become more global with each passing year) in an attempt to help figure out what was actually going on with technology use in education in a cross-section of middle and low income countries, and to help policymakers make personal, working level connections with leading practitioners -- and with each other. Many countries were announcing ambitious new technology-related education initiatives, but it was often difficult to separate hope from hype, as well as to figure out how lofty policy pronouncements might actually translate to things happening at the level of teachers and learners 'on-the-ground'.

As the first country to move from being a recipient of World Bank donor assistance to become a full-fledged donor itself, Korea presented in many ways an ideal host for the event. (Still is!) The Korean story of economic development over the past half century has been the envy of policymakers in many other places, who see in that country's recent past many similarities to their own current situations. Known for its technological prowess (home to Samsung and many other high tech companies) and famous in education circles for the performance of its students on international assessments like PISA, educational technology issues could be found at the intersection of two important components in a Venn diagram of 'Brand Korea'.

Since that first global symposium, over 1400 policymakers from (at least by my quick count) 65 countries have visited Korea annually as part of the global symposium to see and learn first hand from Korean experiences with the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education, to be exposed to some of the latest related research around the world, to share information with each other about what was working -- and what wasn't -- and what might be worth trying in the future (and what to avoid). Along the way, Korea has come to be seen as a global hub for related information and knowledge, and KERIS itself increasingly is regarded by many countries as a useful organizational model to help guide their own efforts to help implement large scale educational technology initiatives.

While international events bringing together policymakers to discuss policy issues related to the use of new technologies in education are increasingly common these days, across Asia and around the world, back in 2007 the Global Symposium on ICT Use in Education represented the first regularly scheduled annual event of its type (at least to my knowledge; there were many one-off regional events, of course, many of the good ones organized by UNESCO) bringing together policymakers from highly developed, middle and low income countries.

Participating in the event for each of the past ten years has offered me a front row seat to observe how comparative policy discussions have evolved over the past decade in a way that is, I think, somewhat unique. What follows is a quick attempt to descibe some of what has changed over the years. (The indefatigable Jongwon Seo at KERIS is, I think, the only other person to have participated in all ten global symposia. As such, he is a sort of spiritual co-author of these reflections -- or at least the ones which may offer any useful insights. I'm solely responsible for any of the banal, boring or inaccurate comments that follow.)
 
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Helping children survive and thrive: How toilets play a part

Claire Chase's picture



While child mortality rates have plummeted worldwide, nearly one-third of all children under 5 in developing countries are stunted. Children who are stunted (having low height-for-age) suffer from a long-term failure to grow, reflecting the cumulative effects of chronic deficits in food intake, poor care practices, and illness. The early years of life, especially the first 1,000 days, are critical; if a child’s growth is stunted during this period, the effects are irreversible and have lifelong and intergenerational consequences on their future human capital and potential to succeed.  
 
For the water and sanitation community the year 2009 marked a turning point in our understanding of the role that Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) has on child stunting. A provocative Lancet article (Humphrey 2009) put forth the hypothesis that a key cause of child stunting is asymptomatic gut infection caused by ingestion of fecal bacteria. Small children living in poor sanitary environments are especially at risk, through frequent mouthing of fingers and objects during exploratory play, playing in areas contaminated with human and animal feces and ingesting contaminated food and water (Ngure et al. 2013). Researchers now estimate that up to 43 percent of stunting may be due to these gut infections, known as environmental enteric dysfunction (EED) (Guerrant et al. 2013).
 
Just last week estimates were released suggesting that poor sanitation is the second leading cause of child stunting worldwide (Danaei et al. 2016). In a key departure from previous work, the researchers defined risk as the sanitation level of a community, rather than an individual. This is consistent with mounting evidence showing that a community’s coverage of sanitation is more important than any one household’s (Andres et al. 2013). Across different studies, data sets and outcomes the evidence consistently shows that a threshold of around 60–70 percent household usage within a community is needed before the health and nutrition benefits of sanitation begin to accrue. Studies that have focused on an individual’s toilet use as a predictor, rather than a community’s use, may have vastly underestimated the impacts (Hunter and Prüss-Ustün 2016).  
 
As we advance our understanding of the ways in which a poor sanitary environment impacts growth in small children, we can better design water and sanitation interventions to target these pathways. While there is a role for multi-sectoral interventions, which can simultaneously target the underlying determinants of child undernutrition, such as food security, access to health services, and childcare practices — there are ways that the water sector can adapt its own approaches so that they are more nutrition-sensitive, and more impactful on nutrition. Here are four key actions:

Revisiting the Digital Native Hypothesis

Michael Trucano's picture
ertrt
some people claim that we're artificial constructs

It is conventional wisdom in many quarters -- indeed, for some people it approaches the level of 'incontrovertible fact' -- that young people are 'digital natives', possessed of some sort of innate ability to understand and utilize digital devices and applications merely because of their youth, because they have 'grown up surrounded by technology', in ways that older folks can't -- and perhaps never will. Anecdotes from amazed and proud parents and grandparents detailing how adept little Johnny (or Gianni, or Krishna, or Yidan, or Fatima, or Omar, or Maria) is at manipulating his (or her) parents' mobile phone or tablet "even though s/he doesn't even know how to read yet!" are commonly heard in conversations around the world.

In a very influential essay that appeared about 15 years ago ("Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" [pdf]), Mark Prensky coined the term 'digital natives', asserting that "students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet" and that, as a result, "today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors". In contrast, "[t]hose of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants." While Prensky's views on this topic have evolved over the years and become more nuanced (those interested in his particular views may wish to visit his web site), this original definition and delineation of what it means to be a digital native and a digital immigrant remains quite potent for many people.

At the same time, and for over a decade, this assertion has come under consistent challenge and criticism from many academics, who contest various aspects of the 'digital natives myth', as well as the policy and design implications that often flow from them. The observable differences at the heart of the digital native narrative relate more to culture, or to geography, to socio-economic status or even just to personal preferences than they do to age, critics argue. No doubt some of these folks may glance at this post and ask: 'Digital natives', haven't we moved on from that stuff? When it comes to related academic discourse, the answer to this question is probably a qualified 'yes, at least in some circles'.

That said, in my experience, the digital natives hypothesis remains alive and well in many educational policymaking circles (as it does with many parents -- and grandparents, and marketers, and with many kids themselves), especially in places around the world that are just now beginning to roll-out or consider the use of educational technologies at a wide scale. Indeed, while meeting with education ministries on three different continents over the course of the last month, I've had very senior education officials in three different governments explain to me how the concept of 'digital natives' was central for their vision for education going forward. These recent conversations -- and many others -- prompted me to write this quick blog post (as well as one that will follow).

Addressing the urban sanitation crisis: Time for a radical shift

Martin Gambrill's picture

Co-authors:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – Jan Willem Rosenboom
The University of Leeds – Barbara Evans
Emory University – Christine Moe & Eduardo Perez
The World Bank – Sophie Trémolet, Valérie Sturm, Clémentine Stip
WaterAid – Andrés Hueso
Plan International – Darren Saywell

Children in Maputo, Mozambique 
Photo credit: 
Isabel Blackett/The World Bank

A successful city is economically and culturally vibrant, healthy, safe, clean and attractive to business and tourism, and provides quality of life to its citizens. This vision is appealing but remains hard to realize as developing cities have to cope with changing demographics and climate with limited financial and human resources. The sustainable development goals have given a new impetus for cities to be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (SDG11), ensure citizens’ health and wellbeing (SDG3) and secure access to sustainable water and sanitation services (SDG6).

World Toilet Day on November 19th is the opportunity to remind ourselves of a few facts and propose a set of guiding principles for a renewed and revitalized urban sanitation agenda.

How do you solve a problem like over-age enrolment?

Peter Darvas's picture
Over-age enrolment has continued to remain a civil war legacy ( Katie Meyler, More Than Me)


Leah is a diligent 13-year-old student in rural Liberia.  She walks to the school near her village every day. She pays attention in class. She hopes to be a teacher one day. Yet, there is a problem. Leah is still in first grade.    

Can Africa’s current education policies help build the scientists of tomorrow?

Waly Wane's picture
A medical intern in the hematology department of the Hospital Militaire D’Instruction (Military Teaching Hospital) in N’Djamena, Chad, puts a blood sample into a machine for analysis. © US Army Africa

As I write these lines, I am sitting in an airplane returning from my first mission in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. My mission was for the education sector, and included visiting a few lower secondary public schools. As I listen to the pilot’s welcoming message, I find myself thinking about the children I met at the schools, and trying to assess the odds of their becoming pilots, engineers or scientists.

Watching Tanzania leapfrog the digital divide

Boutheina Guermazi's picture
 
Digital opportunities are the fuel of the new economy. They have significant impact on both the economy and society. They contribute to growth, create jobs, are a key enabler of increased productivity, and have significant impact on inclusion and poverty reduction. They also provide the ability to leapfrog and accelerate development in key sectors like health and education.
 
Why is this important?  It is important because “going digital” is not a temporary phenomenon. It is a revolution—what the World Economic Forum calls “the 4th industrial revolution”. It is happening before our eyes at a dizzying pace, disrupting every aspect of business, government and individuals’ lives. And it is happening in Tanzania.

Five ways to improve parenting education in Indonesia

Heather Biggar Tomlinson's picture
A parenting education workshop is underway in Indonesia.

Ed's note: This guest blog is by Heather Biggar Tomlinson (Executive Director, Roshan Learning Center) and Syifa Andina (Chairperson, Foundation for Mother and Child Health)

There is a dynamic and growing energy in Indonesia focusing on parenting education, particularly for low-income families. However, little is known about parenting styles and related outcomes, much less the coverage and effectiveness of various parenting education approaches.

How to achieve social transformation through innovation with Marcelo Cabrol

Enrique Rubio's picture

Marcelo Cabrol is close to turn 50, and has more curiosity than ever for ideas that can transform the world. I interviewed Marcelo about how to achieve transformation in order to solve the many compelling social issues that our world faces. He says that there are two fundamental elements: understanding the problems we are trying to solve and listening.

Marcelo tells the story about how the conversation about development has dramatically shifted over the past ten years. There are more participants involved in dialogue around poverty now, and that’s a huge opportunity to enrich the conversation. It is also why “everyone interested in development must become a student of the problems”, as Marcelo says, which means understanding the underlying causes of those problems. There’s no substitute for this when entrepreneurs are getting ready to sell their ideas for development.

Then, the ability to listen, together with an open mind, is essential to find a solution for the many ideas that are sprouting everywhere.

Marcelo uses one of his dearest fields, education, to explain how this powerful combination can transform an entire sector and adapt it to the new demands and needs of the 21st century.

Listen here:

How to Achieve Social Transformation Through Innovation with Marcelo Cabrol

Youth in Pakistan plug into digital jobs of the future

Anna O'Donnell's picture
Omer Ahsan, a program trainee who is now successfully freelanacing online as a professional content writer. Photo Credit/Waleed Abbas

Omer Ahsan is a chartered accountant in the making from Waziristan. He first heard about the Youth Employment Program, a free digital skills program offered by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board, from discussions on a group chat over Whatsapp, and applied immediately. Within two weeks of completing the digital skills program, Omer has built an online profile and has successfully earned money as a professional content writer.

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is emerging from decades of instability and conflict, and would seem an unlikely place for digital workers to thrive. But with nearly 16 million youth in the province, and few available jobs locally, there is a pressing need to think outside the box in terms of equipping young people with the skills, knowledge and capabilities to take on the future.

In 2015, together with the World Bank, a series of pilot programs were conducted to test a model of digital skill training for youth. Growing connectivity, cloud technology, and the emergence of new business outsourcing models have lowered the barriers to entry for global employment, even for youth in remote parts of Pakistan. The key ingredients to accessing this employment: access to the internet, basic skills, and awareness, and the pilot program tested different approaches to supporting youth to develop online work skills.


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