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Information and Communication Technologies

20 innovative edtech projects from around the world

Michael Trucano's picture
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what did I miss?
what did I miss?
For the past two decades, I've worked on issues at the intersection of the education and technology sectors in middle- and low-income countries and emerging markets around the world. It's been a fascinating job: Over the past 20 years, I've been an advisor to, evaluator of, and/or working-level participant in, educational technology ('edtech') initiatives in over 50 such countries. When it comes to ICT use in education, the promised revolution always seems to be just around the corner. Indeed: I am regularly pitched ideas by people who note that, while many past promises about the potential of the use of new technologies in education have failed to pan out, they are confident that "this time, it's different".

At the same time, I am quite often asked to help other folks identify intriguing initiatives that might, individually and/or collectively, illuminate emerging trends and approaches in this sector:

"I'm interested in examples of innovative educational technology projects from around the world, especially those primarily focused on helping teachers and learners in developing countries. In other words: Not the usual suspects. Can you suggest a few projects and companies that I might not know about -- but should?"

I receive a version of this request most every week (sometimes even multiple times in a single day). Given the frequency of such inquiries, I thought I'd quickly highlight 20 such efforts from around the world, in the hope that people might find this useful. The hope is to point readers in the direction of some interesting projects that they might not know much about, but from which there is much we can learn. 

While I am not sure if, indeed, things will turn out to be 'different this time around', the overall volume of such projects, and the sophistication of many of them, are quite notable. There is more happening, in more places, than ever before. A number of efforts have been informed (in good ways) by past failures. That said, others will no doubt attempt to 'reinvent the flat tire' and display a characteristic common to Einstein's definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Hopefully none of the groups profiled below will fall into that trap, but I suspect that a few of them might.

The list here, a mix of for-profit and non-profit initiatives, is deliberately idiosyncratic and non-representative (see the many caveats and explanations that follow below the list). Some of these projects are no doubt doomed to 'fail'; others will most likely be restructured more than once as they try, to borrow the words of Deng Xiaopeng, to "cross the river by feeling the stones". And maybe, just maybe, a few of them might actually turn out to be as 'transformative' as they hope to be. 

With that said, and in alphabetical order, here are:
 
20 innovative edtech projects from around the world

Expanding the conversation in education around 'access' to the Internet

Michael Trucano's picture
I don't know exactly what's wrong, I feel like we're not connecting anymore
I don't know exactly what's wrong,
I feel like we're not connecting anymore
Few would argue with the contention that access to the Internet will be increasingly important to teaching and learning (and to learners and teachers) in the future.

Yes, we all know that there was learning before the Internet, and that you can learn without using the Internet. Let's stipulate all of this up front. And yes, there are plentiful examples of the Internet being used in ways that are harmful or which degrade the learning environment -- as well as examples of the Internet not being used at all, even though it is available and paid for. 

That said, it is 2017. No matter where you are, conversations about broadening the access to the Internet to help meet the needs of learners and educators are growing louder in ministries of education, part of broader, related discussions around connectivity in the communities and populations that they serve.

When it comes to providing access to the Internet within educational settings, and for educational purposes:
  • What should we be talking about in 2017 that we haven't talked about in the past?
  • To what extent should we be expanding the access debate -- and to what extent should we be having different debates entirely?
Some technologies are maturing and others are emerging, past failures (of omission and commission) are becoming more apparent, and political will is increasingly in evidence in many places.
 
With this in mind, might a 're-think' be in order?
 
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Project monitoring in fragile places does not have to be expensive

Andre Marie Taptue's picture



Conflict and violence are shrinking the space for development at a time when donors are scaling up their presence. To reconcile the conflicting objectives of staff safety with a need to do more (or a greater volume of investment), and doing it better (through higher quality projects), many development workers have started to rely on third party monitoring by outside agents, an approach that is costly and not always effective.
The case of Mali demonstrates that alternatives exist.

Less than a decade ago Bank staff could travel freely around in Mali, even to the most remote communities in the country. But today, a mix of terrorism and armed violence renders field supervision of projects impossible in many locations.

To address this challenge—and in the wake of the 2013/14 security crisis in northern Mali—a monitoring system was designed that is light, low cost, and suited for monitoring in insecure areas, but also problem oriented and able to facilitate improvements in project implementation.

Five years of investments in open data

Tim Herzog's picture
 
Download the PDF

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the World Bank’s efforts to help countries launch their own open data initiatives, and harness the power of open data to benefit their citizens. A new report provides insights into how open data is benefitting countries, what strategies are working well, what could be improved.

The report provides the most comprehensive snapshot of Bank-funded open data activities to date. In the last five years, the Bank has provided technical assistance and funding for open data activities in over 50 countries, conservatively estimated at more than $50 million from a variety of sources. In many cases Bank funding has leveraged support from other partners or co-sponsorship by countries and other institutions. Within the Bank, the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) has been the most significant source of funding for open data. The TFSCB has financed over 20 projects in 16 countries, as well as 6 grants for regional and global activities.

Supporting over 45 countries with national and sector-specific open data

Support for open data has taken a variety of forms. To date, 45 Open Data Readiness Assessments (ODRAs) have been completed at national and sub-national levels, which have helped raise awareness and catalyze public and private efforts to advance open data within countries. There are now sector-specific ODRA tools for business, energy, and transport. The Bank has invested in a range of open data learning and knowledge products, including data literacy courses and the Open Data Toolkit, and collaborated with its global partners to support academic research, a series of regional conferences, and open data implementation. The report also found that these initial efforts have catalyzed longer-term project investments, i.e., IBRD loans and IDA credits, with open data implementation components in at least 14 countries.

Pipeline to Work: Including persons with disabilities in skills development and employment projects

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo's picture
Photo: Dane Macri/The Advocacy Project via Flickr CC
Photo: Dane Macri/The Advocacy Project via Flickr CC.

The relationship between poverty and disability goes both ways: disability increases the risk of poverty, and the conditions of poverty increase the risk of disability.

Yet, little attention has been given to the employment readiness of persons with disabilities. This is of concern given that the employment rates of persons with disabilities are a third to half of the rates for persons without disabilities, with unemployment rates as high as 80%-90% in some countries.

[Learn more: Disability Inclusion]

Disability is a complex, evolving, and multidimensional concept. Currently, it is estimated that 15% of the world population experiences some form of disability, with prevalence rates higher in developing countries. As opportunities for sustainable income generation are directly tied to a person’s access to finance, markets, and networks, persons with disabilities usually face significant challenges in accessing these, due to:

  • non-inclusive regulations and policy,
  • lack of resource allocation,
  • stigma and societal prejudice,
  • low educational participation, and
  • inability to access their own communities and city spaces.
To continue building inclusive cities, research tells us that countries cannot achieve optimal growth by leaving behind a large group of their citizens – persons with disabilities – with economic losses from employment exclusion ranging from 3 to 7 % of the GDP. We also know that when you combine gender and disability, the challenges facing women with disabilities compound. Women with disabilities are more likely to earn less than men with disabilities and they are affected by inaccessible sanitation, smaller social and professional networks, and gender-based violence – see, for example, labor force data from the UK.

We need to do much more to ensure that women with disabilities are mainstreamed into projects that seek to empower women as entrepreneurs and change agents.

Expanding equitable opportunities for persons with disabilities is at the core of the World Bank’s work to build sustainable and inclusive communities. So, what might a disability-responsive moonshot look like for development projects addressing work for persons with disabilities? Here’s what we’re doing at the World Bank:

The Chief Information Officer position at the Ministry of Education (A CIO in the MOE?)

Michael Trucano's picture
I like drawing boxes, what (and who) should I put in them?
I like drawing boxes,
what (and who) should I put in them?

When, two decades ago, I first started helping people who were investigating the uses of new technologies in education, many of the initial inquiries I received were quite similar. Whether it was from governments in some of the most developed countries in Europe or Asia, or from non-profit groups (and some governments) in some of the least developed countries in Africa or Latin America, people had very specific questions about hardware. What processor should we buy for our computer? How much memory do we need? Over time, as we all became more experienced and savvy about choices related to where to invest scarce resources, questions about devices and their specific attributes gave way to those about processes and approaches -- and about people and institutions.

Recent work at the World Bank has investigated a specific type of institution -- the national educational technology agency -- and its often critical role in support of large scale ICT/education efforts in many countries around the world. Often times, such an institution operates at arm's length from (for example) the ministry of education, with the ministry providing the agency with strategic direction (and funding). Models vary (we document a number of them in a recent book), but, generally speaking, these tend to be organizations focused on >> doing <<. Over time, such institutions become centers of technological competence that can far outstrip what is found within the leadership of their country's ministry of education. They are technical organizations, staffed in large part (but not exclusively) by technical people.

During a series of off-the-record discussions with groups of education ministers earlier this year who were 'struggling with the ICT stuff’, one of the ministers (who had previously worked in the private sector, and whose spouse had worked for a tech firm) shared his interest in creating a CIO (Chief Information Officer) position within his ministry. He wanted someone with dedicated resposbility to help him make sense of all of the things that were changing as a result of new technologies, to help set related strategic directions within the ministry, and to oversee this implementation. About the only thing that the ministers in both ministerial discussions agreed on that day (other than that they were having challenges in dealing with teachers unions -- always a common topic for bonding and commiseration for these sorts of folks, I find) was that they liked the idea of having a CIO.

What exactly does a Chief Information Officer (CIO) do,
and why might ministries of education consider creating such a position?

Hoping for a cloudy future for Caribbean statistics

Michael M. Lokshin's picture
Photo Credit: Lou Gold

Hurricanes Irma and Maria recently devastated the Caribbean region. Infrastructure in Dominica was severely damaged and the country suffered a total loss of its annual agricultural production. The entire population of Barbuda had to be evacuated to Antigua and other islands. Estimates by the World Bank indicate that Irma caused damages equivalent to 14 percent of GDP for Antigua and Barbuda, and up to 200 percent of GDP for Dominica. The increasing frequency of hurricanes poses a threat to the economic development and wellbeing of 40 million people living in the region.

The World Bank and other development institutions acted quickly by offering support to assess damages and losses, respond to the disaster, and assist with recovery by delivering financial packages and supporting emergency operations. However, in the longer term, the focus is on building the resilience of these small island states to natural disasters.

Data: critical for responding to disasters, but also vulnerable to them

Systems of national statistics can provide critical information about the extent of a disaster, help guide recovery operations, and assess the preparedness of countries to future shocks.  At the same time, the reliance of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) on local IT infrastructure makes them highly vulnerable to natural disasters. Computers, servers, and networks cannot operate without power; flooding and high humidity destroys hardware and storage media; looting and breaking into abandoned buildings puts sensitive information at the risk of falling into the wrong hands. Fortifying NSO buildings to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and enabling the offices to continue functioning afterwards is prohibitively expensive. Even if such structures were built, staffing would remain an issue, particularly if the entire population of the country was evacuated (as in case of Barbuda).

Cloud computing provides a very effective way to resolve that problem at a small fraction of the cost.

The Edtech Edifice Complex

Michael Trucano's picture
doomed by fate ... or is there another way forward?
doomed by fate ... or is there another way forward?
Opinions and approaches vary regarding how to ‘best’ utilize new technologies to support teaching and learning in ways that are engaging, impactful and ‘effective’.

A recent paper from J-PAL (Education Technology: An Evidence-Based Review) finds that rigorous evidence about what works, and what doesn’t, in this area is decidedly mixed. While what works seems to be a result of many factors (what, where, when, by whom, for whom, why, how), what doesn’t work is pretty clear: simply buying lots of equipment and connecting lots of schools.
 
Why does this continue to happen, then?


Many in the ‘edtech community’ feel that policymakers simply don’t understand that buying lots of equipment won’t actually change much (aside from its impact on the national treasury), and that if they did understand this, they’d do things differently.

In my experience, the reason that many places end up just buying lots of equipment, dumping it into schools and hoping for magic to happen (a widely acknowledged and long-standing ‘worst practice’ when it comes to technology use in education) isn’t necessarily that the people making related decisions are dumb or uninformed or corrupt (although of course those scenarios shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand in some places).

Sustainable mobility: Who's who and who does what?

Shokraneh Minovi's picture


Some might call it an existential question. Some may be surprised that the answer is not clear. When it comes to sustainable mobility initiatives and stakeholders, who is who, and who does what? Addressing these questions is a key pre-requisite to the transformation of the transport sector and the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs, the Global Decade of Action for Road Safety, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the Vienna Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries, over 100 different organizations and initiatives… It’s enough to make your head spin! As the world increasingly recognizes the importance of mobility to the overall sustainable development agenda, the number of stakeholders in this arena has been growing steadily. Although many established groups have been warning us for years about the role of transport in the fight against climate change—the sector accounts for some 23% of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions—many newer players are now adding their voice to the global conversation.

From public transport agencies to car companies and ride-sharing platforms, clean fuel advocates, maritime transport groups, and electric vehicle proponents, a dizzying array of sector-specific initiatives have emerged over the last few years. Newer city-specific coalitions, such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Compact of Mayors, have played a critical role in relaying these concerns at the local level. However, global initiatives have been the ones that have seen the most impressive growth. Also in the mix are globally minded, from UN entities to smaller NGOS, as well as region-specific organizations such as regional development banks.

What’s the solution to untangling this web of stakeholders? Over the past six months, the World Bank, with support from the World Economic Forum, has mapped out major transport initiatives and organizations as comprehensively and systematically as possible.

Building and sustaining national educational technology agencies: Lessons, models & case studies

Michael Trucano's picture
Building and sustaining national educational technology agencies: Lessons, models and case studies from around the world

For over a decade, the World Bank and the Government of Korea have enjoyed a strong strategic partnership exploring a wide range of issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in education around the world.

One high profile activity under this partnership is the annual Global Symposium on ICT use in Education (GSIE), which has helped to establish Korea as a global hub for insight, knowledge sharing and networking for high level government officials, practitioners and experts around topics related to the use of new technologies in education.

GSIE organizers planned from the beginning to support knowledge exchanges around a few ‘evergreen’ general topics (e.g. like the use of new technologies to support teachers; monitoring and evaluation; and digital competencies for learners) in which KERIS, Korea’s national educational technology agency, has notable experience and expertise.

What organizers did not initially anticipate, however, was the extent to which policymakers were interested not only in learning about what KERIS itself knew, and was learning, about uses of new technologies in education, but also in learning about the institution of KERIS itself – as well as institutions like it.

As it happened, people responsible for starting, leading and/or overseeing national institutions in their countries which performed similar sorts of functions to that of KERIS increasingly made the trek to Korea to participate in the GSIE (as they are doing this week), sharing information and insights with their counterparts about national institutions emerging in countries around the world to help introduce, support, fund, share information about, and evaluate the use of ICTs in education at a large scale.

A new World Bank publication, Building and sustaining national educational technology agencies: Lessons, models and case studies from around the world, attempts to document, analyze and take stock of this phenomenon:


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