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Information and Communication Technologies

Learning from a visit to a school using technology: Some questions to consider

Michael Trucano's picture
how should I frame this?
how should I frame this?

Over the past two decades, I've had the good fortune to visit hundreds and hundreds of schools across all six continents to learn about how they are using new technologies -- and hope to use them in the future. (Maybe some day I'll visit the Antarctic school that was connected to the Internet by Chile's pioneering Enlaces program and I'll be able to claim I've done this on *all* continents!)

From Korea to Costa Rica, Sri Lanka to Syria, Lesotho to Laos, Papua New Guinea to Puerto Rico: School visits in over 50 countries have run the gamut, from observing the shared use of quite old graphing calculators and lectures at the blackboard describing how to navigate Microsoft Windows (even though there was a nary a PC to be found in the building) to marvelling at technology-rich classrooms filled students and teachers doing things with hardware and software that I couldn't have dreamed of doing when I was a student myself, many years ago.

I have visited schools in prosperous countries in peacetime and in very poor countries emerging from conflict (and in some cases, still technically at war). I learned firsthand about technology use in schools in Iceland when that country was labelled the world's 'most developed' and in schools in Haiti, the poorest country in the western Hemisphere, after that country suffered its devastating earthquake.

In pretty much all cases and contexts, investments in 'technology' were meant to be deliberately forward-looking (if not always necessarily that 'strategic' or well-planned), to some extent symbols (often explicit ones) of progress and optimism about the future, no matter the education system, from the most 'high performing' to the most dysfunctional.

Because I've had lots of comparative experiences visiting schools in 'other places' around the world, I am sometimes asked to provide an 'international perspective' on what is happening within a set of schools in a given country, part of a larger effort to benchmark what is being done and planned against norms in other countries. It can be a pretty cool gig at times (although the travel can be rather punishing). I am always learning, and the dynamism and determination of students, teachers, principals and education officials whom I observe and chat with quite often leaves me inspired and (re-)energized.

Since I have been doing this for so long, I sometimes help 'train' people (at ministries of education, at NGOs) who are assuming leadership positions in educational technology initiatives on how to develop their own "carpenter's eye" -- the ability to make quick assessments and judgments about what they are seeing in ways those less experienced in the field may struggle to do.

What's a 'carpenter's eye'?
A carpenter can often quickly judge whether an angle is truly 90 degrees, or that a wrong tool was used for a particular job, or make educated guesses about why one material was employed instead of another, or that something is destined to break. Such judgments may not always be accurate, and may be informed by various biases, but they are often qualitatively different than those of people less skilled and experienced with woodworking, who may not notice such things -- and who in fact may not care about them, nor understand why they might be important.

In my personal experience working with new technologies in the education sector, many of these folks have come from 'technical backgrounds' and typically direct their gaze toward, and ask the majority of their questions about, the technology itself. Often times the end goal of such investigations is meant to build an accurate inventory the equipment that is available in a school, rather to trying to learn about how the equipment itself is being used (and not used), why this might be the case, and how people feel about this. Fair enough: We all have different bosses, different ideas about what is important, and different incentives for doing whatever it is we may do. I don't mean to deny the importance of surveying what technologies are currently available in schools. But in my experience, visiting a school to learn about the technology it has and only focusing on that technology (what processor a device has, which operating system it runs, how much memory is available) represents a real lost opportunity to learn about and gain insight into many more things at the same time.

In case it might be of use to anyone else, I have assembled a quick list of some of the things that I often ask about and consider, usually automatically and unconsciously, when I visit a school to learn about how information and communication technologies (ICTs) are being used (and not used) for a variety of purposes. It's by no means comprehensive, and of course every context is different, but I find that these are often the types of things that I ask about and look for (in addition, of course, to the more general educational and demographic stuff that would be common areas of inquiry related to most school visits, and the hyper-specific stuff that might be the reason I am visiting one school in particular).

I have cobbled this list together from a much larger, slightly unruly 'master' list of questions that I maintain, which draws on notes and emails I have shared with people over almost two decades of school visits, working with hundreds of people, many of whom had little prior experience in visiting schools to assess what was happening with technology. Sometimes -- if not often -- sharing these sorts of questions is meant as much to spark discussion and debate within a team about what might be important (and what isn't so important), and how to go about finding this out, as it is to suggest actual questions that should be posed. Every context is different.

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Higher education for the 21st century in action

Joe Qian's picture
The graduating class of the University of Moratuwa’s Department of Textile and Clothing Technology. Photo Credit: Isuru Udara

Imagine a school that teaches knowledge and provides hands-on training. A place where students express confidence in their skills, and are excited to make a difference in their future jobs. A bastion of confidence and optimism, where 100% of graduating students have jobs lined up before graduation.
 
Sounds too good to be true? I found this haven at the University of Moratuwa’s Department of Textile and Clothing Technology, supported by the Higher Education for the 21st Century Project (HETC), which is designed to modernize education by its increasing its quality and relevance. 24-year-old Malaka Perera, who is graduating next month, told me how the program has helped him build a foundation for his career. “The program taught me how to deal with people, along with communications and problem solving skills that I used during my internship. As a result, finding a job was quite easy.”
 
Sri Lankans have enjoyed the benefits of broad education access for decades, which has allowed the country to build human capital to rise and become a middle income country. However, as a country with rising aspirations in an increasingly globalized world and competitive region, the quality and relevance of its education system is key for the country to maintain its edge and reach new heights.

Mobile Internet buses, vans and classrooms to support teachers & learners in remote communities

Michael Trucano's picture
bandwidth can be a challenge
bandwidth can be a challenge

Over the past 15 years, tremendous strides have been made in providing computing equipment and Internet access to schools around the world. Despite this, however, many teachers and students – especially those in rural communities in middle and low-income countries (and occasionally in OECD countries as well) remain largely un-connected.

In response, and as a (presumably, or at least hopefully) temporary stop-gap measure, scores of countries have piloted and championed the use of ‘mobile internet computing facilities’ of various sorts as a way to provide access for learners in remote communities to digital teaching and learning resources through the use of things like ‘internet buses’. For some students, ‘mobile learning’ takes place not with the aid of a smart phone, but rather through monthly visits of Internet-connected buses filled with computers. From Big Blue in Zimbabwe  to the Google Internet Bus in India to similar sorts of efforts in countries as diverse as Tunisia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Mauritius, the Philippines, Malaysia, the United States, Canada, Mexico and China, technology-rich portable classrooms on wheels of various sorts are in use – and many more are being considered and planned.

Most efforts of these sorts seem to have been conceptualized and implemented in a vacuum, not informed by related experiences in other places. Even where such efforts help meet objectives that are (if we are honest) more related to politics and public relations than they are to learning, what guidance should the people in charge of such efforts consider in order to get the most out of related investments?

And:

Might there be some related lessons and insights drawn from experience in operating mobile computing learning classrooms that can inform ongoing investments in other areas (school transportation, distance learning, school computer labs, rural Internet access)?

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Drones for better roads: Pointers from the Philippines

Kai Kaiser's picture
Local leaders have turned to OpenStreetMaps (OSM), and use targeted drone tracking to document road needs and investment progress.  Photo: Kai Kaiser

Amazon is promising to deliver goods with drones. Seeing these prospective innovations in airborne delivery, we’ll be forgiven for thinking that bad roads will increasingly be secondary concerns.

But the reality is that “last mile” road access will continue to be a major and costly development challenge for years to come. “Last mile" access refers to road to final destinations, whether communities, crops, markets, schools or clinics. These are typically provincial, city-municipal and barangay (village) roads in the Philippines.

Often the responsibility of local governments, these roads determine the ease and cost by which people and goods can get to final destinations. Communities across the globe face poor road access, depriving them of economic and social opportunities, whether bringing produce to markets, getting kids to school, or mothers to clinics. Billions of dollars continue to be spent on last mile road access, but often with very poor results.

Can drone technology make a difference?

How coding bootcamps are helping to tackle youth unemployment

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford's picture
 
Photo Credit:  RutaN


The International Labour Organization estimates that 73.4 million people aged 15-24 do not have a job (43% of global youth), and three times as many young people are underemployed. At the same time, 40% of employers report skills shortage for entry level vacancies, according to McKinsey (Social Initiative 2015). Hence, skill gaps have become an issue to both employers and the unemployed.  This trend is exacerbated by technological advancements which are rapidly replacing manual jobs, leaving millions of young people unprepared to participate in the 21st-century knowledge economy.  

Three aspects of the skills gap problem need to be addressed in order to find a sustainable solution: urgency, proficiency in technology, and job market readiness. The 2016 World Development Report finds that returns to education are particularly high for ICT-intensive occupations. The wage premium for working in ICT-intensive occupations is around 5% for both men and women in developing countries (WDR 2016). This suggests a tremendous potential of technology education for reducing poverty and boosting prosperity in the developing world.

To end poverty, there must be digital connectivity for all

Korina Lopez's picture

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. © Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

If everyone had Internet access, then everyone would have a fair shot at financial stability and an education, right?

If only it were so easy.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim led a meeting of some of the top minds in global development to talk about the U.S. State Department’s Global Connect Initiative. The goal: to get 1.5 billion people online by 2020.

On digital revolution, skills and the future of communications

Tako Kobakhidze's picture

WDR2016

We find ourselves in the midst of the greatest information and communications revolution in human history. I’m not the author of this phrase, but I fully agree with it. This particular sentence made me read the entire overview of the World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.

I have always been wondering what does the Digital Revolution actually mean. Who, but the Co-Director of the report could have answered my question best?! Yes, I had the opportunity to interview Uwe Deichmann last week in Tbilisi. He visited Georgia as part of the ‘road-show’ to present this work of the World Bank Group team to the government, business, academia, students, and other interested audience attending the Business Forum: Innovation and Digital Economy.

Could the digital revolution get more women into work?

Leora Klapper's picture

The most recent International Women’s Day focused on accelerating gender parity, which makes it a perfect time to highlight the urgent need to boost women’s economic participation worldwide. One way of doing that is by tapping into the power of digital payments and digital financial services.

Expect no lines in front of the digital counters

Gina Martinez's picture
See high resolution here.

While countries around the world reap the benefits of an expanding digital environment, development challenges persist, adversely impacting low-income countries from achieving that same rate of growth.
 
The 2016 World Development Report (PDF) recently highlighted these findings in addition to three factors that contribute to a government’s responsiveness towards these digital changes.
 
According to the report, public services tend to be more amenable to improvements through digital technologies if the proposed system allows for fluid feedback, a replicable development process, and an outcome that can be easily measured and identified.
 
Here are five public services improved through digital technologies in five countries:

Blog post of the month: Six lessons I learnt while trying to reach 10 million women in India with life-saving health information

BBC Media Action's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In March 2016, the featured blog post is "Six lessons I learnt while trying to reach 10 million women in India with life-saving health information" by Priyanka Dutt.

Kilkari mobile messagingLast month, the Government of India launched a nationwide mobile health (mHealth) program designed by BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity. The aim - to train 1 million community health workers and help nearly 10 million new and expecting mothers in India make healthier choices and lead longer, healthier lives.
 
Mobile Academy is an anytime, anywhere audio training course, delivered via mobile phone, designed to refresh the knowledge and strengthen the communication skills of community health workers. The objective is to enable the nation’s nearly one million health workers to more effectively persuade families to lead healthier lives.
 
Kilkari  (a baby’s gurgle) service delivers free, weekly, time-appropriate audio messages about pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare directly to the mobile phones of mothers and other family members from the second trimester of pregnancy until the child is one year old.

These services were originally designed for use in Bihar in North India, where BBC Media Action, in partnership with the state government works to improve demand for health services, improve social norms and impact health outcomes for mothers and children. Read more.

Mobile Academy and Kilkari leverage the massive penetration of mobile phones to reach the most marginalized, hardest-to-reach communities in India. These are communities where getting pregnant and having babies can be 24 times more life-threatening than giving birth in the United Kingdom!
 
The statistics are pretty stark. Globally, every five minutes, three women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, while 60 others will be left with debilitating injuries. Of these deaths, India accounts for the greatest number of women dying – over 150 every day. But we know how many of these health risks that pregnant women and their newborns face are preventable.


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