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eLearning, Africa, and ... China?

Michael Trucano's picture
sisters in development?
sisters in development?

Earlier this year, over 1700 participants from over 90 countries attended eLearning Africa (previous blog post here) to share lessons and make contacts at what has evolved into perhaps the continent's premier annual knowledge sharing event related to the use of ICTs in education. Not surprisingly, given that the event took place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania led the way in terms of attendance by its nationals, followed by its East African neighbors, with South Africa and Nigeria not too far behind.

One nationality was largely noticeable through its absence: the Chinese.  Why do I mention this? Outside the conference, signs of growing cooperation between Tanzania and China (and India, whose Prime Minister was in Dar the same week on a state visit) were hard to miss, and indeed, the increasing 'presence' of China across Africa is undeniable, and the topic of much reporting, scholarly interest and discussion, including at the World Bank. Looking around the conference itself, this cooperation wasn't immediately in evidence related to international cooperation around the use of educational technologies.  Participating in and listening to many conversations at the event, however, one got a bit of a different story related to potential cooperation going forward between China and a number of African countries on ICT/education issues.

While comparatively few representatives from Chinese firms and organizations participated at eLA, after engaging in a few dozen informal discussions with many MOE staff, vendors and consultants, it is clear that Chinese support for the purchase of ICT infrastructure for schools will most likely increase greatly in the coming years.  Scattered existing examples of small cooperation were cited by many people as a harbinger of things to come.  Almost every ministry of education official with whom I spoke mentioned that they had contact of some sort with Chinese officials or partners around the use of computers in schools, and expected this to increase in the near term (many remarked on how this contrasted with their dialogue, or lack thereof, with most 'traditional' donors on this topic).

Why is this potentially important? The potential for 'South-South' knowledge exchange, something increasingly championed at the World Bank, is pretty clear. At a speech last year in China talking about China's achievements with Special Economic Zones and infrastructure development, the World Bank president noted that "African countries want to learn from such success, and China is ready to help." He continued: "China’s experience can be instructive for African countries.  It also suffered from infrastructure deficits at the beginning of its development process but succeeded in putting in place world-class infrastructure -- covering both urban and rural areas.  Africa may also draw from China’s attention to rural infrastructure as a way to improving productivity and overcoming poverty."

Discussions about 'Africa' often founder, given the (obviously) tremendous diversity in situations and circumstances across the continent.  The same can be said for discussions about 'China', given its large size and great diversity. While the results from Shanghai in the latest PISA round are the envy of much of the rest of the world, the relevance of mass school computerization efforts in rural Western China may well offer insights to some African policymakers that they might not get when talking with consultants drawing on the experience of ICT use in schools in, say, Toronto or Lyon or Manchester.

Despite what appears to be growing interest in cooperation between a number of African countries and Chinese partners on issues related to putting ICT infrastructure in schools, my anecdotal impression is that lessons from Chinese experiences in using technology in education are not well known outside of China. When I mention to ministries of education around the world that I spent a few years working on an ICT/education project in China near the start of the last decade, I am almost immediately bombarded with lots of questions.

One can postulate a number of reasons for this lack of knowledge about Chinese experiences with educational technologies, including the fact that things in China are simply happening so quickly, and as a result people have been too busy 'doing' to take the time to reflect and study this experience at great length. Of course, the same could be true of most other areas of development in China, but in some ways the educational technology field seems a bit anomalous in this regard, given the intense interest of academics and policymakers in learning from Chinese experience in so many other areas. Language is also no doubt an issue here, as recent Chinese experience with educational technologies is not well documented in English and other major international languages (and if anything, seems to me to have become comparatively less so in recent years).

Through outreach activities of groups like KERIS, and in part due to a variety of cooperation efforts between the Republic of Korea and the World Bank exploring a variety of ICT/education issues, the Korean experience is slowly becoming better known to policymakers throughout East Asia, and further afield in places like Colombia, Costa Rica and Uruguay as well.

Here's hoping that the Chinese experience will become better known as well.
 

Note: The (provocative?) image used at the top of this blog post of two young girls ("sisters in development?") comes from Wikipedian Harald Kreutzer via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

 

Comments

Dear Mr. Michael Trucano, I am very excited to read your enlightening articles in the blog of World Bank, especially “eLearning, Africa, and …… China?” which emphasizes the importance of sharing Chinese experience. I am from International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education (INRULED). It is a UNESCO category II centre focusing on QEISRD under the auspices of UNESCO. The Centre was jointly founded by the Chinese government and UNESCO in 1994 and now is located in Beijing Normal University (BNU), Beijing, China. INRULED’s board meeting pointed out that significant opportunities exist for the further application of ICT in education. Due to the extreme diversity between and often within countries in this regard, learning through and sharing a variety of good and best practices will be a realistic strategy for INRULED to make its contribution in this field. Therefore, with cooperation with three agencies Sector Policy Advice and ICT in Education (PAD) of UNESCO Headquarters, UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA), and Beijing Normal University-R&D Center for Knowledge Engineering (BNU-KSEI), INRULED has designed “ICT and ODL in Education for Rural Development-Good and Best Practices” project. The project focuses on three key questions: •What are policies and projects related to iERD and what is the role of ICT and ODL in quality education for inclusive and sustainable rural development (QEISRD)? •What are the common challenges and constraints faced by developing countries especially African countries in this field? •How to promote iERD in an innovative way? It aims at summing up lessons through cases collection of ICT and ODL in education for rural development (iERD), analyzing challenges and constraints in the implementation of these projects and exploring innovative policy framework through research, and organize training workshops to strengthen policy-makers’ capacity in designing projects and policies of iERD. Isn’t it amazing that our project accords with your opinions? I also read your article “Reporting back from eLearning Africa 2011”. I am happy to inform you that INRULED plan to form a ten-member team which may contain researchers, education managers, and young teachers on ICT and Teacher Education in China and take part in eLearning Africa 2012 to share Chinese experience and learn from others as well. Just like you mentioned in your articles, there are some successful projects on ICT in education in China especially in rural areas. We are trying to sum up and analyze Chinese experience and hope to share it worldwide in the future. Best regards! Zeng Haijun

Dr. Zeng has graciously offered to provide some examples of the use of ICTs in education across China (with a focus on tertiary education). These examples will follow below.

1. Colleges and Universities' Modern Distance Education for Western and Rural Areas Since 1999, the Ministry of Education has approved 68 common colleges and universities and the Open University of China to carry out experimental work of distant education. Their mission is to develop online degree education and non-degree education, to explore online teaching mode and management system of teaching and to establish online resources, etc. By the end of 2010, online degree and non-degree education of the experimental colleges and universities have benefited tens of millions of people and preliminarily built up teaching, management and service mode of distant further education and systems of policy and supervision, which become important examples of diversified, lifelong, online and open further education. The experimental colleges and universities established more than ten thousand of learning and teaching centers in urban and rural areas all over China and brought quality resources of higher further education to rural areas, western areas, communities, companies, army and some special groups including the disabled. 2. The Open University of China's "One Village One College Student" Project Since 1999, the Ministry of Education has started "One Village One College Student" Project which was carried out by the Open University of China. The project spread higher education to rural areas through modern distant education and trained technical and management personnel for rural areas who could be leaders of promoting economic and agricultural production, making fortunes by technology and developing advanced culture, so as to increase farmers' income and promote social and economic development in rural areas. The project has built up special website and platform, offered 16 vocational major including agricultural technique, farming and veterinary, Agricultural and Forestry management. There are 37 provincial open universities and their 582 teaching centers attending the experiment. 276,000 people from towns and villages were enrolled and 93,000 students graduated , many of who became local leaders on making fortunes. 3. Tsinghua University's Distance Education for Poverty Alleviation With the concept of "Education Serves Society", School of Further Education in Tsinghua University started to work on Poverty Alleviation through education in 2003. This project has built 1972 modern distant teaching centers which covered 495 counties ( 283 of which is key counties in national poverty alleviation and development tasks), trained 650,000 people in poor areas including teachers, officers, farmers, provided more than 2000 hours free training courses including distant and face-to-face teaching and organized many activities such as "Summer Social Practice on Educational Poverty Alleviation", "School Principles' Training ", etc. In the following years, Tsinghua University planned to cover 592 key counties in national poverty alleviation and development tasks and historic sites where Chinese communist revolution ever happened and spread the theme of activities as well, such as "Build New Socialist Countryside", "Population and Health", etc. 4. The Ministry of Education decided to carry out "Campus Interconnectivity" project in elementary and secondary school all over China in 2002 which aimed to make nearly 90% of independently established elementary and secondary schools access to internet in 5 to 10 years, so as to share educational resources among teachers and students, to improve educational quality and to provides opportunities of further education for teachers. Modern distant education project, which started in elementary and secondary schools rural from 2003, is a experimental project on teaching methods. It took three ways to spread quality educational resources to rural area which included centers for playing CDs of teaching, receiving satellite signals of teaching and computer classrooms. The project was arranged as a Whole by provincial government and subsidized by central government based on local social and economic development. 5. "National Modern Distant Vocational Education Resources Development" project has developed more than 130 high-level online courses of vocational education, built 10 bases of National Modern Distant Vocational Education Resources Development, formed a group of High-quality personals on research and development of vocational education resources, opened "China's Vocational and Adult Education" website and 20 provincial vocational websites which became platform for collecting, releasing and sharing information. 6. In the beginning of 2003, Communist Party of China Central Committee decided to carry out experiment on modern distant education for party member officials in rural areas in some provinces. In the beginning of 2007, Party Central Committee concluded experimental experience and decided to carry out the project in rural areas all over China. The 17th Party congress wrote in the report "carry out modern distant education for party member officials in rural areas all over China ". On July 4 in 2007, Communist Party of China Central Committee printed "Opinions on carrying out modern distant education for party member officials in rural areas all over China" which asked to build teaching platform, terminal station, teaching resources, high-quality teams and working systems. 7. National Teacher Education Network Alliance aims at build network systems on teacher education whose main members are normal colleges and universities and common colleges and universities that value teacher education. Universities' Agricultural Science and Education Network Alliance which wasbuilt in November in 2003 was a comprehensive service system of educational training and technology promotion for rural areas. It was led by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and aimed to build a platform of collecting and sharing agricultural information technology with the help of universities.

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