With the buzz from this year's influential TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference (9-13 February) now starting to fade, I thought it might be interesting to re-visit some of the highlights from past conferences on topics related to ICT and education. While presentations at the conference cover a wide variety of topics, some 'TEDtalks' provide quite illuminating, and sometimes quite provocative, glimpses and insights into how technology *might* be used in various innovative ways to enhance education in the future. I am regularly amazed at the number of times that people in ministries of education all around the world ask me about something they first learned about through TED. While we were, yet again, not in attendance this year, the conference organizers have done the wonderful (and laudable!) job of making available the 'TEDtalks' through the TED web site for free.
Despite increasing attention to the impact of ICT on teaching and learning in various ways, the ICT/education field continues to be littered with examples of poor evaluation work. A few of them arrive in my in-box every week.
There are many potential reasons advanced for the general poor quality of much of this work. One is simple bias -- many evaluations are done and/or financed by groups greatly invested in the success of a particular initiative, and in such cases findings of positive impact are almost foregone conclusions. Many (too many, some will argue) evaluations are restricted to gauging perceptions of impact, as opposed to actual impact. Some studies are dogged by sloppy science (poor methodologies, questionable data collection techniques), others attempt to extrapolate finds from carefully nurtured, hothouse flower pilot projects in ways that are rather dubious. (The list of potential explanations is long; we'll stop here for now.)
Going forward, isn't it more likely that the ICT tool of choice for students in developing countries will be the mobile phone, and not the computer? This is a question of hot debate in many circles. Whatever the eventual resulution of this debate (and no doubt it will not yield a simple either/or answer), there are still precious few widespread examples of the use of phones for education purposes in classrooms in developing countries. It's inevitable that various forms of low cost handheld computing and communication devices for students (and perhaps one of these will be something still called a 'phone') will proliferate in schools in developing countries in the coming decade. But perhaps the mobile phone's impact in the education sector will be more widely, and quickly, felt in another way?
infoDev has released its two-volume Survey of ICT & Education in the Caribbean. This work, which includes an overview of regional trends and initiatives, as well as sixteen country reports, complements earlier work that infoDev did in Africa and that UNESCO released (way back in 2004) for the Asia-Pacific region.
This study finds that:
In general, the experiences and situations among the countries examined vary only within a limited range. Countries differ in terms of their goals for the introduction of ICT and in the pathways they have chosen to achieve those goals. And, certainly, some governments and some institutions have invested more, attempted more, and achieved more than others. However none of the countries included in the Survey have “lapped the field” by achieving either system-wide adoption of ICT or the ICT-supported transformation of teaching and learning.