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December 2009

Can eBooks replace printed books in Africa? An experiment

Michael Trucano's picture

Johannes Gutenberg isn't the only person interested in the answerIn the United States and Europe and a number of other places, sales of e-Book readers are growing by leaps and bounds, and many people hope to find shiny new portable electronic reading devices under their Christmas tree later this month. (Many of those who don't celebrate this particular holiday would be quite happy to receive them as well, of course.)

At the same time, organizations like the World Bank are being asked to help finance very expensive, large-scale purchases of printed educational material in many countries. (And because of the success of Education For All in many places, such purchases are bigger than ever before.)

Should poor countries in Africa be exploring investments in things like eBook readers for use in schools? 

Well, one way to find out would be to set up an experiment to test various approaches and solutions in pursuit of an answer to this question.


How do you evaluate a plan like Ceibal?

Michael Trucano's picture

I'd like to teach the world to code ... (used according to terms of CC license courtesy LIRNET.NET & AK Mahan)If you have had your fill of theories and promises about what the widespread diffusion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) might mean for teaching and learning practices across an entire education system and want to see what actual practice looks like, a trip to Montevideo (or better yet, one of the regions outside the Uruguayan capital) should be high on your list.

Under Plan Ceibal (earlier blog post here), Uruguay is the first country in the world to ensure that all primary school students (or at least those in public schools) have their own personal laptop.  For free.  (The program is being extended to high schools, and, under a different financial scheme, to private schools as well).  Ceibal is about more than just 'free laptops for kids', however.  There is a complementary educational television channel. Schools serve as centers for free community wi-fi, and free connectivity has been introduced in hundreds of municipal centers around the country as well.  There are free local training programs for parents and community members on how to use the equipment.  Visiting Uruguay last week, I was struck by how many references there were to 'one laptop per teacher' (and not just 'one laptop per child', which has been the rallying cry for a larger international initiative and movement). Much digital content has been created, and digital learning content is something that is expected to have a much greater prominence within Ceibal now that the technology infrastructure is largely in place.

Comparing ICT use in education across countries

Michael Trucano's picture

still lots of questions ...At a fundamental level, attempts to answer many of the pressing policy questions we have about the use of ICTs in educational settings around the world -- and the impact of such use -- are complicated by the fact that we still do not have reliable, globally comparable data in this area.  As hard as it may be to believe -- especially given the large investments being made in this area and the increasing strategic importance of this topic in many countries -- basic answers to many basic questions about the use of technology in schools around the world remain largely unanswered.  Such questions include:

  • How many schools are connected to the Internet (and what is the quality of that connection)?
  • How many teachers have been trained to use ICTs?
  • How many schools have access to sufficient reliable power?
  • How many computers are being used for learning purposes in schools?
  • In what subjects are computers meant to be used, and to what extent?

 
This is about to change.