A quick check of the user logs for the World Bank's EduTech blog shows that postings on the use of mobile phones in education consistently draw the most readers. While highlighting the new and innovative appears to grab the attention of visitors, there is no denying the impact that 'old' technologies like radio and television continue to have on education around the world. In an optimistic cover story in the most recent edition of Foreign Policy magazine, my World Bank colleague Charles Kenny makes the case in Revolution in a Box that, despite the recent hype around new Web 2.0 tools (like Twitter or Facebook), it is not the computer, but the TV that "can still save the world".
Of all the programs in middle income and developing countries that have sought to introduce ICTs systematically into the education, the Chilean experience is perhaps the most lauded. Enlaces has been the subject of much scholarly and policy attention since its inception almost two decades ago (including a publication from the World Bank back in 2004 [pdf]).
The fact that Chile and Enlaces is considered by many to be a global model of good practice presents policymakers in Chile with a(n enviable) challenge:
Where should Chile look for inspiration as it continues to evolve its programs exploring the effective use of ICTs in education?
Amazon, the company behind the Kindle, perhaps the world's most famous e-reader, recently announced an international version of its digital book reading device that will allow users to connect via 3G to download content in over 100 countries. The early success of the Kindle, together with products like the Sony Reader, and the excitement over recently announced products like the Nook and Plastic Logic e-reading devices (Wikipedia has a nice list of these things), portends profound changes to the way we consume and distribute reading materials going forward. The excellent (and highly recommended) Mobile Libraries blog explores what all of this might mean for one of most venerable of all information gathering, curation and dissemination institutions: the library. While Mobile Libraries documents issues related to how e-books and the like may transform the roles of the library in the industrialized countries of Europe, North America and Asia, there is no clear equivalent information resource highlighting what such advances might mean for developing countries. But, in various ways, many people and projects are hard at work exploring such issues.
The announcement from the World Bank earlier this week about a new $215 Million Central Africa Backbone Program that will bring low cost, high speed Internet to the region is the latest in a series of good news about improving connectivity across the continent, and between Africa and the rest of the world. Kenya is just one of many East African countries which can expect a decrease in costs and improvement in quality in the not too distant future as a result of the recent landing of the Seacom and TEAMS cables, and two projects which the World Bank supports, the Regional Connectivity Infrastructure Project (RCIP) and (through the IFC), the EASSy cable.
What does, or might, all of this improved connectivity mean for students and teachers in Africa? How can we keep track of all of the related changes happening throughout the continent?
When participating in discussions with officials planning for the use of computers and the Internet in schools in many developing countries, I am struck by how child Internet safety issues are often only considered as an afterthought -- if indeed they are considered at all. Yet these issues almost *always* present themselves during implementation, and schools (and education systems) then scramble to figure out what to do.
What do we know about child Internet saftey issues in developing countries?
Preliminary work done by the Berkman Center up at Harvard, in partnership with UNICEF, suggests: Not much.
Back in 2005 when I was with infoDev, we started maintaining a list containing A short inventory of known projects related to 'low cost ICT user devices for the developing world', with special attention to the education sector' . While the One Laptop Per Child Project was dominating much of the discussion around this topic in many circles, it was clear that there were lots of other interesting initiatives sprouting up that might be worth tracking (scores of them, in fact), but there was no consolidated list of them anywhere. Many people found the list we cobbled together to be useful and it started to circulate quite widely via email, so we thought it might be a good idea to publish it on the web. So we did. For a good while it was (after the home page) by far the most downloaded item from the infoDev site, and we regularly saw versions of the list (usually without attribution) appearing in reports from consulting firms and in conference presentations.
The list was never meant to be comprehensive, but rather representative of the varied developments that were occuring in this area. As we said at the time:
A recent event at the World Bank focused on "Mobile Innovations for Social and Economic Transformation: From Pilots to Scaled-up Implementation" included an interesting session on the use of mobile phones in development. Following on an opening talk by Dr. Mohamed Ally of Canada's Athabasca University (you can download a free copy of his book on mobile learning), Kate Place of the International Youth Foundation provided an update on activities and emerging lessons learned from the BridgeIT project in Tanzania (“Elimu kwa Teknolojia” in Kiswahili), which provides access to digital video content in classrooms ‘on demand’ via mobile phone technology.
I am often asked to recommend "useful research on ICT and education issues in developing countries".
While there are resources to which I inevitably turn (and which I recommend time and again, a topic for future consideration on this blog), there is a question which I have a more difficult time answering:
"How do I find, and stay in the loop on, useful research, documentation and lessons learned on ICT and education issues in developing countries?"
In the context of a discussion of ICT/education policies, GeSCI's Jyrki Pulkkinen takes a step back and asks, who really needs policy? While he doesn't provide answers to this question himself in his note (yet -- I suspect this is coming), he follows up with a set of high-level, practical guiding questions for people involved in these processes.
When thinking about the questions that Jyrki poses, I had a few questions of my own: What are best practices for the development of such policies and plans? Where can we turn to for examples of such policies and plans to help inform work in this area?
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools in India has just announced a mobile phone ban, echoing similar calls in many other places (from Sri Lanka to South Korea, from the UK to the Philippines to France) to restrict student access to what are often seen as 'devices of distraction'.
Why then will the World Bank will be kicking off a study next month looking at "The Use of Mobile Phones in Education in Developing Countries"?