Much popular attention has been paid to the so-called "$100 laptop" initiative and other programs to provide "1-to-1 educational computing" to students in developing countries. Even at $100 dollars per device, however, such solutions are still much too expensive for most communities around the world. Indeed, the typical scenario for computer use in schools in developing countries, and especially in rural areas, is for multiple children to crowd around one computer while one child controls the mouse, leaving the other children as onlookers.
Michael Trucano's blog
The recent announcement that Amazon.com will be dropping the price of its latest Kindle e-reader to US$139 is only the latest news item from the exploding field of 'e-books', which is receiving increasing attention from education policymakers around the world.
Now, while some may argue that too much attention is paid to the retail prices of ICT-related hardware for use in education, there is no denying that, as prices continue to fall, discussions around the potential use of such devices in a variety of educational settings will only increase.
Back in December the EduTech blog asked, rather speculatively, Can eBooks replace printed books in Africa? It turns out that this question is not only hypothetical. A number of organizations are investigating answers to questions as this -- including the World Bank, where, in response to requests from a few countries, researchers are investigating possible opportunities and potential impacts of the introduction of a variety of digital technologies (including e-readers) into learning environments in sub-Saharan Africa.
I had the good fortune to participate in the recent FAILfaire event in DC organized by the MobileActive NGO and the innovations team at the World Bank Institute. What's a FAILfaire, you ask? In the words of the organizers:
"While we often focus on highlighting successes in our field, it’s no secret that many projects just don’t work – some don’t scale, some aren’t sustainable, some can’t get around bureaucratic hoops, and many fail due to completely unanticipated barriers. At FAILFaire we want to recognize the failures: the pilots that never got anywhere, the applications that are not delivering, the projects that are not having any measurable impact on the lives of people, and the cultural or technical problems that arise."
The World Bank's infoDev program recently released the latest volume in its periodic surveys of the use of information and communication technology in the education sector around the world.
Following on earlier efforts that examined the Caribbean and Africa (and UNESCO-Bangkok's much earlier examination of the Asia-Pacific region), ICT for Education in India and South Asia catalogues what is happening related to the use of educational technologies in this important part of the world.
[Disclaimer: I helped initiate this series when I was at infoDev, and was a reviewer for this latest work, and so am not a neutral disinterested observer here!]
The series of reports include:
When I started working full time exploring issues related to the use of educational technologies in developing countries about a dozen years ago, many ministries of education would express their desires for introducing computers in schools by saying things like 'We want something that can enable students and teachers to do x and y and z'.
More recently, this conversation has switched in many places, as increasing numbers of ministries (and especially their most senior officials) have initiated their related planning processes by saying that 'we need a computer that costs $___'.
The implications of this shift on planning practices in many places have actually been pretty profound.
Now, it is true that, in the 'early days', the initial rationales behind putting computers in schools were expressed in rather vague terms (e.g. 'we want children to access the world of information on the Internet'). That said, such formulations often presented a useful starting point for discussions of what the educational goals of a particular ICT program for schools might be. For the past half-dozen years or so, however, it appears to me that there has been a much greater focus in many quarters on *only* the retail prices of various devices, with discussions of what specific learning goals these devices are meant to help meet -- and how -- shunted to the side.
Last week's EduTech blog asked, How would you design an ICT/education program for impact?
A recent paper suggests that a good answer to that question is *not* to simply make computers more widely available in homes and leave it at that.
Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement [pdf], an NBER working paper by Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd released in June, used administrative data on North Carolina (U.S.A.) public school students in attempt to help answer the questions, Does differential access to computer technology at home compound the educational disparities between and rich and poor? and Would a program of government provision of computers to early secondary school students reduce these disparities? In this case, Vigdor and Ladd found that the
Imagine, if you will, that you were an official at an international development organization who has been working with country x for a number of years in helping them think through options and issues related to the use of ICTs in their education sector. As part of this dialogue, you had regularly preached the virtues of a commitment to rigorous monitoring and impact evaluation.
Country x has, in various ways, been host to numerous initiatives to introduce computers into its schools and, to lesser extents, to train teachers and students on their use, and schools have piloted a variety of digital learning materials and education software applications. It is now ready, country leaders say, to invest in a rigorous, randomized trial of an educational technology initiative as a prelude to a very ambitious, large-scale roll-out of the use of educational technologies nationwide. It asks:
What programs or specific interventions should we consider?
I recently found myself with a free morning in Delhi, and thought I would make use of the time by searching for a certain rather famous Hole In The Wall.
(I don't pretend to know how this has been understood within the UK itself, and I have no comment on internal political matters in the UK that led to this action. I don't confess to any special insight or expertise in this area ... but even if I did, it would not be my place to comment on them in a World Bank blog. Others are of course more free to do so.)
Many developing countries have looked to Becta as a general touchstone for leading thought and practice related to the use of ICTs in education. This is especially the case with regard to the research and huge number of influential publications that have been put out by Becta over the years, which are widely consumed and cited by academics, government officials and consultants active around the world in planning and implementing ICT-related initiatives in formal education systems.
What happens when *all* children and teachers have their own laptops -- this is usually phrased as a question, but a few places are allowing us to begin to reformulate this into a declarative sentence. One such place is the state of Maine in the northeastern United States; another is the South American country of Uruguay, where under Plan Ceibal all primary school teachers and students in government schools now have their own free laptops (previous blog posts about the Uruguayan experience can be found here and here).
Alicia Casas de Barrán, the director of the National Archives of Uruguay, spoke yesterday at the World Bank about what is actually happening under Plan Ceibal. Through various examples, she highlighted the fact that many of the 'externalities' resulting from this ambitious initiative may in fact be central to its eventual value to Uruguayan society.