eLearning Africa (eLA) bills itself as 'the premier annual event bringing together e-learning and ICT-supported education and training professionals from across the continent'. If you want a 'crash course' in what is happening in a variety of contexts related to ICT use in education in countries from Algeria to Zambia, you could do much worse than to attend this increasingly informative and useful event. This year the event was held in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and featured over 1700 participants (and over 300 speakers) from 90 countries around the world; it included daily plenary and 65 parallel sessions to share and debate emerging lessons from experiences in this fast-moving field.
Michael Trucano's blog
At a recent workshop in Montevideo convened by UNESCO and the IDB and hosted by Plan Ceibal on "The Role of ICT/Education Policy in Education Transformation", a new publication was unveiled that included short case studies of a number of countries -- including Uruguay. (This publication is expected to appear on the UNESCO web site shortly -- we'll add a link in the comments section below once it is available. Presentations from the complementary 'open seminar' are available here.) Later this year, the World Bank expects to publish a short case study looking at how Plan Ceibal has developed as an institution, and what some of the key issues might be for an organization like this going forward.
Why all the attention on what's happening in Uruguay, you may ask? Regular readers of this blog will know the answer, as the Uruguayan experience has been the subject of a number of EduTech posts over the past two years, and featured at a number of high profile international knowledge sharing events supported by the World Bank, the Inter-american Development Bank, the OECD and other international institutions. Judging by our server logs, we have picked up a lot of new readers in recent months, and so we thought we'd have another quick look at what is happening in the only country in the world where all students in publicly-supported primary schools have been provided with their own free laptop computer.
Now that (almost) all Uruguayan schools are connected to the Internet and work is well underway to put free laptops in the hands of all public secondary school students, Plan Ceibal is in many ways entering phase two of its ambitious initiative. The technical infrastructure is (largely) there -- the challenge now is to maintain it, to improve and enhance it, and, more importantly, to ensure that it is used effectively to support a variety of new and improved teaching and learning practices that will help Uruguayan students developed the knowledge, skills and attitudes to succeed in increasingly globalized, knowledge economies.
In the classic Ernest Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises, Scottish war veteran Mike Campbell is asked how he went bankrupt. His answer: "Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly."
This pithy response is in many regards an accurate description of how the World Bank has considered of the use of mobile technologies as part of its support for international development efforts over the past decade. As part of its 'Innovation Days' event this week, the World Bank showcasing new approaches to some long-standing development challenges. Judging by many of the exhibits and discussions going on related to the use of mobile phones, it is clear that what was for a number of years a rather fringe topic of conversation among small pockets of people here -- primarily those working in the ICT sector and on microfinance -- has now exploded into the consciousness of World Bank and other international donor staff working in most sectors.
Does the Eastern Caribbean education system adequately prepare youth for the global economy? This was a question posed by a World Bank paper back in 2007, which examined how some of the unique characteristics of small island developing nations in the Caribbean influence attempts to answer this question. The use of information and communication technologies within formal schooling systems is seen by many to be an increasingly relevant -- and important -- tool to impact teaching and learning practices across the region. In 2009 two publications from infoDev sought to document activities and progress in this area, and key policymakers from ten countries recently met in Barbados to take stock of where things stand and help chart a course for the future.
Barbados was in many ways an ideal place for such an exchange. The country's Education Sector Enhancement Programme (ESEP -- known in an earlier incarnation as Edutech 2000) has been perhaps the most far-reaching (and expensive) initiative to explore the use of ICTs in schools in the region.
Challenges for educators in the Internet age
Wherever there are rules, there are almost inevitably people looking to break them, especially where a compelling incentive exists for those willing to risk getting caught. When I was a classroom teacher in Czechoslovakia and the United States, I often found that some of the most 'innovative' practices I witnessed over the course of a school year fell under the heading of what I (and the school) considered 'cheating'.
Two to three years ago, I found very little traction when trying to initiate discussions around the potential use of mobile phones in education with many counterparts in education ministries around the world. (And when this *was* discussed, talk usually centered on how to ban them from schools.)
I was honored to be asked to deliver one of the keynote addresses at this year's eLearning Africa event at the end of May. (If you'll be in Dar for the event, I look forward to seeing you there!) The organizers asked me to submit an abstract for my presentation by last week. In the belief that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and in the spirit of what I take to be the increasing appetite of the World Bank to be more 'open' about what information it makes available publicly, I thought I would (mix metaphors and) send up a trial balloon of sorts here on this blog, sharing one of the themes I am hoping to explore in my short talk, in the hope that doing so will make my presentation stronger and more relevant to the audience. If past experience is any guide, there will be no shortage of people who comment (below, on their own blogs, via email and Twitter) about where and how I've got things wrong.
Before I get to that, though, some background:
How do you keep computers in schools in working order? Basic technical maintenance is a perennial challenge for many schools in developing countries. The phenomenon of unused -- and unusable! -- computers in schools is all too well known to anyone who works in the field. While it is a bit of an exaggeration to label this a 'tragedy', few could argue that this isn't a very unfortunate situation -- especially given the high costs associated with acquiring and installing such equipment, to say nothing of the learning opportunities lost when students and teachers are unable to use expensive equipment that is already paid for.
What to do about this? I regularly encounter a number of common answers to this question.
In a post today on the Education for Global Development' blog, World Bank education sector director Elizabeth King reports back from Jomtein, Thailand on the High Level Group Meeting on Education For All (EFA). This event was a successor, of sorts, to the landmark event convened in Jomtein back in 1990 that kickstarted the global movement for 'Education For All', which has been a primary goal for many developing countries (supported by most international development agencies) for the past two decades. The title of Beth's blog post sums up her message very nicely ("Jomtien, 20 Years Later: Global Education for All Partners Must Renew Commitment to Learning") and echoes key themes and perspectives expressed in her keynote address [link to pdf] to 50 education ministers back in January at the Education World Forum. I won't try to summarize her calls to action any more here (for that, I recommend you see the text of her blog and, especially, her excellent keynote speech). I would, however, like to use the opportunity to revisit the question of the relevance of ICTs to this global agenda.
Back in 2008, a World Bank study on Textbooks and School Library Provision in Secondary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa [pdf] noted that "There is little or no evidence in any of the 19 countries reviewed of any systematic approach to, or consideration of, the full range of secondary textbook cost reduction strategies", adding that "Only 1 out of 19 countries studied (Botswana) had adequate textbook provision at close to a 1:1 ratio for all subjects and all grades."
In other words: There aren't enough textbooks for most students in Africa, and what is available is too expensive.
A number of groups are looking at this reality and wondering if the use of inexpensive e-book readers may be able to help. One such group at the World Bank is exploring an e-book pilot initiative in Nigeria (which has been examined previously on the EduTech blog). This pilot is looking at what it might take to deliver textbooks in digital formats for reading by secondary school students on dedicated e-readers, and what might happen as a result. It is not just looking at the use of official textbooks, however. The project team is also seeking to investigate the potential impact on educational achievement of making small libraries of digital books available to students on e-readers. In doing so, it is intrigued by studies such as Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations, which found that