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Ten observations about 1-to-1 educational computing efforts around the world

Michael Trucano's picture
I do not fear computers,  I fear the lack of them
I do not fear computers,  I fear the lack of them

This year's Global Symposium on ICT use in education in Gyeongju, Korea focused on "Transforming Education with 1:1 Computing: Learning from Practical Experiences in Providing Students with Their Own Individual Computing Devices".

Many countries are investing enormous amounts of resources and effort to increase the availability of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across their education systems. So-called "1-to-1 computing" initiatives are increasingly prominent as part of such efforts. In some places these are important components of larger educational reform processes that seek to enable and support teaching and learning processes in ways both mundane and profound, traditional and (to adopt a common related buzzword) transformative. In other places these are largely 'hardware dumps', dropping in lots of shiny new devices with little attention to how to integrate them into teaching and learning practices. Common to both circumstances is often an intense belief that 'change' of some sort is necessary if students are to be able to thrive in increasingly technology-saturated, and technology-determined, global economies and societies. While the vision behind many large-scale 1-to-1 educational computing projects may be rather hazy or muddled, they do represent potent symbols for change in many countries. Even if the end goals are not always clearly defined, these efforts are in part a reflection of the belief, as proclaimed by one participant at this year global symposium, that "the status quo is more dangerous than the unknown".

To help set the stage for the discussions that were to follow, I opened the first session at this year's global symposium on ICT use in education by sharing a short series of general, broad observations about trends and lessons from 1-to-1 educational computing efforts around the world. In case they might be of any interest or utility to a wider audience, I thought I would share them here on the EduTech blog. These comments are not meant to be comprehensive in scope, nor are they meant to be focused (like so much of the research and rhetoric around 1-to-1 easily available on the Internet) on the experiences and realities of what 1-to-1 currently looks like in 'highly developed' countries (especially the United States).

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Trends and Lessons from
1-to-1 Educational Computing Efforts Around the World:
Ten observations

1-to-1 Educational Computing -- A report from Korea

Michael Trucano's picture
no, we are talking about  1-to-1 (educational computing), not (five) won to Juan (Mata)
no, we are talking about
'1-to-1' (educational computing),
not (five) 'won to Juan' (Mata)

Not too long ago I did some advisory work in a country considering the purchases of lots of educational tablets. Previously this country had funded lots of computer labs in schools, but they had experienced great difficulties in integrating these facilities into 'normal' teaching and learning activities. Buying devices as part of a '1-to-1 educational computing' initiative, it was felt, would get around many of the difficulties they had experienced with desktop computers in dedicated school computer labs. (I had my doubts about this.)

When observing a class, I noticed that all of the students had the same backpacks. "What's up with that?", I asked.

"Oh, it is very interesting," came the reply. "Those backpacks are purchased by the state for use by low income students. You can see from the fact that all of these backpacks are in the room that the children here are from very low socio-economic levels in society."

I then asked how many of the students had a phone in their backpack. All of them but one (who said he forgot his at home, someone else told me later it had been stolen) said that they did, and most students pulled them out to show me.

After asking a few follow-up questions about what they did with them (Facebook! and texting! were the two most common answers) and once class had resumed, I turned to my conterparts in government and observed that I also "found this all very interesting. You are going to buy lots of small computing devices for these students to use by spending public funds, in part because they are not using the devices that you purchased for them before. Despite the fact they are all poor enough to qualify to receive free government backpacks, all of their families have somehow found the money to buy them mobile phones, which they obviously all use quite heavily. Have you thought about taking advantage of this personal computing infrastructure that is already installed in the pockets and pocketbooks (or backpacks) of the students, and orienting some your investments for different purposes, like upgrading connectivity and/or spending more funds on content and/or training?"

This phenomenon, known as 'bring your own device' (BYOD) or 'bring your own technology (BYOT) in educational technology circles, was just one of many topics discussed and debated at the most recent Global Symposium on ICT Use in Education, which took place in the provincial Korean city of Gyeongju.

e-Learning in Korea in 2011 and beyond

Michael Trucano's picture

seeking protection from all that cheap bandwidth!Each year the World Bank helps sponsor an annual global symposium on ICT use in education for senior policymakers and practitioners in Seoul, together with the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) and the Korea Education Research & Information Service (KERIS). This is one important component of a strong multi-year partnership between the World Bank education sector and the Republic of Korea exploring the use of ICTs in the education sector around the world. This year's event, which focused on Benchmarking International Experiences and was about half the size of 2010's Building national ICT/education agencies symposium, brought officials from 23 countries to Korea to explore how technology is being used in schools around the world (previous blog post: Eleven Countries to Watch -- and Learn From), with a special emphasis on learning about and from the Korean experience.

Specifically, there was much interest in learning more about two news items that appeared since last year's event: Korea's top place in an international digital reading assessment and the country's bold plan to move toward digital textbooks in all subjects at all levels by 2015.

What happens when all textbooks are (only) digital? Ask the Koreans!

Michael Trucano's picture

banned in Busan?A few years ago, a World Bank study highlighted the fact that there simply aren't enough textbooks for most students in Africa, and what is available is too expensive.  In response to this reality, some people at the World Bank have been exploring various options for addressing the 'textbook gap', including initiatives investigating the potential cost-effectiveness of 'e-books' for African students.

At the other end of the spectrum from the situation that exists in schools in many low- and middle-income countries in Africa, students in one East Asian nation may soon not have access to textbooks either -- at least the old fashioned, printed kind.

Sharing experiences on building national ICT/education agencies

entering Korea's u-class, the classroom of the futureThere was a good reason for the recent Global Symposium on Building national ICT/education agencies to have taken place in Seoul. South Korea has demonstrated that making a single specialized agency responsible for integrating ICTs in the education sector to implement the ambitious goals of government can bring high rate of return. Since its inception in 1999, KERIS (the Korean Education  Research & Information Service) has made a significant contribution into helping build a knowledge and information-based society in Korea, helping to enhance the nation's  education system and research competitiveness through its work at the secondary and primary education levels. Increasingly looking to share lessons from its experience with other, KERIS has established many partnerships in other East Asia and Pacific countries, and is developing partnerships with countries in other regions as well.   Numerous countries invited to the Seoul Global Symposium were explicitly interested in how they 'might set up their own KERIS', and saw the forum as an opportunity to learn firsthand from the Korean experience.  For four days, over 120 representatives from 32 countries discussed a variety of issues related to organizational structures, staffing, funding schemes, institutional evolution, and other challenges along the way when building and developing ICT in education agencies.

Learning from national ICT and education agencies

Michael Trucano's picture
KERIS -- at the cutting edge
KERIS -- at the cutting edge

Over 100 education policymakers from 32 countries gathered last week in Seoul to share lessons, experiences and opinions in response to the following question:

How should an education system structure itself to meet new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities related to the use of information and communication technologies, and what roles and responsibilities could/should a dedicated ICT/education agency or unit play?

This was the theme of the fourth global symposium on ICT and education, an annual event that the World Bank has co-sponsored with the Korean Education & Research and Information Service (KERIS) and the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) and other partners, including UNESCO Bangkok, Intel and the IDB. (Proceedings from previous symposia are available herehere, here and here.)

1-to-1 educational computing initiatives around the world

Michael Trucano's picture

replicating one-to-one, to one, to one ... | image atribution at bottomThe One Laptop Per Child program has brought much attention to issues related to '1-to-1 computing' (each child has her/his own personal computing device).  While perhaps the most prominent initiative of this sort in public consciousness, OLPC is just one of many such programs around the world.  At a recent event in Vienna, the OECD, the Inter-american Development Bank and the World Bank brought together representatives from these programs, the first such face-to-face global gathering of leaders in this area to share information and insights about their experiences. 

In putting together this event, it was clear that there was no consolidated list of leading '1-to-1 educational computing initiatives'.  Here's a first attempt at such a list, based on participants in this event (links are meant as pointers to more related information; not all lead to the specific project sites):

ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch -- and Learn From

Michael Trucano's picture

KERIS looms increasingly large on the international ICT/education scene | image attribution at bottomAs part of engagements with ministries of education around the world, I am often asked to provide lists of countries considered to be 'best practice examples of ICT use in education'. I am asked this so often that I thought I'd provide a representative list here to help point people in some useful directions, in case doing so might be of any interest.

But before I get to the list ...

First, I'd like to say that I prefer the term 'good practice' to 'best practice'.  This may seem to be unnecessary semantic nitpicking, but in many if not most cases and places, learning from and adapting 'good' practices is often much more practical -- and more likely to lead to success. 

And: Given that many initiatives seem immune to learning from either 'best' or even 'good' practice in other places, I am coming to the conclusion that it may be most practical to recommend countries that have had 'lots of practice' (of any kind).  Is this ideal?  Obviously no -- but it tends to yield better results. For whatever reason, there appears to be a natural learning curve that accompanies large scale adoption of ICTs in the education sector in many countries, and that there is an important element of 'learning by doing' that appears to be important, even if this means 'repeating the mistakes' of others. (This is a process often known in international development circles as 'capacity building'.)

The UNESCO Prize on ICT use in education

Michael Trucano's picture

UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize for ICT use in Education | image copyright UNESCO, please see bottom of posting for attributionThe UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize is perhaps the highest profile international award given to acknowledge excellence in the use of ICTs in education around the world.  Created in 2005 following a donation made by the Kingdom of Bahrain, it is meant "to reward projects and activities of individuals, institutions, other entities or non-governmental organizations for excellent models, best practice, and creative use of information and communication technologies to enhance learning, teaching and overall educational performance".

The winners for 2009, announced back in December, will receive their awards in a ceremony at UNESCO headquarters in Paris next week. The latest winners are Dr. Alexei Semenov, Rector of the Moscow Institute of Open Education, Russian Federation, and Jordan's Ministry of Information and Communications Technology  (acknowledging its work in leading the Jordan Education Initiative). 

In its short history, the Prize has has done a good job in drawing attention to important work being done related to the use of technologies in the education sector that is, in many cases, largely unknown outside the borders of the host country.

Television for a change (revolution in a box)

Michael Trucano's picture

public domain image of the Braun HF television from 1958 comes courtesy of Oliver Kurmis via Wikimedia CommonsA 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". 

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