One of the fascinating benefits of working at a place like the World Bank is the exposure it offers to interesting people doing interesting things in interesting places that many other folks know little about. Small countries like Uruguay and Portugal, for example, are beginning to attract the attention of educational reform communities from around the world due to their ambitious plans for the use of educational technologies. Much is happening in other parts of the world as well, of course, especially in many countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The largest stand-alone World Bank education project to date that focused on educational technologies, for example, was the Russia E-Learning Support Project. Macedonia gained renown in many corners as the first 'wireless country', with all of that Balkan country's primary and secondary schools online since the middle of the last decade -- although other countries, like Estonia and the tiny Pacific island nation of Niue, also lay claim to versions of this title. (If you are looking for more information on the Macedonian experience, you can find it here and here [pdf]). Much less well known, however, is the related experience of the small country of Georgia, located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, where small laptops are being distributed to primary school students and where school leaving exams are now conducted via online computer-adaptive testing.
Macedonia, former Yugoslav Republic of
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.
As 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'.)