Last year on this blog, I asked a few questions (eLearning, Africa and ... China?) as a result of my participation in a related event in Dar Es Salaam where lots of my African colleagues were ‘talking about China’, but where few Chinese (researchers, practitioners, firms, officials) were present. This year's eLearning Africa event in Benin, in contrast, featured for the first time a delegation of researchers from China, a visit organized by the International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education (INRULED), a UNESCO research center headquartered at Beijing Normal University (with additional outposts at Baodin, Nanjing and Gansu). Hopefully this is just the beginning of a positive trend to open up access to knowledge about what is working (and isn’t working) related to ICT use in education in places in rural China that might more resemble certain situations and contexts in many developing countries than those drawn from experiences in, for example, Boston or Singapore (or from Shanghai and Beijing, for that matter). Establishing working level linkages between researchers and practitioners (and affiliated institutions) in China and Africa, can be vital to helping encourage such knowledge exchanges.
East Asia and Pacific
About four years ago, the World Bank's infoDev program secured funding to do a 'global survey of the use of mobile phones in education in developing countries', based on the belief that the increasing availability of the small, connected computing devices more commonly known as 'mobile phones' was going to have increasing relevance to school systems around the world. For a variety of reasons -- including regrettable internal bureaucratic delays and, more fundamentally, the fact that, when we looked around at what was actually happening on the ground in most of the world, not much was actually going on (yet), and so we concluded that a global survey of expert thought of the potential future relevance of the use of mobile phone in education wouldn't yet be terribly useful -- we ended up scrapping this research project, hoping that others would pursue similar work when the time was ripe. (The funds were re-programmed to support EVOKE, the World Bank's online 'serious game', the second version of which is scheduled to launch in September in Portuguese and English, on both PCs and mobile phones, with a special focus on Brazil.) A few of the organizations involved in the mEducation Alliance, an international collaborative effort in which the World Bank participates that is working to explore cutting edge intersections between mobiles, education and development and to promote collective knowledge sharing, have just published some short papers that have accomplished much of what we had hoped to do with this sort of survey. We'll look at two of these efforts this week on the EduTech blog: the first led by UNESCO, the second (in a follow up post this Friday) by the Mastercard Foundation, working with the GSMA.
The World Bank recently hosted two events showcasing innovative tools and practices that can be used to help build bridges between schools and their local communities, helping to promote and support greater transparency, good governance and citizen engagement along the way.
The CheckMySchool (CMS) initiative in the Philippines (“promoting social accountability one school at a time”) is one of those projects that people intuitively ‘get’. Why not use tools like the web, Facebook, and mobile phones to help inform communities about the types of resources that their schools are supposed to have – and offer a way for them to report back when something is not as it should be?
Earlier this year, over 1700 participants from over 90 countries attended eLearning Africa (previous blog post here) to share lessons and make contacts at what has evolved into perhaps the continent's premier annual knowledge sharing event related to the use of ICTs in education. Not surprisingly, given that the event took place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania led the way in terms of attendance by its nationals, followed by its East African neighbors, with South Africa and Nigeria not too far behind.
One nationality was largely noticeable through its absence: the Chinese. Why do I mention this? Outside the conference, signs of growing cooperation between Tanzania and China (and India, whose Prime Minister was in Dar the same week on a state visit) were hard to miss, and indeed, the increasing 'presence' of China across Africa is undeniable, and the topic of much reporting, scholarly interest and discussion, including at the World Bank. Looking around the conference itself, this cooperation wasn't immediately in evidence related to international cooperation around the use of educational technologies. Participating in and listening to many conversations at the event, however, one got a bit of a different story related to potential cooperation going forward between China and a number of African countries on ICT/education issues.
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.
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.
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.
The World Bank EduTech blog recently had its second birthday. As we did last year, we thought we'd gather together an idiosyncratic collection of 'top posts' and themes from the past year exploring issues related to the use of information and communication technologies to benefit education in developing countries.
Every week, the blog informally attempts to highlight particular initiatives, studies and emerging trends that we think -- based on regular interactions with government officials, NGOs, researchers and companies active in this area in developing and developed countries around the world -- might be of interest to a wider audience. It is also one small part of a larger movement at the World Bank -- symbolized perhaps most potently by the institution's Open Data initiative -- to provide greater transparency to some of the sorts of information, conversations and discussions that previously were accessible only to limited groups of stakeholders and partners. At least in the case of the World Bank's work related to ICT use in education, blogging has proven to be a useful mechanism to share perspectives and 'think aloud in public' along with our partners, expert practitioners and our critics, as well as with people who are simply interested in a particular topic.
Without further ado ...
There 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.
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 here, here, here and here.)