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 theWorldBank. 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.
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?
Last week I attended a brainstorming meeting as part of the World Bank's 'Apps for Development' initiative, in preparation for a competition that will be announced in October to bring software developers and development practitioners together to develop useful software tools and data visualizations that use World Bank data. This is (hopefully!) just the first stage in a broader initiative over time exploring how approaches to 'open data' (and not just those generated or warehoused by the World Bank) can help contribute to creation of useful software tools to help with a variety of development challenges.
In addition to an engaging Q&A with various luminaries (including Tim O'Reilly), most of the time was spent in small groups where software developers, data folks and subject experts in various fields came together to brainstorm about how various development challenges might be approached in new ways, and how to harness developer communities of various sorts around the world to help out.
Given their low costs and increasing ubiquity, even in very poor communities, much has been written about the potential for mobile phones to aid in the delivery of 'anytime, anywhere' education. But what might such educational practices look like in practice? The MILLEE project (Mobile and Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies) has been examining this issue for the last six years, beginning with low-income communities in the urban slums and villages in India.
In a recent presentation at the World Bank, Matthew Kam, the founder of MILLEE, shared experiences from ten rounds of iterative small pilot field studies in developing and testing mobile phone gaming applications that enable children to acquire language literacy in immersive, game-like environments. One goal of this work is to investigate how to make localized English language learning resources more accessible to underprivileged children, at times and places that are more convenient than schools. (A short video profile of the project is available here; it is not embedded for direct viewing on this blog because it features a 15-second commercial at the beginning.)