Syndicate content

Latin America & Caribbean

Top World Bank EduTech Blog Posts of 2016

Michael Trucano's picture
come on in, hopefully you'll find something you like
come on in, hopefully you'll find
something you like
The World Bank's EduTech blog seeks to "explore issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to benefit education in developing countries". Over the past eight years, it has highlighted an eclectic batch of related new research and explored emerging 'good practices' (and more than a few bad ones as well). Along the way, it has briefly documented and analyzed a wide variety of interesting projects and programs around the world seeking to use new technologies in the education sector. In doing so, it has perhaps posed (and re-framed) many more questions than it has it has provided hard-and-fast 'answers'.

Given the fast-changing nature of so much of our world today, and the expectation that the pace of technology-enabled change is unlikely to slow, it is an abiding conceit of this blog that our individual and collective ability to ask better questions related to the use of new technologies and technology-enabled approaches in education (not only about what we should be doing, and when, and where, but especially about the why and the how) will become an increasingly critical skill to develop and cultivate. There is no shortage of edtech-related 'solutions' marketed around the world, but are they addressing the right problems and most critical challenges? As Wadi Haddad likes to ask: If technology is the answer, what is the question?

The blog seeks, perhaps rather presumptively, to inject an evidence-based, practical tonic into various debates and deliberations about the use of new technologies in the education sector that are, in many places, often characterized by ideological extremes and a general lack of knowledge about what's actually happening 'on-the-ground', especially in many emerging economies and so-called 'developing countries' around the world. While the blog deliberately attempts to adopt a general tone and perspective of fairness and objectivity, 'balance' can admittedly be a rather elusive goal when trying to navigate between the giddy utopianism of many techno-enthusiasts (especially among many in Silicon Valley, and more than a few politicians) and the sometimes rather crotchety conservatism of the reflexively anti-technology (indeed, often anti-change) crowd. In theory, there should be a vast space between these two poles; in practice, such middle ground can often be hard to find, or negotiate, in many places in the world. 

The historian Melvin Kranzberg famously opined that technology is neither positive nor negative, nor is it neutral. What is clear, however, is that there will increasingly be much more of it, all around us -- including in our schools, and embedded within teaching and learning practices in communities pretty much everywhere: rich and poor, urban and rural. Yes, technology-fueled 'revolutions' in education have been promised for almost a century now, but even if the related change (for better and/or worse) has been long in coming, there is little denying that there is much change afoot these days (again, for better and/or worse).  How can we make better decisions about what's important, and what isn't, and how we can tell the difference? By highlighting some interesting things happening in parts of the world that you may not have heard (or thought much) about, the EduTech blog continues to try, in an admittedly modest and incomplete way, to help provide fodder for related discussion, discourse and disagreement in educational policymaking circles in many countries. 

What follows below is a quick outline of the top EduTech blog posts from 2016. If you're new to the blog, please do feel to browse our 'back catalog' as well, as many of the 'hits' from past years continue somehow to draw in large numbers of readers, in a number of cases even more than for the new stuff. (Here, for what it's worth, are links to the top posts of 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010; and 2009.)

The blog went on a bit of a hiatus for part of 2016, so there is much in the queue that will appear in the early months of 2017. As always, the best way to be notified when new posts appear is to subscribe to us on Twitter (@WBedutech) and/or enter your email address into the 'subscribe by email' box that appears in the right column of your screen if you are reading this on a desktop (the mobile-optimized version of the blog omits this functionality, unfortunately). If you want a sneak peek at topics in the pipeline, as well as links to related news, projects and research papers, you may want to check out the Twitter account of the blog's principal author

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit this blog -- and good luck with whatever projects or decisions you may be considering for the New Year!
Top World Bank EduTech Blog Posts of 2016

Top World Bank EduTech blog posts of 2015

Michael Trucano's picture
take your pick -- some are rather yummy!
take your pick -- some are rather yummy!

For the past seven years the World Bank's EduTech blog has sought to "explore issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to benefit education in developing countries".

While there are plenty of sources for news, information and perspectives on the uses (and misuses) of educational technologies in the so-called 'highly industrialized' countries of North America, Europe, East Asia and Australia/New Zealand, regular comparative discussions and explorations of what is happening with the uses of ICTs in middle and low income (i.e. so-called 'developing') countries around the world can be harder to find, which is why this remains the focus of the EduTech blog.

The term 'developing countries' is employed here as convenient (if regrettable) shorthand in an attempt to reinforce the context in which the comments and questions explored on the blog are considered, and as a signal about its intended (or at least hoped for) audience. That said, given how much we still don't know and the fact that things continue to change so rapidly, when it comes to technology use in education, as a practical matter we all live in 'developing countries'.

When speaking about some of the early EduTech blog posts, one rather prominent and outspoken commenter (rather comfortably ensconced at an elite U.S. research university, for what that might be worth) said basically that 'there is nothing new here, we've been aware of all of these issues for some time'.

This might possibly be true – if you are a tenured professor sitting in Cambridge, perhaps, or a technology developer working out of Helsinki, Mountain View or Redmond.

(One could nonetheless note that being aware of something, and doing something useful and impactful as a result of this awareness, are not necessarily the same thing, a lesson that seems to need to be learned and re-learned again and again, often quite painfully and expensively, as 'innovations' from 'advanced' places are exported to other 'less advanced' places around the world with results that can at times be rather difficult to determine. It is also perhaps worth briefly recalling the insightful, if ungrammatical, words of the U.S. humorist Mark Twain, who observed back in the 19th century that, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.")

However, these are often relatively new discussions – and often very different discussions, it should be noted! – in other, less 'economically privileged' parts of the world. As computing devices and connectivity continue to proliferate, practical knowledge and know-how about what works, and what doesn't, when it comes to technology use in education is increasingly to be found in such places. It is to participate in, learn from and help catalyze related discussions that the EduTech blog was conceived and continues to operate.


While the posts in 2015 were published less frequently, they were on average much longer than in the past ("too long!", some might say) and largely explored themes (e.g. 'tablets', 'teachers', 'coding') drawing on experiences across multiple countries, rather than profiling specific individual projects or activities in one place, which was often the case in previous years.

It perhaps shouldn't need to be said (but I'll say it anyway, as I am obliged to do) that, whether taken individually or collectively, nothing here was or is meant to be definitive, exhaustive or 'official' in its consideration of a particular topic or activity. The EduTech blog serves essentially as a written excerpt of various ongoing conversations with a wide variety of groups and people around the world and as a mechanism for 'thinking aloud in public' about these conversations. Nothing is formally 'peer-reviewed' before it appears online, and the views expressed are those of the author(s) alone, and not the World Bank. (If you find a mistake, or just really disagree with something that appears on the EduTech blog, please feel free to blame the guy who writes this stuff, and not his bosses or the institution which employs him).

With those introductory comments out of the way, here are the ...

Top World Bank EduTech Blog Posts of 2015

Top World Bank EduTech blog posts of 2014

Michael Trucano's picture
by my calculations ... it's time for another annual round-up!
by my calculations ... it's time for another annual round-up!

Since 2009, the World Bank's EduTech blog has attempted to "explore issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to benefit education in developing countries".

While the 30+ posts in 2014 spanned a wide range of topics, a few themes emerged again and again. The emerging relevance and use of mobile phones (in various ways and to various ends) in the education sector continued to be a regular area of discussion, as were efforts to collect (more, better) data to help us understand what is actually happening around the world related to technology use in education, with a specific interest in circumstances and contexts found in middle and low income 'developing' countries.

While technology use is typically considered a characteristic of more 'advanced' countries and education systems, the EduTech blog deliberately sought in 2014 to complicate this belief and bias a bit by looking at efforts specifically meant to be relevant (and which were in some cases indigenous) to some of the 'least advanced' places in the world.

Before getting on to this year's 'top ten' list, a few reminders (which might be familiar to some of you who have read the earlier annual EduTech blog round-ups: I've copied some of this verbatim):

  • Posts on the EduTech blog are not meant to be exhaustive in their consideration of a given topic, but rather to point to interesting developments and pose some related questions that might be of interest.
  • These blog posts should not be mistaken for peer-reviewed research or World Bank policy papers (although some of the content may later find its way into such publications). The views expressed on the EduTech blog are those of the author(s) alone, and not those of the World Bank. (In other words: Blame the guy who wrote them, and not his bosses or institution, for anything you find inaccurate or disagreeable here.)
  • The blog itself is animated by a belief that, by 'thinking aloud in public', we can try (in an admittedly very modest but hopefully useful way) to open up conversations about various themes to wider audiences, sharing emerging thinking and discussions on topics that often have been, and regrettably often remain, discussed largely 'behind closed doors' within small circles of people and institutions.


OK, now on to the ...

Two new rigorous evaluations of technology use in education

Michael Trucano's picture
Look, right there, there it is: Impact! (I think ...)
Look, right there, there it is:
Impact! (I think ...)

Last week saw a flurry of news reports in response to a single blog post about the well known One Laptop Per Child project. It's dead, proclaimed one news report as a result; it's not dead yet, countered another. Recalling Mark Twain's famous quotation, Wired chimed in to announce that Reports of One Laptop Per Child's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Whatever the status and future of the iconic initiative that has helped bring a few million green and white laptops to students in places like Uruguay, Peru and Rwanda, it is hard to argue that, ten years ago, when the idea was thrown out there, you heard a lot of people asking, ‘Why would you do such a thing?’ Ten years on, however, the idea of providing low cost computing devices like laptops and tablets to students is now (for better and/or for worse, depending on your perspective) part of the mainstream conversation in countries all around the world.

What do we know about the impact and results of initiatives
to provide computing devices to students
in middle and low income countries around the world?

Interactive Educational Television in the Amazon

Michael Trucano's picture
a road map -- er, river map -- for the expansion of educational opertunities in rural Brazil?
a road map -- er, river map --
for the expansion of educational opportunities
in rural Brazil?

According to figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, "Countries will need an extra 1.6 million teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2015 and 3.3 million by 2030". The 2013/4 Global Monitoring Report provides a useful discussion of the consequences of this deficit, as well as some strategies for overcoming it.  There are, unfortunately, no 'quick fix' solutions here. We didn't get ourselves into this mess overnight, and we won't get out of it overnight either. While longer term efforts tackle this challenge in multiple ways over time, recruiting new teachers and upgrading the skills of others, it is probably also useful to ask:

How do you teach children in places where there are no teachers?

Many proposed answers to this include some consideration of the use of information and communication technologies. Some groups have offered that it may be most efficacious to simply introduce technologies that help enable students to teach themselves, bypassing teachers altogether. That is certainly one approach, but one with, to date, a rather checkered history of success in many instances (although not all), and one that is consistent with a worry that teacher union officials have expressed to me many times over the years: that many of their members fear that they are being, or will be, replaced by new technologies. Rhetoric from certain politicians (I'll refrain from adding a link or three here, but a few minutes with your favorite search engine should help you locate a number of them yourself) and projections from some ministry of finance officials (informed, one suspects, in some cases by data from the marketing departments of certain technology firms) do little to alleviate such concerns. In some cases, the introduction of new technologies undeniably *does* replace certain specific functions or roles that teachers currently perform, or have performed in the past (especially related to what are essentially clerical or administrative functions -- this replacement is presumably not always such a bad thing). In my experience, introducing new technologies in schools actually makes the role and function of teachers more central and critical, but that is perhaps a topic for another blog post.

Faced with severe, in some cases quite extreme, deficits of qualified teachers, especially in remote communities and in subjects like mathematics, science and foreign languages, many countries are in engaged in long term efforts to recruit and train more teachers and upgrade the skills and content masteries of 'low-skilled' teachers already in their system.  They are exploring how ICTs can be leveraged to help in these efforts. Where there are pressing needs *now* for teachers that can not be met through conventional approaches or according to the traditional timelines dictated by the capacity and effectiveness of their teacher training institutes, there are looking to see how technologies can help reach students today in schools without qualified teachers -- or in some cases, without any teachers at all.

Top World Bank EduTech Blog Posts of 2013

Michael Trucano's picture
will it ever end? five years of the World Bank's EduTech blog
will it ever end? five years of the World Bank's EduTech blog

2013 marked the fifth year of the World Bank's EduTech blog, which has been dedicated to "exploring issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to benefit education in developing countries". The posts in 2013 spanned a rather eclectic set of topics and issues, from MOOCs to mobile phones to Matthew Effects (and those are just the 'M's!). Viewed collectively, it is hoped that these posts provide a little insight into the variety of discussions and activities in which the World Bank has been engaged over the past year, assisting policymakers and practitioners in middle and low income countries as they investigate how new technologies can help education systems tackle long-standing challenges in new (and sometimes not-so-new) ways.

As in past years, in 2013 the EduTech blog served various purposes, but has remained at its core driven by a belief that by 'thinking aloud in public', we can try (in an admittedly very modest way) to use the blog to open up conversations about various themes to wider audiences, and to share emerging thinking and discussions on topics that in the past were often (regrettably) shared only 'behind closed doors' within small circles of people and institutions. There were fewer (27) posts over the course of the year, but many of them were much longer (some may argue that many of them were in fact too long, and indeed a number of them served as first drafts of sorts for upcoming papers and book chapters).

Before presenting this year's 'top ten' list, some quick boilerplate reminders: Posts on the EduTech blog are not meant to be exhaustive in their consideration of a given topic, but rather to point to interesting developments and pose some related questions. They should not be mistaken for peer-reviewed research or World Bank policy papers. The views expressed on the EduTech blog are those of the author(s) alone, and not those of the World Bank.

For those interested in such things:
 - More background and context on the World Bank's EduTech blog 
 - Top EduTech blog posts: 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009
 - Annual EduTech blog compilations (in pdf): 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009
 - A list of the top EduTech blog posts of all time can be found on this page

OK, now on to the ...

Surveying ICT use in education in Latin America & the Caribbean

Michael Trucano's picture

¡más computadoras, por favor!Almost a decade ago, delegates from over 175 countries gathered in Geneva for the first 'World Summit on the Information Society',  a two-part conference (the second stage followed two years later in Tunis) sponsored by the United Nations meant to serve as a platform for global discussion about how new information and communication technologies were impacting and changing economic, political and cultural activities and developments around the world. Specific attention and focus was paid to issues related to the so-called 'digital divide' -- the (growing) gap (and thus growing inequality) between groups who were benefiting from the diffusion and use of ICTs, and those who were not. One of the challenges that inhibited  discussions at the event was the fact that, while a whole variety of inequalities were readily apparent to pretty much everyone, these inequalities were very difficult to quantify, given the fact that we had only incomplete data with which to describe them. The Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, an international, multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators, was formed as a result, and constituent members of this partnership set out to try to bridge data gaps in a variety of sectors. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) took the lead on doing this in the education sector, convening and chairing a Working Group on ICT Statistics in Education (in which the World Bank participates, as part of its SABER-ICT initiative) to help address related challenges. At the start, two basic questions confronted the UIS, the World Bank, the IDB, OECD, ECLAC, UNESCO, KERIS and many other like-minded participating members of the working group (out of whose acronyms a near-complete alphabet could be built):

What type of data should be collected related to ICT use in education?

Not to mention:

What type of data could be collected,
given that so little of it was being rigorously gathered
across the world as a whole,
relevant to rich and poor countries alike,
in ways that permitted comparisons across regions and countries?

Comparing ICT use in education across all countries was quite difficult back then. In 2003/2004, the single most common question related to the use of ICTs in education I was asked when meeting with ministers of education was: What should be our target student:computer ratio? Now, one can certainly argue with the premise that this should have been the most commonly posed question (the answer from many groups and people soon became -- rather famously, in fact -- '1-to-1', e.g. 'one laptop per child'). That said, the fact that we were unable to offer globally comparable data in response to such a seemingly basic question did little to enhance the credibility of those who argued this was, in many ways, the wrong question to be asking. Comparing ICT use in education across all countries remains difficult today -- but in many regards, this task is becoming much easier.

Next steps for Uruguay's Plan Ceibal

Michael Trucano's picture
looking ahead
looking ahead

Few projects to introduce ICTs at scale across an entire education system have received as much global attention as that of Plan Ceibal in Uruguay, which has (among other things) provided free laptop computers to all public school students.

Anticipating that some of the lessons learned in Uruguay may be relevant to scores of other countries (developing and developed alike) in the years to come, we at the World Bank have been keenly following related developments in this small South American nation over the past half-decade. In additional to maintaining the typical sorts of on-going dialogues we have with countries around the world on education issues, last year the World Bank sponsored a study tour for policymakers from Armenia and Russia to visit Uruguay and see with their own eyes what has been going on, and to talk directly with some of the people who have helped make it all happen. We also helped coordinate an online 'ideas festival' to help connect educators across Latin America to share lessons about 1-to-1 computing initiatives, with a special focus on Uruguay. A presentation on Plan Ceibal by the president of the initiative, Miguel Brechner, at one of the previous global symposia on ICT use in education that the World Bank co-sponsors each year with the Korean Ministry of Education and KERIS each year in Seoul, remains one of the highest rated sessions in the six year history of that event.

That said, there has not been a terrific amount of information available in English about the project for global audiences. Those handy with online translation tools can perhaps make their way around the information-rich Plan Ceibal site (and may stumble across the occasional report in English, like this one [pdf] summarizing official results from the first national monitoring and evaluation exercise). Dedicated readers of the EduTech blog, as well as sites like the independent web site, will probably have read some of periodic posts looking at various aspects of the Ceibal program. YouTube fans may have come across some of the related subtitled videos available on that popular site (like this one), many of them on the dedicated Canal Ceibal channel, or of presentations by Miguel Brechner at events like WISE 2012 or ALT-C.

Such information sources, while certainly useful, are by their very nature backward looking.  A fascinating new report commissioned and recently released by Plan Ceibal aims to help chart the way forward for the project. Ceibal: Next Steps [pdf], written by Michael Fullan, Nancy Watson and Stephen Anderson, provides very useful short summaries of the first two phases of pioneering Uruguayan initiative before offering four concrete recommendations to help guide the project as it enters its 'third phase' of activity, which Fullan and company have labeled "focused implementation".

This report is highly recommended for people with an interest in learning more about the Ceibal project, as well as for those wondering about potential examples of what might most usefully come 'after' the initial period rolling out and supporting hardware and software infrastructure that defines most large scale 'big bang' attempts to introduce ICTs across an education system.

Considering potential 'next steps' for Uruguay may help shed some light on emerging issues and options potentially relevant to other countries. This may be especially true for middle and low income countries which, while perhaps currently not as far along in the process in rolling out ICTs and connectivity as Uruguay is, would do well to consider what they may want to do after they have declared their initial large scale roll-outs of hardware, software, digital content and initial teacher training to be a 'success' -- and are then faced with the more difficult ongoing challenges of utilizing these investments to help bring about more fundamental and long-lasting changes to teaching and learning practices inside and outside of schools.

Surveying Mobile Learning Around the World (part one)

Michael Trucano's picture

what constitutes a 'mobile device' can sometimes be in the eye of the (be)holderAbout 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.

El desarrollo de una política nacional de tecnología educativa

Michael Trucano's picture

 "Creemos que tenemos que desarrollar una política nacional para ayudar a guiar nuestros esfuerzos para utilizar las tecnologías de la información y comunicación (TIC) en la educación ¿Qué debería tomar en cuenta esta política?"

Esta es una pregunta que recibimos con frecuencia aquí, en el Banco Mundial. A veces, esta duda surge cuando un país está a punto de invertir una gran cantidad dinero para comprar computadoras para las escuelas, y hay un reconocimiento de que no hay ninguna política en funcionamiento para ayudar a guiar este esfuerzo. Otras veces, es el resultado de un reconocimiento de que no ha existido ninguna política, o  simplemente ha existido poca orientación normativa en este ámbito a pesar de que mucho dinero se haya invertido (por ejemplo en  la compra de computadoras para las escuelas);y esto no ha funcionado como se esperaba. Algunos países cuentan con políticas, a menudo políticas muy buenas,y ahora están tratando de "pasar al siguiente nivel", pero no están  seguros de lo que  esto significa exactamente, por lo que están buscando insumos externos, especialmente debido a la retos y oportunidades que representan los nuevos avances tecnológicos (Vemos otros escenarios posibles también, pero no los enumeraremos ahora).
Hay algunas maneras de ayudar a responder a esta pregunta.

Un enfoque consiste en intentar guiar a las autoridades a través de un proceso de consulta sistemático para la formulación de políticas relacionadas,  y planificar para la implementación y uso de tecnologías en la educación, como parte de una formulación  y planificación de políticas. Estas deben mirar con un criterio más amplio el desarrollo y objetivos de la educación, y luego tratar de investigar y articular con claridad cómo y dónde el uso de las TIC puede ayudar a alcanzar estos objetivos. Este es un proceso que, por ejemplo, fue parte del programa del Banco Mundial- World Links- hace más de una década, y que fue ampliado y formalizado a través del desarrollo y el uso de la Guía práctica TIC en la Educación para hacedores de políticas, planificadores y profesionales. Este trabajo fue apoyado por una serie de organizaciones (y ampliamente utilizado en toda Asia por la UNESCO como parte de su labor de asesoramiento en esta área).Por supuesto, no todos los procesos de planificación de políticas son tan sistemáticos y bien diseñados como los identificados por la Guía Práctica - muchos de ellos en la práctica, son más “ad hoc”.

Otra forma de responder a la pregunta, (y estos enfoques no son mutuamente excluyentes) es mostrar qué dicen otras políticas, siempre que podamos encontrarlas. Ya sea sistemático o ad hoc (o algún punto intermedio), hay un insumo que parece faltar en casi todos los procesos de desarrollo de políticas en TIC  y educación en los que hemos participado. ¿No sería útil que existiera una base de datos global e integral de políticas TIC y Educación, de la cuál los países puedan inspirarse y realizar análisis comparativos basados en sus propias políticas relacionadas?