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Ten trends in technology use in education in developing countries that you may not have heard about

Michael Trucano's picture
not everyone is riding these big waves ... yet
not everyone is riding these big waves ... yet

Much of what we read and hear discussed about 'emerging trends' in technology use in education is meant largely for audiences in industrialized countries, or for more affluent urban areas in other parts of the world, and is largely based on observations on what is happening in those sorts of places. One benefit of working at a place like the World Bank, exploring issues related to the use of ICTs in education around the world, is that we get to meet with lots of interesting people proposing, and more importantly doing, interesting things in places that are sometimes not widely reported on in the international media (including some exciting 'innovations at the edges').

We are often asked questions like, "What trends are you are noticing that are a bit 'under the radar'?" In case it might be of interest to wider groups and/or provoke some interesting discussion and comment, we thought we'd quickly pull a list of these sorts of things together here.

Let them eat laptops?*

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in my hand I have a very precious gift for youAs a result of reading the recent IDB study on the impact of the One Laptop Per Child project in Peru, my World Bank colleague Berk Ozler recently published a great post on the World Bank's Development Impact blog asking "One Laptop Per Child is not improving reading or math. But, are we learning enough from these evaluations?

Drawing insights from his readings of a few evaluations of technology use (one in Nepal [PDF] and one in Romania) he notes that, at quick glance, some large scale implementations of educational technologies are, for lack of a more technical term, rather a 'mess':

"The reason I call this a mess is because I am not sure (a) how the governments (and the organizations that help them) purchased a whole lot of these laptops to begin with and (b) why their evaluations have not been designed differently – to learn as much as we can from them on the potential of particular technologies in building human capital."

Three members of the team at IDB that led the OLPC Peru evaluation have responded ("One Laptop per Child revisited") in part to question (b) in the portion of Berk's informative and engaging post excerpted above.  I thought I'd try to try to help address question (a).

First let me say: I have no firsthand knowledge of the background to the OLPC Peru project specifically, nor of the motivations of various key actors instrumental in helping to decide to implement the program there as it was implemented, beyond what I have read about it online. (There is quite a lot written about this on the web; I won't attempt to summarize the many vibrant commentaries on this subject, but, for those who speak Spanish or who are handy with online translation tools, some time with your favorite search engine should unearth some related facts and a lot of opinions -- which I don't feel well-placed to evaluate in their specifics.) I have never worked in Peru, and have had only informal contact with some of the key people working on the project there.  The World Bank, while maintaining a regular dialogue with the Ministry of Education in Peru, was not to my knowledge involved in the OLPC project there in any substantive way. The World Bank itself is helping to evaluate a small OLPC pilot in Sri Lanka; a draft set of findings from that research is currently circulating and hopefully it will be released in the not too distant future.

That said, I *have* been involved in various capacities with *lots* of other large scale initiatives in other countries where lots of computers were purchased for use in schools and/or by students and/or teachers, and so I do feel I can offer some general comments based on this experience, in case it might of interest to anyone.

Surveying Mobile Learning Around the World (part two)

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your perspective on mobiles depends on your point of viewThis week we are looking at two sets of new reports that provide insights into the area of 'mobile learning' -- especially the use of handheld devices like mobile phones to help meet a variety of educational objectives. Earlier this week we devoted a post to twelve new reports from UNESCO that provide a broad overview of what is happening in different regions of the world in this area. Shaping the Future – Realizing the potential of informal learning through mobile [pdf], which was released at last week's eLearning Africa event in Benin, provides a nice complement to the UNESCO working paper series.  Whereas the UNESCO reports collectively provide some very useful insights on the supply side, surveying notable 'm-learning' programs currently underway around the world, Shaping the Future examines the demand side of the equation:

"In late 2011, researchers went into four very different emerging markets – Ghana, Morocco, India and Uganda – and asked 1,200 people (aged 15-24) about their day-to-day lives, their ambitions, their education, the way they use mobile now and how mobile could help them achieve their aspirations in the future. At the same time, over 250 young people from those countries took part in detailed focus group discussions where, with great generosity, they shared their hopes, worries and beliefs with us."

Surveying Mobile Learning Around the World (part one)

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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., websites that call you, and other innovations connecting schools to communities

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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?

Textbook policies in an increasingly digital age

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"Should we continue along our current path, or acknowledge that others are blasting off in other directions?The World Bank is revising its Operational Guidelines for Textbooks and Reading Materials [pdf].  Commonly referred to as our 'textbook policy', this is a guidance document for our ‘clients’ and partners in ministries of education and finance, our own staff and (to a lesser extent) broader stakeholder communities interested and involved in the development, procurement, dissemination, and assessment of the use, of learning materials (especially within the context of World Bank-funded projects in the education sector).

The current policy dates from 2002. My first reaction when I heard that the World Bank would be revising its “textbook policy” was to the term itself.  In 2012, surely we should be thinking beyond just 'textbooks', more broadly encompassing a wide variety of educational resources than the traditional conception of a printed book landing with a thud on the desk of a student? Despite regular proclamations from certain quarters about the impending ‘death of the printed book’, printed textbooks – especially in the developing countries where the World Bank is active -- aren’t going away any time soon. That said, there is no doubt that the landscape of and business climate for ‘educational publishers’ is changing radically in much of the world, and that this change is being fueled in large part by the increased distribution and adoption of a variety of disruptive technologies, which are increasingly to be found in schools and local communities, even in some of the poorest.

How might, or should, a new World Bank ‘textbook policy’ be relevant and useful in such a world going forward? How narrowly – or expansively – should it consider its guidance related to learning materials? To what extent should such a policy attempt to signal or highlight the potential relevance or importance of certain trends, approaches or perspectives – especially as they relate to the emergence of a variety of new technologies?

Around the World with Portugal's eEscola Project and Magellan Initiative

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Magellan is not the only famous Portuguese export these daysWhen people think of projects around the world to blanket schools with low cost laptops, initiatives associated with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project often spring first to mind.  On a country level, it is the example of Uruguay that is probably most drawing attention from around the world from people interested in learning about how exactly a country can go about providing computing resources to all of its students, and what might happen as a result.  Indeed, Uruguay is increasingly a 'must visit' stop for education officials from countries planning for massive investments in technology use in their education systems for the first time, as well as from more 'advanced' countries who have not moved forward as quickly as has in attempting to utilize ICTs to transform the way educational activities are delivered and empower students and communities in new ways. (Just last month, the World Bank sponsored delegations from Armenia and Russia to visit the Plan Ceibal headquarters in Uruguay and learn firsthand about the Uruguayan experience from those who have been leading it.)  There is another country whose experience is less well known around the world than Uruguay's, but which is every bit as interesting, but in many different ways: that of Portugal.

Ten things about computer use in schools that you don't want to hear (but I'll say them anyway)

Michael Trucano's picture

I don't want to hear thisAt an event last year in Uruguay for policymakers from around the world, a few experts who have worked in the field of technology use in education for a long time commented that there was, in their opinion and in contrast to their experiences even a few years ago, a surprising amount of consensus among the people gathered together on what was really important, what wasn't, and on ways to proceed (and not to proceed).  Over the past two years, I have increasingly made the same comment to myself when involved in similar discussions in other parts of the world.  At one level, this has been a welcome development.  People who work with the use of ICTs in education tend to be a highly connected bunch, and the diffusion of better (cheaper, faster) connectivity has helped to ensure that 'good practices and ideas' are shared with greater velocity than perhaps ever before.  Even some groups and people associated with the 'give kids computers, expect magic to happen' philosophy appear to have had some of their more extreme views tempered in recent years by the reality of actually trying to put this philosophy into practice.

That said, the fact that "everyone agrees about most everything" isn't always such a good thing.  Divergent opinions and voices are important, if only to help us reconsider why we believe what we believe. (They are also important because they might actually be right, of course, and all of the rest of us wrong, but that's another matter!) Even where there is an emerging consensus among leading thinkers and practitioners about what is critically important, this doesn't mean that what is actually being done reflects this consensus -- or indeed, that this consensus 'expert' opinion is relevant in all contexts.

El desarrollo de una política nacional de tecnología educativa

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 "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?

How (not) to develop ICT literacy in students?

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to teach, or not to teach, basic ICT literacy?
to teach, or not to teach, basic ICT literacy?

In most cases, in most places -- at least in most so-called 'developing countries' -- the use of computers and other ICTs in schools is in practice focused largely on the development of what is commonly referred to or understood as 'ICT or computer literacy'. In fact, in many low and even middle income countries, professed needs to develop 'market-relevant' things like keyboarding skills, a basic understanding of how to navigate computer GUIs and operating systems and a general facility with standard office applications inform some of the primary justifications for the roll-out of computers in schools.

In some such places (case #1), once you have become 'proficient' in using (e.g.) a word processor, the promotion of the development of 'ICT-related skills' stops. (You are now 'computer literate': Time to move along!)

In other places (case #2), there is no shortage of lofty rhetoric around the need to develop '21st century skills' through the use (in part) of ICTs, but if you look at how the equipment is actually being utilized, the reality of ICT use in case #2 is not terribly different in practice than what one sees in the first case.

That said, some people think that way basic ICT literacy is being promoted within many 'digital divide' initiatives in the education sector may over time actually impede progress toward the development of higher order ICT-related skills. This points to a phenomenon associated with the so-called 'Second Digital Divide' (related EduTech blog post), which (in the words of the OECD) "separates those with the competencies and skills to benefit from computer use from those without". For such people, a focus on developing only basic ICT literacy,