In a post today on the Education for Global Development' blog, World Bank education sector director Elizabeth King reports back from Jomtein, Thailand on the High Level Group Meeting on Education For All (EFA). This event was a successor, of sorts, to the landmark event convened in Jomtein back in 1990 that kickstarted the global movement for 'Education For All', which has been a primary goal for many developing countries (supported by most international development agencies) for the past two decades. The title of Beth's blog post sums up her message very nicely ("Jomtien, 20 Years Later: Global Education for All Partners Must Renew Commitment to Learning") and echoes key themes and perspectives expressed in her keynote address [link to pdf] to 50 education ministers back in January at the Education World Forum. I won't try to summarize her calls to action any more here (for that, I recommend you see the text of her blog and, especially, her excellent keynote speech). I would, however, like to use the opportunity to revisit the question of the relevance of ICTs to this global agenda.
Back in 2008, a World Bank study on Textbooks and School Library Provision in Secondary Education in Sub-Saharan Africa [pdf] noted that "There is little or no evidence in any of the 19 countries reviewed of any systematic approach to, or consideration of, the full range of secondary textbook cost reduction strategies", adding that "Only 1 out of 19 countries studied (Botswana) had adequate textbook provision at close to a 1:1 ratio for all subjects and all grades."
In other words: There aren't enough textbooks for most students in Africa, and what is available is too expensive.
A number of groups are looking at this reality and wondering if the use of inexpensive e-book readers may be able to help. One such group at the World Bank is exploring an e-book pilot initiative in Nigeria (which has been examined previously on the EduTech blog). This pilot is looking at what it might take to deliver textbooks in digital formats for reading by secondary school students on dedicated e-readers, and what might happen as a result. It is not just looking at the use of official textbooks, however. The project team is also seeking to investigate the potential impact on educational achievement of making small libraries of digital books available to students on e-readers. In doing so, it is intrigued by studies such as Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations, which found that
A previous post on the EduTech blog asked, Is there a role for ICTs in international donor aid strategies for the education sector? Today we would like to turn that question around a little bit, and ask:
In many places around the world, the costs associated with investments in educational technologies are perceived to be prohibitive (and often higher than one may initially calculate). That said, there are few places where such investments are not under active consideration.
On this blog, I have criticized
"the often singleminded focus, even obsession, on the retail price of ICT devices alone, which is in many ways a distraction from more fundamental discussions of the uses of educational technologies to meet a wide variety of educational goals in ways that are relevant, appropriate and cost-effective."
I have also wondered,
"What are the costs of not investing in ICT use in education? Can we afford them?"
Reasonable people can and will disagree about what the associated costs are for ICT/education initiatives -- as well as how to calculate them, and what these costs might/should be, relative to other potential uses of scarce funds (teacher and administrative salaries, books, school infrastructure, health and feeding programs for students, etc.)
Reasonable people can also disagree on what the impact to date of such investments has been -- a frequent topic here on this blog.
But let's leave aside such discussions and debate for now.
As part of engagements in various countries, I sometimes propose the following 'thought experiment' to provoke policymakers to take a step back (or two -- or five!) and think more broadly about why they are looking to introduce ICTs in their schools. As part of this process, I present the following scenario:
Let's assume that, by 2025, *all* hardware and software costs related to the use of information and communication technologies to support learning were zero.
How might this change the way you consider the use of ICTs to support the goals of your education system?
If we removed considerations of cost from the equation, how might we conceive of the use of technologies in education? Would our approach then be consistent with our approach today?
While computers and other ICT tools offer much potential to impact learning, teaching, and educational service delivery in beneficial ways, the use of such technologies also carries with it a variety of risks -- especially for children. While most people are familiar with attention-grabbing headlines related to pornography, sexual harrassment, illegal downloading and 'inappropriate' or political speech, these are only a few of the issues related to keeping kids safe online. In some places, for example, cyberbullying appears to be a more pervasive day-to-day threat for many students, and people are also increasingly understanding potential 'threats' to children related to things like privacy and data security.
To date, most of the internationally comparative work on issues related to child digital safety has taken place in 'developed' OECD countries, and the documentation and analysis of these risks in devellping country environmrnts, and their related policy responses, is largely unstudied. As noted in a recent publication from the Berkman Center at Harvard University and UNICEF,
"One of the next steps should identifying the problems children in developing nations are facing and map these issues in the respective technological, social, and economic context; from there, we will be better equipped to develop tangible, accessible targeted solutions and resources."
After finding out that I had visited the recent BETT show in London (billed as the world's largest educational technology trade show -- previous post here), a number of people who also attended asked me versions of the same query:
Where was all of the mobile (phone) learning?
As part of our advisory work here at the World Bank on ICT and education topics, we are often asked not only for advice, perspectives and information, but also for strategies on locating various types of information.
For example, we often get asked by countries for examples of 'ICT and education policies' to help inform their own planning processes in this area. We get this request so often that we have decided to (more) systematically document and catalog these sorts of policy documents in the coming months, with the assistance of some of our partner organizations, and make them widely available as part of a global ICT/education policy database. We'll provide periodic updates on this work on this blog.
Until then, and it case it might be useful to anyone looking for such things, we thought we'd post some thoughts on how others might locate and retrieve these sorts of documents themselves, as we have done previously for topics like Tracking ICT use in education across Africa and Finding (useful) research on ICT use in education in developing countries.
The annual BETT Show, which takes place every January in London, claims to be the "world's largest education technology exhibition and trade show", with over 600 exhibitors and 100 seminars. Those who visit it are typically overwhelmed by the vast scale of the exhibition space at London-Olympia, by the big crowds, and, for lack of a better term, all of the cool stuff. As in past years, I was fortunate to be able to participate in the Education World Forum (EWF), an annual gathering of 60+ education ministers that occurs during the two days before BETT begins (the last morning of the Forum actually takes place at BETT itself), and so was able to stay on and tour the BETT exhibition space. As in previous years, my goal was to visit every vendor and exhibitor.
In case it might be of any interest, and like I did back in 2009, I thought I would share some random impressions (ten of them, in fact) from this tour below:
Kentaro Toyama has started 2011 off 'with a bang' on our sister Education Technology Debate site, which is sponsored by our friends at infoDev and UNESCO.
There is much to comment on in Kentaro's post, 'There Are No Technology Shortcuts to Good Education' -- to say nothing of the insights and assertions in the 100+ comments that follow it, many of them from people who are quite well known in the field. Subsequent contributions on the ETD site from Larry Cuban, Cristobal Cobo, Claudia Urrea and Lowell Monke should provide further grist for debate and discussion.
Kentaro lays out a number of arguments in his piece. One of them is the following:
"I’ve so far argued that technology in education has a poor historical record; that computers in schools typically fail to have positive impact (with the rare exceptions occurring only in the context of competent, well-funded schools); that information technology is almost never worth its opportunity cost; and that quality education doesn’t require information technology."
My aim here is not to contest (or support) any of the assertions in Kentaro's piece (I'd recommend you look in the comments section of the ETD site for this sort of thing). Rather, it is to note that, in many instances, Kentaro's assumptions about what drives policy may well be beside the point.
Initially conceived by a diverse set of partner organizations during one of the follow-up meetings to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as a way to continue in public a number of on-going discussions that were largely occurring in private, since 2009 infoDev's EduTech Debate web site has featured contributions from an eclectic mix of experts and practitioners on a variety of topics related to the uses of ICTs in education, especially as they relate to developing countries. Drawing inspiration from an online debate sponsored by the Economist in late 2007, the ETD site has featured disagreements (and occasional agreements) on around themes like impact assessment, gender, sustainability and a variety of specific technology tools.
Re-visiting some of the issues explored in that Economist debate, in 2011 the EduTech Debate site kicks off by hosting a high level discussion around the question, Are ICT investments in schools an education revolution or fool’s errand?