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.
The Inter-american Development Bank (IDB) recently released the first set of results from its on-going, multi-year randomized evaluation of the impact of the OLPC project in Peru.
Experimental Assessment of the Program "One Laptop Per Child" in Peru (Spanish version here) is the first rigorous attempt to examine the impact of the largest '1-to-1 computing' initiative in a developing country. This evaluation, done in concert with the Ministry of Education, looks at the ambitious program to provide computing resources to multi-grade rural elementary schools in some of the poorer communities of Peru.
The World Bank recently released a draft version of its new Education Sector Strategy 2020 for public comment, the culmination of a global consultation effort over the past year that has included dedicated multi-stakeholder meetings in and with over 70 countries around the world.
In a blog post announcing the release of the draft strategy requesting public comment, World Bank education sector director Elizabeth King poses the question, "What will the world look like in 2020?"
Now, some folks will question the utility of trying to look and plan ten years ahead. Fair enough, such criticisms are duly noted. (As someone who works in the area of technology, where the winds of innovation can quickly and radically change the operating landscape, challenging deeply held assumptions about what's possible, I do profess a healthy amount a skepticism in this regard.) That said, World Bank education projects often take two to three years to plan and negotiate and then often last for five to seven years, and so a ten-year time frame is actual relevant in practice. As returns on investments in education generally are often thought to be best considered over a long time horizon, it is thought that the development and articulation of a long term vision and strategy for engagement in and support for the education sector beyond individual budget cycles has some value. In addition, the articulation of a strategy such as this can have an important signalling effect to partners about the direction the institution is moving in.
During the strategy consultation process, and especially since its publication in draft form, I have been asked by many groups what the World Bank's new strategy may mean for issues related to the use of ICTs in the education sector. (fyi The World Bank's ICT group is also currently in the process of revising its ICT policy, which will contain a section looking at education.) I am not sure it is my place to do so, but I thought I'd offer here some quick comments on the draft education sector strategy in response to such queries, as an input into the final round of feedback that has been requested by 30 November, and especially in the hope that doing so will provoke additional comments and responses. There is an official comments form available on the education sector strategy site. For those whose comments don't fit neatly into the format requested there, feel free to post comments below and I will make sure they are seen by the education strategy team.
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.)
One question I am regularly asked (by colleagues at funding agencies, in governments, and from private groups looking to network with like-minded groups) is,
Can you point us to some innovative or exemplary ICT & education projects in developing countries?
As follow-up, they often note that "We already know about prominent projects like Microsoft Partners in Learning, Intel Teach and One Laptop Per Child, but what else is out there that we should know about?"
In an attempt to help provide partial answers to such queries, this post is a continuation of sorts of a blog entry we published in 2009 which continues to generate a good amount of regular traffic despite being over a year old, Finding (useful) research on ICT use in education in developing countries. Those who haven't read that post, but who have made it this far through this one, are encouraged to go back and read it, as the information in it is still quite relevant (and so I won't repeat much of it here), as well as a post from early 2010 on ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch -- and Learn From.
When is the rigorous impact evaluation of development projects a luxury, and when is it a necessity?
This is a question asked in a new paper examing the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), a high profile initiative that, according to its web site, offers a "bold, innovative model for helping rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty".
In the words of one of the authors of When Does Rigorous Impact Evaluation Make a Difference? The Case of the Millennium Villages, "We show how easy it can be to get the wrong idea about the project’s impacts when careful, scientific impact evaluation methods are not used. And we detail how the impact evaluation could be done better, at low cost." The paper underscores the importance of comparing trends identified within a project activity with those in comparator sites if one is to determine the actual impact of a specific project. This sentiment should come as no surprise to those familiar with an area of exploding interest in the international donor and development community -- that of the usefulness of randomized evaluations.
Over the past decade or so, increasing numbers of groups have been working on answers to variations of the following question:
How can the wealth of educational resources on the Internet be brought to the majority of African schools that are today 'un-connected'?
While the Internet has not wrought the similar types of profound, broad societal changes in Africa that it has in other parts of the world, the connectivity landscape in Africa is in fact changing very quickly in many places (for the better!), with (for example) macro-level announcements about progress with new fibre optic cables coming on what seems like a weekly basis.
(For those who like such things, here's a great map to track technical progress in this area. For acronym fans, here are links to announcements about some of the major backbone connectivity initiatives in Africa: Glo, RCIP, EASSy, TEAMS, Seacom and LION2.)
Earlier this year the total number of mobile phone subscribers in Africa (over 300 million) passed the total in North America and, while access to the Internet via mobile phones is still low across the continent, it is growing quickly. In Nigeria, for example, published reports now have mobile phones as the primary access device to the Internet in Africa's most populous country. There is even increasing talk (and some action) of connecting African educational institutions to the 'cloud' in various ways.
That said, it also undeniable that improvements in connectivity are not coming fast enough, or at a high enough speed or quality, or cheaply enough, for all citizens and schools, especially outside major population centers -- and won't any time in the near future.
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.
When discussing plans for various uses of ICTs in education, one of the questions that we are regularly asked at the World Bank by Ministries of Education is (for better or for worse),
"What are the new low-cost educational technologies?"
Some observers argue that this emphasis on the retail prices of individual educational technology products diverts our attention from more important and fundamental issues. Let's acknowledge such concerns ... but put them aside for the moment in an attempt to help respond to such a popular question.
Much lip service is paid in various quarters to the potential use of mobile phones in education in developing countries. That said, concrete examples of such use -- especially projects that have gone beyond small initial pilot stages -- remain few and far between. This is beginning to change. One interesting project can be found in Bangladesh, where the BBC World Service Trust and BBC Learning English are implementing the Janala project, an initiative that is providing English language lessons to citizens via their mobile phones as part of the wider English in Action program in Bangladesh, funded by the UK's Department for International Development (UKaid).
Some of people involved with the Janala project recently shared some information about what they have been doing -- and learning -- as part of a discussion series at USAID around 'mobile education' topics (the other project presented in the latest session was the MILLEE project, which has been profiled on this blog before). I was fortunate enough to be be able to sit in on the presentation, at the kind invitation of USAID educational technology team, and thought I'd share some brief highlights: