Despite their increased diffusion through rich and poor communities around the world, many people still have serious reservations about large scale investments in information and communication technologies (ICTs) within education systems. Spirited and long-running related debates related to their costs ("too expensive", their critics say), appropriateness ("students needs lots of things before they need computers") and impact on learning outcomes ("we haven't seen any") continue in many places, and reasonable people can (and do!) take different sides of such debates. There is, however, a low-cost educational technology with a long history that has demonstrated postive impact in many developing countries -- educational radio, specifically what is known as interactive radio instruction (IRI).
Information and Communication Technologies
In business and in international development circles, much is made about the potential for 'learning from best practice'. Considerations of the use of educational technologies offer no exception to this impulse. That said, 'best practice' in the education sector is often a rather elusive concept (at best! some informed observers would say it is actually dangerous). The term 'good practice' may be more useful, for in many (if not most) cases and places, learning from and adapting 'good' practices is often much more practical -- and more likely to lead to success. Given that many initiatives seem immune to learning from either 'best' or even 'good' practice in other places or contexts, it may be most practical to recommend 'lots of practice', as there appears to be a natural learning curve that accompanies large scale adoption of ICTs in the education sector in many countries -- even if this means 'repeating the mistakes' of others.
But do we really need to repeat the mistakes of others? If adopting 'best practice' is fraught with difficulties, and 'good practice' often noted but ignored, perhaps it is useful instead to look at 'worst practice'. The good news is that, in the area of ICT use in education, there appears to be a good deal of agreement about what this is!
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.)
One of the key findings from a recent report by the OECD was that "the digital divide in education goes beyond the issue of access to technology. A second digital divide separates those with the competencies and skills to benefit from computer use from those without."
Most visitors to this blog will be quite familiar with the term digital divide, which was popularized in the 1990s as the Internet exploded into public consciousness, but which has been around in concept for a few decades. Much of the related dialogue, and certainly most of the action by governments in developing countries, has so far treated unequal access to ICTs (especially the Internet) as a largely technical challenge at the core of digital divide initiatives, and as a result technical solutions have been explored and implemented (usually led by very technical people) all over the world.
What's different about a 'second' digital divide?
Later today the 2010 Horizon Report: K-12 Edition will be formally released, the latest in a series of influential annual publications identifying "emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, research or creative expression within education around the globe". Where there are references in the popular press to 'key trends in technology use in education', the Horizon Reports are quite often, directly or indirectly, the source. Previous editions of the Horizon Report influenced the selection of global educational technology trends discussed on this blog by Bob Hawkins in a heavily read post back in January.
This latest Horizon Report, a collaboration between the New Media Consortium and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) [disclaimer: I served on the project advisory board for this year's edition], is short and easy to read, and helpfully contains pointers to many examples/illustrations of projects representative of the various emerging educational technology trends. And the trends themselves? Here are the ones that made this year's list:
cross-posted on the infoDev web site
The launch, to take place at the World Bank office at Lodi Estate in New Delhi, India, will be accompanied by a lively Oxford-style debate on the motion:
"Most investment in technology
in schools is wasted.
The event is open to the public and will be webcast (visit the event web page to register to attend the event and/or to receive webcast details via email).
One of the first ever posts on the World Bank EduTech blog was about a purported US$10 computer for education in India. While the hype around that effort has considerably cooled, efforts to provide a $10 educational computer have not gone totally cold. PlayPower is exploring such a device -- and you may be surprised at how they are going about it.
As Derek Lomas explains in the accompanying video, one of the ways that PlayPower is able to cut costs is to utilize a technology available even in some of the poorest communities in developing countries -- a television.
(The idea to cut the cost of basic computing in such places by utilizing TVs as the display mechanism is not new; industry pioneers like Raj Reddy and Ashok Jhunjhunwala, among others, have championed efforts in this regard through the years, with varying degrees of success.)
Next week the World Bank is holding a forum on public-private sector partnerhips (PPPs) in the education sector as part of its ongoing initiative investigating this increasingly important topic.
Consideration of the formation and use of PPPs is especially relevant in many countries when the use of ICTs at scale in the education sector is considered. There a variety of reasons for this, but two of the most common reasons that governments give in support of the use of PPPs in this area are related to (1) cost and financing issues ("this stuff is expensive, so we need to find creative ways to share costs"); and (2) the perception that competence and experience in new, 'innovative' areas like the use of ICTs is best found in the private sector, and not government ("the IT people are more advanced than we are in government, so partnering with them is a way for us to 'catch up'"). While developing countries as diverse as Kenya and the Philippines are exploring this in a variety of ways, some of the most interesting and varied cases of PPPs to support the use of ICTs in education can be found in India.
Many developing countries have embarked upon – and others are seriously considering – large-scale roll-outs of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in their education sector. Similar processes began in most OECD countries 10-20 years ago, in many middle income countries more recently. Structurally, education systems organize themselves in various ways to fund, implement and oversee these sorts of initiatives, which are typically quite expensive – and complex – and the related organizations evolve, in ways incremental and radical, over time.
Despite the highly varied local contexts, in most countries, a single institution is core to the implementation of ICT/education initiatives.
What do we know about how such institutions work, and what suggestions might we have for governments creating such institutions for the first time, supporting these sorts of agencies over time, and/or restructuring such organizations to meet future challenges?
As a follow up to my last post on educational games, I wanted to provide an update on EVOKE – nearly two weeks into the game. For those of you who missed my last post, Evoke is a social networking game that is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The "text book" for this course is an online graphic novel. Set in the year 2020, the graphic novel follows the efforts of a mysterious network of Africa’s best problem-solvers. Each week, as players unravel the mystery of the Evoke network, they will form their own innovation networks: brainstorming creative solutions to real-world development challenges, learning more about what it takes to be a successful social innovator, and finding ways to make a difference in the world.