For over a decade, the World Bank and the Government of Korea have enjoyed a strong strategic partnership exploring a wide range of issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in education around the world.
One high profile activity under this partnership is the annual Global Symposium on ICT use in Education (GSIE), which has helped to establish Korea as a global hub for insight, knowledge sharing and networking for high level government officials, practitioners and experts around topics related to the use of new technologies in education.
GSIE organizers planned from the beginning to support knowledge exchanges around a few ‘evergreen’ general topics (e.g. like the use of new technologies to support teachers; monitoring and evaluation; and digital competencies for learners) in which KERIS, Korea’s national educational technology agency, has notable experience and expertise.
What organizers did not initially anticipate, however, was the extent to which policymakers were interested not only in learning about what KERIS itself knew, and was learning, about uses of new technologies in education, but also in learning about the institution of KERIS itself – as well as institutions like it.
As it happened, people responsible for starting, leading and/or overseeing national institutions in their countries which performed similar sorts of functions to that of KERIS increasingly made the trek to Korea to participate in the GSIE (as they are doing this week), sharing information and insights with their counterparts about national institutions emerging in countries around the world to help introduce, support, fund, share information about, and evaluate the use of ICTs in education at a large scale.
A new World Bank publication, Building and sustaining national educational technology agencies: Lessons, models and case studies from around the world, attempts to document, analyze and take stock of this phenomenon:
For over a decade, the World Bank and the Government of Korea have enjoyed a strong strategic partnership exploring a wide range of issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in education around the world.
Cette semaine, la Corée du Sud accueille décideurs et autres professionnels venus de par le monde au XIe édition annuelle du Colloque international des TIC éducatives, qui a pour objectif de stimuler un débat sur les enjeux communs concernant la bonne (et mauvaise) application de nouvelles technologies éducatives. Comme lors des éditions précédentes, c’est le Bureau coréen d’information et de recherche en éducation (KERIS) qui organise cet événement.
Les participants représentent en grande partie des organismes chargés de la mise en œuvre des innovations en matière de technologie éducative dans leur propre pays, ou sont fonctionnaires responsables de l’élaboration des politiques publiques qui encadrent lesdits organismes.
Building and Sustaining National Educational Technology Agencies: Lessons, Models and Case Studies from Around the World, rapport récemment publié par la Banque mondiale, fait la présentation et l’analyse d’un ensemble de modèles et expériences de divers pays relatifs à des initiatives nationales en matière d’application de technologies éducatives dans des établissements scolaires. Ces initiatives seront pertinentes pour bon nombre de participants au Colloque de cette année.
Sur la base des entretiens que nous avons eus avec des décideurs de plusieurs pays au cours de la préparation de ce rapport, Gavin Dykes, mon co-auteur, et moi avons élaboré une liste de dix questions thématiques, très simples, en vue de faciliter la concertation pendant les premières étapes de planification d’une agence nationale de technologie éducative. Ces questions visent à faire ressortir d’emblée les enjeux critiques (pouvant parfois porter à confusion) que nous avons retrouvés dans l’expérience d’une vingtaine d’agences établies un peu partout. Nous espérons que ces questions, en provoquant un débat, susciteront une interrogation profonde quant aux liens entre les expériences vécues ailleurs et les priorités spécifiques au système éducatif de votre propre pays.
Si brillantes ou visionnaires que soient les politiques et plans nationaux (présentés dans un rapport ou par un exposé PowerPoint), c’est la traduction de ces politiques et plans en activités concrètes « sur le terrain » qui comptent. Et tout ce travail en amont importe peu si vous n’avez pas en aval les capacités institutionnelles suffisantes pour le mettre réellement en œuvre.
Dans l’espoir qu’elles pourront être utiles aux autorités nationales qui cherchent à constituer et à maintenir ces capacités dans leur pays en vue de créer ou de restructurer une agence nationale technologie éducative, voilà les dix questions:
Many of these participants represent institutions key to the implementation of educational technology efforts in their countries; many others are government officials responsible for developing the policy environments within which these institutions operate.
A new World Bank publication, Building and Sustaining National Educational Technology Agencies: Lessons, Models and Case Studies from Around the World, documents and analyzes a diverse set of implementation models and experiences from around the world related to national initiatives supporting the use of technology in schools of relevance to many of the participants at this year's symposium.
Drawing on interviews and discussions with government policymakers in scores of countries around the world during the course of writing this book, my collaborator Gavin Dykes and I developed a set of ten short, thematic questions to help catalyze discussions during the initial stages of planning for the development of national educational technology ('ICT/education') agencies. These questions are meant to highlight potential areas of critical importance (and confusion), based on the experiences of more than two dozen national ICT/education agencies over time in a diverse set of places. It is hoped that these questions, and the conversations that they provoke, can serve as entry points into deeper, more fundamental discussions, providing a bridge of sorts between the recognition of specific educational needs and priorities in one country with practical experiences in others.
No matter how brilliant or 'visionary' a country's educational technology policies and plans might be on paper, or when expressed as a set of bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation, transforming such policies and plans into practical actions 'on the ground' is what is important. It doesn't really matter what you want to do if you don't have the institutional capacity to do it. In the hope that presenting them here might be useful to countries considering, and re-considering, various models to help develop and sustain this capacity, here are:
a national educational technology agency
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!
One challenge that many countries face along the way is that their procurement procedures are misaligned with what industry is able to provide, and with how industry is able to provide it. Technology changes quickly, and procurement guidelines originally designed to meet the needs of 20th century schooling (with a focus on school construction, for example, and the procurement of textbooks) may be inadequate when trying to operate in today's fast-changing technology environments. Indeed, in education as in other sectors, technological innovations typically far outpace the ability of policymakers to keep up.
Faced with considering the use of new, 'innovative' tools and approaches that hadn't been tried before at any large scale within its country's schools, education policymakers may reflexively turn to precedent and 'old' practices to guide their decisions, especially when it comes to procurement. This is usually seen within government ministries as a prudent course of action, given that such an approach is consistent with the status quo, and that related safeguards are (hopefully) in place. As a result, however, they may end up driving forward into the future primarily by looking in the rear view mirror.
When considering the scope for introducing various types of technology-enabled 'innovations' (however one might like to define that term) into their education systems, many governments face some fundamental challenges:
- They don't know exactly what they want.
- They don't have the in-house experience or expertise to determine if what they want is practical, or even feasible, nor do they know what everything should cost.
In such circumstances:
- What is a ministry of education to do?
- How can it explore innovative approaches to the procurement of 'innovative' large scale educational technology programs in ways that are practical, appropriate, cost-effective, likely to yield good results, informed by research and international 'good practice', and transparent?
For all of the recent explosion in data related to learning -- as a result of standardized tests, etc. -- remarkably little is known at scale about what exactly happens in classrooms around the world, and outside of them, when it comes to learning, and what the impact of this has.
This isn't to say that we know nothing, of course:
The World Bank (to cite an example from within my own institution) has been using standardized classroom observation techniques to help document what is happening in many classrooms around the world (see, for example, reports based on modified Stallings Method classroom observations across Latin America which seek to identify how much time is actually spent on instruction during school hours; in many cases, the resulting data generated are rather appalling).
Common sense holds various tenets dear when it comes to education, and to learning; many educators profess to know intuitively what works, based on their individual (and hard won) experience, even in the absence of rigorously gathered, statistically significant 'hard' data; the impact of various socioeconomic factors is increasingly acknowledged (even if many policymakers remain impervious to them); and cognitive neuroscience is providing many interesting insights.
But in many important ways, education policymaking and processes of teaching and learning are constrained by the fact that we don't have sufficient, useful, actionable data about what is actually happening with learners at a large scale across an education system -- and what impact this might have. Without data, as Andreas Schleicher likes to say, you are just another person with an opinion. (Of course, with data you might be a person with an ill-considered or poorly argued opinion, but that’s another issue.)
|side observation: Echoing many teachers (but, in contrast to teaching professionals, usually with little or no formal teaching experience themselves), I find that many parents and politicians also profess to know intuitively ‘what works’ when it comes to teaching. When it comes to education, most everyone is an ‘expert’, because, well, after all, everyone was at one time a student. While not seeking to denigrate the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, or downplay the value of common sense, I do find it interesting that many leaders profess to have ready prescriptions at hand for what ‘ails education’ in ways that differ markedly from the ways in which they approach making decisions when it comes to healthcare policy, for example, or finance – even though they themselves have also been patients and make spending decisions in their daily lives.|
One of the great attractions of educational technologies for many people is their potential to help open up and peer inside this so-called black box. For example:
- When teachers talk in front of a class, there are only imperfect records of what transpired (teacher and student notes, memories of participants, what's left on the blackboard -- until that's erased). When lectures are recorded, on the other hand, there is a data trail that can be examined and potentially mined for related insights.
- When students are asked to read in their paper textbook, there is no record of whether the book was actually opened, let along whether or not to the correct page, how long a page was viewed, etc. Not so when using e-readers or reading on the web.
- Facts, figures and questions scribbled on the blackboard disappear once the class bell rings; when this information is entered into, say, Blackboard TM (or any other digital learning management system, for that matter), they can potentially live on forever.
|A few years ago I worked on a large project where a government was planning to introduce lots of new technologies into classrooms across its education system. Policymakers were not primarily seeking to do this in order to ‘transform teaching and learning’ (although of course the project was marketed this way), but rather so that they could better understand what was actually happening in classrooms. If students were scoring poorly on their national end-of-year assessments, policymakers were wondering: Is this because the quality of instruction was insufficient? Because the learning materials used were inadequate? Or might it be because the teachers never got to that part of the syllabus, and so students were being assessed on things they hadn’t been taught? If technology use was mandated, at least they might get some sense about what material was being covered in schools – and what wasn’t. Or so the thinking went ....|
Yes, such digital trails are admittedly incomplete, and can obscure as much as they illuminate, especially if the limitations of such data are poorly understood and data are investigated and analyzed incompletely, poorly, or with bias (or malicious intent). They also carry with them all sorts of very important and thorny considerations related to privacy, security, intellectual property and many other issues.
That said, used well, the addition of additional data points holds out the tantalizing promise of potentially new and/or deeper insights than has been currently possible within 'analogue' classrooms.
But there is another 'black box of education' worth considering.
In many countries, there have been serious and expansive efforts underway to compel governments make available more ‘open data’ about what is happening in their societies, and to utilize more ‘open educational resources’ for learning – including in schools. Many international donor and aid agencies support related efforts in key ways. The World Bank is a big promoter of many of these so-called ‘open data’ initiatives, for example. UNESCO has long been a big proponent of ‘open education resources’ (OERs). To some degree, pretty much all international donor agencies are involved in such activities in some way.
There is no doubt that increased ‘openness’ of various sorts can help make many processes and decisions in the education sector more transparent, as well as have other benefits (by allowing the re-use and ‘re-mixing’ of OERs, teachers and students can themselves help create new teaching and learning materials; civil society groups and private firms can utilize open data to help build new products and services; etc.).
What happens when governments promote the use of open education data and open education resources but, at the same time, refuse to make openly available the algorithms (formulas) that are utilized to draw insights from, and make key decisions based on, these open data and resources?
- Are we in danger of opening up one black box, only to place another, more inscrutable back box inside of it?
One of the early, decidedly modest goals for this event was simply to bring together key decisionmakers from across Asia (and a few other parts of the world -- it would become more global with each passing year) in an attempt to help figure out what was actually going on with technology use in education in a cross-section of middle and low income countries, and to help policymakers make personal, working level connections with leading practitioners -- and with each other. Many countries were announcing ambitious new technology-related education initiatives, but it was often difficult to separate hope from hype, as well as to figure out how lofty policy pronouncements might actually translate to things happening at the level of teachers and learners 'on-the-ground'.
As the first country to move from being a recipient of World Bank donor assistance to become a full-fledged donor itself, Korea presented in many ways an ideal host for the event. (Still is!) The Korean story of economic development over the past half century has been the envy of policymakers in many other places, who see in that country's recent past many similarities to their own current situations. Known for its technological prowess (home to Samsung and many other high tech companies) and famous in education circles for the performance of its students on international assessments like PISA, educational technology issues could be found at the intersection of two important components in a Venn diagram of 'Brand Korea'.
Since that first global symposium, over 1400 policymakers from (at least by my quick count) 65 countries have visited Korea annually as part of the global symposium to see and learn first hand from Korean experiences with the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education, to be exposed to some of the latest related research around the world, to share information with each other about what was working -- and what wasn't -- and what might be worth trying in the future (and what to avoid). Along the way, Korea has come to be seen as a global hub for related information and knowledge, and KERIS itself increasingly is regarded by many countries as a useful organizational model to help guide their own efforts to help implement large scale educational technology initiatives.
While international events bringing together policymakers to discuss policy issues related to the use of new technologies in education are increasingly common these days, across Asia and around the world, back in 2007 the Global Symposium on ICT Use in Education represented the first regularly scheduled annual event of its type (at least to my knowledge; there were many one-off regional events, of course, many of the good ones organized by UNESCO) bringing together policymakers from highly developed, middle and low income countries.
Participating in the event for each of the past ten years has offered me a front row seat to observe how comparative policy discussions have evolved over the past decade in a way that is, I think, somewhat unique. What follows is a quick attempt to descibe some of what has changed over the years. (The indefatigable Jongwon Seo at KERIS is, I think, the only other person to have participated in all ten global symposia. As such, he is a sort of spiritual co-author of these reflections -- or at least the ones which may offer any useful insights. I'm solely responsible for any of the banal, boring or inaccurate comments that follow.)
It is conventional wisdom in many quarters -- indeed, for some people it approaches the level of 'incontrovertible fact' -- that young people are 'digital natives', possessed of some sort of innate ability to understand and utilize digital devices and applications merely because of their youth, because they have 'grown up surrounded by technology', in ways that older folks can't -- and perhaps never will. Anecdotes from amazed and proud parents and grandparents detailing how adept little Johnny (or Gianni, or Krishna, or Yidan, or Fatima, or Omar, or Maria) is at manipulating his (or her) parents' mobile phone or tablet "even though s/he doesn't even know how to read yet!" are commonly heard in conversations around the world.
In a very influential essay that appeared about 15 years ago ("Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" [pdf]), Mark Prensky coined the term 'digital natives', asserting that "students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet" and that, as a result, "today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors". In contrast, "[t]hose of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants." While Prensky's views on this topic have evolved over the years and become more nuanced (those interested in his particular views may wish to visit his web site), this original definition and delineation of what it means to be a digital native and a digital immigrant remains quite potent for many people.
At the same time, and for over a decade, this assertion has come under consistent challenge and criticism from many academics, who contest various aspects of the 'digital natives myth', as well as the policy and design implications that often flow from them. The observable differences at the heart of the digital native narrative relate more to culture, or to geography, to socio-economic status or even just to personal preferences than they do to age, critics argue. No doubt some of these folks may glance at this post and ask: 'Digital natives', haven't we moved on from that stuff? When it comes to related academic discourse, the answer to this question is probably a qualified 'yes, at least in some circles'.
That said, in my experience, the digital natives hypothesis remains alive and well in many educational policymaking circles (as it does with many parents -- and grandparents, and marketers, and with many kids themselves), especially in places around the world that are just now beginning to roll-out or consider the use of educational technologies at a wide scale. Indeed, while meeting with education ministries on three different continents over the course of the last month, I've had very senior education officials in three different governments explain to me how the concept of 'digital natives' was central for their vision for education going forward. These recent conversations -- and many others -- prompted me to write this quick blog post (as well as one that will follow).
"Digitale Teilhabe für alle" (digital participation for everyone) was the theme of last week's Volkshochschultag 2016, an international conference convened in Berlin by the German Adult Education Association (DVV) to explore the impact and consequences of the increasing use of digital technologies in education around the world, especially as they relate to equity and inclusion. "Does digitisation provide an opportunity for educational justice or does it strengthen the unequal access to education even more?" This question (which admittedly flows off the tongue a little better in German than it does in English) animated a related debate (in which I participated) on the last day of the conference.
In support of my pithy, one word response to this question (an enthusiastic and deliberately argumentative ja!), I drew heavily on the 2016 World Development Report, which the World Bank released earlier this year. This widely read, 'flagship' annual World Bank publication explores a topic of broad relevance in the fields of international development and development economics. The 2016 report, Digital Dividends [pdf, 10.8mb), examines the impact that the Internet and mobile networks are having (and not having) around the world.
As a primer on the uses of ‘informational and communication technologies for development’ (what’s known as ‘ICT4D’ by those in related fields who like acronyms), the 2016 World Development Report is quite comprehensive. Surveying and exploring how ICTs are impacting fields such as agriculture, finance, government services, education, energy, the environment and healthcare (and many others), ‘Digital Dividends’ is a World Bank report written for people who don’t normally read (or perhaps even care about) World Bank reports.
It is relatively catholic in its worldview, although not surprisingly there is a decided focus on things the Bank cares about (e.g. economic growth, jobs), but thankfully in language a bit more accessible than what one often finds in publications put out by an institution which employs over 1,000 PhD economists. Happily, there’s not a single mention of a ‘production function’, for example; and I really like the cover!
But I don’t mean to ‘bury the lede’, as journalists say. Here, quickly, are the main messages from the 2016 World Development Report:
What to do?
How do you strike a balance between the immediate needs of students *right now* and an education system's requirements to train teachers to help meet such needs over the long term?
The traditional approach to dealing with such a challenge in many places has been to focus primarily on pre-service training, gradually introducing new teachers into classrooms over many years who have prepared to teach the subject through dedicated courses of study at teacher training colleges, together with occasional in-service professional development activities for existing teachers (normally during holiday breaks). In Uruguay, it was recognized that the gap between the abilities and capacities of many teachers to teach English, and student needs to learn English (which became compulsory in 2008) was so huge in many parts of the country that they needed to do things differently than they had done in the past. Instead of having teachers learn English separately, might it be possible to have them learn alongside their students, in their own classrooms?
As it happens, almost a decade ago Uruguay began its ambitious and innovative Plan Ceibal, which (among other things, and as profiled in a number of previous posts on the EduTech blog) made this small South American nation the first country to connect all of its schools to the Internet and provide all primary school children with a free laptop.
Given the technical infrastructure and know-how that was developed under Plan Ceibal, Uruguayan policymakers asked themselves:
and all students have their own laptops,
might it be possible to offer high quality
English language instruction live over the Internet,
connecting to teachers many miles away from the schools?
The answer to this question, it would appear, is 'yes'. Working out of its remote teaching center in Buenos Aires, its global digital learning hub in the neighboring country of Argentina, the British Council is beaming out English lessons to children in hundreds of individual classrooms across Uruguay, complementing and supporting the work of local teachers in these same classrooms. This is not a 1-to-many broadcast of the sort commonly done in many countries through the use of broadcast television, but rather connects individual classrooms in Uruguay with individual teachers sitting in other places. Some of these English teachers are based in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, many others next door in Argentina, and still others much further afield -- including halfway around the world in the Philippines and the UK! Along the way, the capacity of local teachers, who continue to lead English classes on their own other days of the week, is developed, through their interactions with and observations of the remote teachers.