It's been four years since the The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project (known then as the '$100 laptop) was announced. According to recent unconfirmed news reports from India, one quarter million of the little green and white OLPC XO laptops are now on order for use in 1500 hundred schools on the subcontinent. Four years on, what have we learned about the impact of various OLPC pilots that might be of relevance to a deployment in India? Thankfully, preliminary results are starting to circulate among researchers. While nothing yet has approached what many consider to be the gold standard of evaluation work in this area, some of this research is beginning to see the light of day (or at least the Internet) -- and more is planned.
For some people in other parts of the world, it was the picture of two top Mexican futbol teams playing earlier this week in an empty Estadio Azteca (one of the world's largest capacity stadiums) that made clear the severity of the current swine flu outbreak. While the sporting passions of the 100,000 missing spectators could presumably satisfied by watching the game on TV, it was less clear how to immediately satisfy the learning needs of over seven million students who were sent home after their schools were ordered closed.
Many educational reformers have long held out hope that computers and other information and computer technologies (ICTs) can play crucial and integral roles in bringing about long-needed changes to education systems. Indeed, many see the introduction of ICTs in schools as a sort of Trojan horse, out of which educational reform and innovation can spring once inside the walls of the traditional (conservative) education establishment. While not denying the potentially transformational impact of ICT use to help meet a wide variety of educational objectives, history has shown that bringing about positive disruptive change isn't achieved by simply flooding schools with computers and related ICTs.
As a result of swine flu, many Mexican schools are experiencing quick, disruptive change of a different sort right now. How might technology be relevant in cases like this? Given the status quo, the use of technology in schools isn't enough to bring about systemic change. But: How might ICTs be useful, even transformational, when this status quo is severely disrupted by some other exogenous factor ... like a pandemic disease outbreak?
Earlier this month, the World Bank and the Global Distance Learning Network (GDLN) helped to facilitate a "South-South" dialogue on the use of ICT as part of larger education reform initiatives. The video for the event is now available online. This dialogue, mediated by one of Indonesia's leading talk show hosts and watched live by groups in eight Asian countries, included exchanges between the ministers of education in both Indonesia and Jordan, as well as contributions from other leading figures involved in education and technology in those two countries. Dr. Thiam Seng Koh of the National Institute of Education in Singapore brought in perspectives from the experiences of Singapore, considered one of the world leaders in thinking -- and action -- in this field.
With the buzz from this year's influential TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference (9-13 February) now starting to fade, I thought it might be interesting to re-visit some of the highlights from past conferences on topics related to ICT and education. While presentations at the conference cover a wide variety of topics, some 'TEDtalks' provide quite illuminating, and sometimes quite provocative, glimpses and insights into how technology *might* be used in various innovative ways to enhance education in the future. I am regularly amazed at the number of times that people in ministries of education all around the world ask me about something they first learned about through TED. While we were, yet again, not in attendance this year, the conference organizers have done the wonderful (and laudable!) job of making available the 'TEDtalks' through the TED web site for free.
Despite increasing attention to the impact of ICT on teaching and learning in various ways, the ICT/education field continues to be littered with examples of poor evaluation work. A few of them arrive in my in-box every week.
There are many potential reasons advanced for the general poor quality of much of this work. One is simple bias -- many evaluations are done and/or financed by groups greatly invested in the success of a particular initiative, and in such cases findings of positive impact are almost foregone conclusions. Many (too many, some will argue) evaluations are restricted to gauging perceptions of impact, as opposed to actual impact. Some studies are dogged by sloppy science (poor methodologies, questionable data collection techniques), others attempt to extrapolate finds from carefully nurtured, hothouse flower pilot projects in ways that are rather dubious. (The list of potential explanations is long; we'll stop here for now.)
Going forward, isn't it more likely that the ICT tool of choice for students in developing countries will be the mobile phone, and not the computer? This is a question of hot debate in many circles. Whatever the eventual resulution of this debate (and no doubt it will not yield a simple either/or answer), there are still precious few widespread examples of the use of phones for education purposes in classrooms in developing countries. It's inevitable that various forms of low cost handheld computing and communication devices for students (and perhaps one of these will be something still called a 'phone') will proliferate in schools in developing countries in the coming decade. But perhaps the mobile phone's impact in the education sector will be more widely, and quickly, felt in another way?
infoDev has released its two-volume Survey of ICT & Education in the Caribbean. This work, which includes an overview of regional trends and initiatives, as well as sixteen country reports, complements earlier work that infoDev did in Africa and that UNESCO released (way back in 2004) for the Asia-Pacific region.
This study finds that:
In general, the experiences and situations among the countries examined vary only within a limited range. Countries differ in terms of their goals for the introduction of ICT and in the pathways they have chosen to achieve those goals. And, certainly, some governments and some institutions have invested more, attempted more, and achieved more than others. However none of the countries included in the Survey have “lapped the field” by achieving either system-wide adoption of ICT or the ICT-supported transformation of teaching and learning.
How do you develop the skills in your workforce necessary to compete in dynamic, fast-moving sectors of the global economy? I just returned from India, where I joined colleagues from Africa in a series of site visits, learning events and presentations in the Indian IT hubs of Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore in seeking answers to this (and related) questions. More specifically, the trip provided a rich opportunity to learn more about the 'India success story' of the last 20 years in the areas of IT, IT-enabled services and business process outsourcing (BPO), gathering policy and practice lessons of potential relevance and application to Africa. In many countries, including many African countries, proposals for the widespread introduction of computers in schools is explicitly tied to goals to develop so-called 'knowledge workers' to work in nascent IT industries. How explicit is this link in reality?