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?
The Nasscom India Leadership Forum in Mumbai is the annual meeting platform at which senior representatives from firms in the Indian software and Indian BPO industries share information, discuss and debate issues. The Forum is well-covered in the Indian press, and increasingly internationally as well, and the event web site's group blog is a rich source of divergent opinions and perspectives. Key note speeches from people inside and outside of the industry (including Narayana Murthy, C.K. Prahlad and Shashi Tharoor) were of notably high quality.
It is an interesting time for Nasscom: How will an industry that has only known good times deal with the current economic downturn? How will individual Indian firms fare? While the mood at the conference itself was notably serious (especially for an industry event), some tier one Indian companies actually expect to benefit from the downturn. Many European countries (far behind the US and the UK in terms of outsourcing) are expected to examine costs more closely, which is expected to open up these markets more to Indian BPO providers. At the same time, new outsourcing destinations are emerging, within India and internationally. This is happening not just because of the hunt for lower prices and new talent, but also to gain a foothold in new emerging markets.
World Bank Economist Felipe Barrera-Osorio, working with Leigh Linden of Columbia University, has just published a very useful and rigorous study on the impact of ICT use in Colombia.
The Use and Misuse of Computers in Education: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Colombia (PDF) looked at 97 schools and 5,201 children over two years of participation in the Computers for Schools program.
While some readers may immediately latch onto the finding that the program "had little effect on students’ test scores", I found the potential explanation for this lack of positive impact to be even more valuable:
"The main reason for these results seems to be the failure to incorporate the computers into the educational process. Although the program increased the number of computers in the treatment schools and provided training to the teachers on how to use the computers in their classrooms, surveys of both teachers and students suggest that teachers did not incorporate the computers into their curriculum."
En route to Mumbai, I thought I'd pass around some summary information about the new "$10 education laptop" officially announced this week in India.
This has received a great deal of press attention, much of which appears to be (after doing some further investigation) ill-informed / speculative.
Lost in much of the hype has been what is perhaps the more interesting story -- the apparent public commitment by the Indian government to provide subsidized connectivity for schools, colleges and universities, and a related large investment in the development of "e-content", as part of a new "National Mission in Education through Information and Communication Technology (ICT)". Part of this includes the development of a new national ICT in school education policy.
The British Educational Training and Technology Show (BETT) bills itself as the world’s largest trade show of its kind. This year’s show in London (14-17 January, www.bettshow.com) featured more than 600 distributors and over 30,000 visitors.
A visitor from abroad -- or at least this visitor -- is quickly struck by a number of products and services that appear to be specific to the UK market, or at least indicative of market needs in the UK that differ from other countries. Two product areas notable in this regard are those addressing issues of cyberbullying and truancy. These include products that allow schools to notify parents via text message (SMS) when their child is not in school and network monitoring tools designed to detect on-line communication that may indicate where bullying is occurring.
The first Learning and Technology World Forum kicked off this week in London, the successor to the invitation-only Moving Young Minds conference. In its new incarnation, LATWF featured both public and closed ministerial-level sessions examining topics related to ICT use in education.
Big changes are apparently underway at the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation (referred to by many as the '$100 laptop project'). The organization has announced it is laying off about half of its staff and refocusing its mission. Included in its new intentions is that "Sub-Saharan Africa will become a major learning hub".
You can read the official announcement over at the OLPC blog, which goes into much more detail.
What this may mean for the fate of perhaps the most famous "low-cost laptop" remains to be seen, but a few things *are* clear: Since the idea for a $100 laptop gained wide currency in the aftermath of the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos in early 2005, and its first unveiling (of a sort) at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis later that year, the landscape for 'low-cost computing', and the recognition that there are emerging markets in developing countries for such appliances right now, if the price is right, has changed radically. infoDev used to track about 50 'Low-cost computing devices and initiatives for the developing world', but gave up at the end of 2007, when the explosion of activity in this area made the maintenance of such a list increasingly unfeasible (and, given that one of the rationales for such a list was to highlight that there was a lot of burgeoning activity in this area that people didn't know about, increasingly unnecessary). While many of the highly-publicized commitments to buy the OLPC XO laptop for use by students in developing countries have not (yet) materialized, it is a testament to the attractiveness in many quarters of the vision (if not its implementation) of the 'one laptop per child' idea that the of the relevance of computer use in schools continues to gain traction in many ministries of education and parliaments around the world.