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November 2017

20 innovative edtech projects from around the world

Michael Trucano's picture
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what did I miss?
what did I miss?
For the past two decades, I've worked on issues at the intersection of the education and technology sectors in middle- and low-income countries and emerging markets around the world. It's been a fascinating job: Over the past 20 years, I've been an advisor to, evaluator of, and/or working-level participant in, educational technology ('edtech') initiatives in over 50 such countries. When it comes to ICT use in education, the promised revolution always seems to be just around the corner. Indeed: I am regularly pitched ideas by people who note that, while many past promises about the potential of the use of new technologies in education have failed to pan out, they are confident that "this time, it's different".

At the same time, I am quite often asked to help other folks identify intriguing initiatives that might, individually and/or collectively, illuminate emerging trends and approaches in this sector:

"I'm interested in examples of innovative educational technology projects from around the world, especially those primarily focused on helping teachers and learners in developing countries. In other words: Not the usual suspects. Can you suggest a few projects and companies that I might not know about -- but should?"

I receive a version of this request most every week (sometimes even multiple times in a single day). Given the frequency of such inquiries, I thought I'd quickly highlight 20 such efforts from around the world, in the hope that people might find this useful. The hope is to point readers in the direction of some interesting projects that they might not know much about, but from which there is much we can learn. 

While I am not sure if, indeed, things will turn out to be 'different this time around', the overall volume of such projects, and the sophistication of many of them, are quite notable. There is more happening, in more places, than ever before. A number of efforts have been informed (in good ways) by past failures. That said, others will no doubt attempt to 'reinvent the flat tire' and display a characteristic common to Einstein's definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Hopefully none of the groups profiled below will fall into that trap, but I suspect that a few of them might.

The list here, a mix of for-profit and non-profit initiatives, is deliberately idiosyncratic and non-representative (see the many caveats and explanations that follow below the list). Some of these projects are no doubt doomed to 'fail'; others will most likely be restructured more than once as they try, to borrow the words of Deng Xiaopeng, to "cross the river by feeling the stones". And maybe, just maybe, a few of them might actually turn out to be as 'transformative' as they hope to be. 

With that said, and in alphabetical order, here are:
 
20 innovative edtech projects from around the world

Expanding the conversation in education around 'access' to the Internet

Michael Trucano's picture
I don't know exactly what's wrong, I feel like we're not connecting anymore
I don't know exactly what's wrong,
I feel like we're not connecting anymore
Few would argue with the contention that access to the Internet will be increasingly important to teaching and learning (and to learners and teachers) in the future.

Yes, we all know that there was learning before the Internet, and that you can learn without using the Internet. Let's stipulate all of this up front. And yes, there are plentiful examples of the Internet being used in ways that are harmful or which degrade the learning environment -- as well as examples of the Internet not being used at all, even though it is available and paid for. 

That said, it is 2017. No matter where you are, conversations about broadening the access to the Internet to help meet the needs of learners and educators are growing louder in ministries of education, part of broader, related discussions around connectivity in the communities and populations that they serve.

When it comes to providing access to the Internet within educational settings, and for educational purposes:
  • What should we be talking about in 2017 that we haven't talked about in the past?
  • To what extent should we be expanding the access debate -- and to what extent should we be having different debates entirely?
Some technologies are maturing and others are emerging, past failures (of omission and commission) are becoming more apparent, and political will is increasingly in evidence in many places.
 
With this in mind, might a 're-think' be in order?
 
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The Chief Information Officer position at the Ministry of Education (A CIO in the MOE?)

Michael Trucano's picture
I like drawing boxes, what (and who) should I put in them?
I like drawing boxes,
what (and who) should I put in them?

When, two decades ago, I first started helping people who were investigating the uses of new technologies in education, many of the initial inquiries I received were quite similar. Whether it was from governments in some of the most developed countries in Europe or Asia, or from non-profit groups (and some governments) in some of the least developed countries in Africa or Latin America, people had very specific questions about hardware. What processor should we buy for our computer? How much memory do we need? Over time, as we all became more experienced and savvy about choices related to where to invest scarce resources, questions about devices and their specific attributes gave way to those about processes and approaches -- and about people and institutions.

Recent work at the World Bank has investigated a specific type of institution -- the national educational technology agency -- and its often critical role in support of large scale ICT/education efforts in many countries around the world. Often times, such an institution operates at arm's length from (for example) the ministry of education, with the ministry providing the agency with strategic direction (and funding). Models vary (we document a number of them in a recent book), but, generally speaking, these tend to be organizations focused on >> doing <<. Over time, such institutions become centers of technological competence that can far outstrip what is found within the leadership of their country's ministry of education. They are technical organizations, staffed in large part (but not exclusively) by technical people.

During a series of off-the-record discussions with groups of education ministers earlier this year who were 'struggling with the ICT stuff’, one of the ministers (who had previously worked in the private sector, and whose spouse had worked for a tech firm) shared his interest in creating a CIO (Chief Information Officer) position within his ministry. He wanted someone with dedicated resposbility to help him make sense of all of the things that were changing as a result of new technologies, to help set related strategic directions within the ministry, and to oversee this implementation. About the only thing that the ministers in both ministerial discussions agreed on that day (other than that they were having challenges in dealing with teachers unions -- always a common topic for bonding and commiseration for these sorts of folks, I find) was that they liked the idea of having a CIO.

What exactly does a Chief Information Officer (CIO) do,
and why might ministries of education consider creating such a position?