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Learning from Becta

Michael Trucano's picture

an axe falls ... where will the chips land? | image attribution at bottomThe recent news that Becta, the UK's ICT/education agency, is to be abolished later this year has been met with shock in many quarters outside the UK. 

(I don't pretend to know how this has been understood within the UK itself, and I have no comment on internal political matters in the UK that led to this action. I don't confess to any special insight or expertise in this area ... but even if I did, it would not be my place to comment on them in a World Bank blog.  Others are of course more free to do so.)

Many developing countries have looked to Becta as a general touchstone for leading thought and practice related to the use of ICTs in education. This is especially the case with regard to the research and  huge number of influential publications that have been put out by Becta over the years, which are widely consumed and cited by academics, government officials and consultants active around the world in planning and implementing ICT-related initiatives in formal education systems.

Some of the examples of Becta publications (caution: some links to PDFs):

 
There is much much more. The list is long!

If you haven't done so lately (and especially if you have never done so before!), you may wish to spend some time in the coming weeks perusing the cache of documents on the Becta site whenever you are taking a short break from all of the soccer/football action in South Africa.

For what it's worth, I am currently downloading Becta publications for local storage and access, mindful that transitions are often rather messy.  I don't tend to believe, as some people say, that once something is published on the Internet, it is available forever.  And even if/where this is true (!), finding resources that have disappeared from one site, only to be reborn on another, can in my experience be rather problemmatic. (The publications from Dfid's ICT/education program in Africa, Imfundo, for example, were off-line for awhile due to an internal reorganization -- you can now find them here). 

While Becta as an organization itself may not last much longer, it is hard to imagine that many of the functions Becta currently performs will not be taken over by other groups and institutions.  In addition to its vast knowledgebase, which hopefully will continue to be accessible on the web for many years to come (emphasis added for any UK visitors to this blog who might have a say in such decisions!), I would expect that many of the people who have played key roles in Becta will assume advisory and consulting positions in many other places, helping to share knowledge and lessons learned far beyond British shores, as interest and investments in ICT/education are (for better and for worse) exploding in other parts of the world. This is especially true for developing countries, where many national ICT/education agencies are just now being developed.  Voices of experience from the U.K. -- about what to do, and perhaps just as importantly, what not to do -- will no doubt be well heard and considered in many such places.   In a roundabout way, this upcoming exchange of knowledge and expertise may eventually, I imagine, swing back to help enrich the UK's own approach to using ICTs in the education sector. 


If you are looking for (positive) ICT/education-related news out of Europe:

  • The European Schoolnet has just released the latest batch of 15 country reports as part of its INSIGHT project documenting technology use in education across Europe.

 
Please note: The imagine used at the top of this blog post ("an axe falls ... where will the chips land?") comes
from b.gliwa via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Correction: The report Learning Literacies in a Digital Age was erroneously listed as a Becta publication in an earlier draft of this blog entry.  This excellent report was in fact produced by JISC, a UK organization that explores ICT-related  issues at the tertiary education level.

Comments

Submitted by Joe on
Interesting to hear a US perspective on this. Over the years I've had considerable experience working with Becta, even doing an expert seminar for them once. And although not a great fan (as you can see from my own blog posting about this) ironically, I've just found this week I am one of the key people you refer to Mike as, "...UK visitors to this blog who might have a say in..." whether any of their material has a future online life or not. It's a funny old world.

Hi Joe, Thanks for your comment. I don't know that I really reflect a 'U.S. perspective' on this -- I think I actually have a much better sense of how Becta has been perceived in Africa, Asia and Latin America than in the States. Reasonable people can certainly disagree about the value of various pieces of Becta research and publications. My goal with this post was here is/was not to provoke a discussion on this topic (although I certainly don't wish to stifle debate! Joe's blog post on this topic, which he mentions in his comment above, can be found via http://ow.ly/1Xe1B), but rather to note how widely read these publications are outside of the U.K., especially by groups in in developing countries. (I learned about the decision to close Becta during a break in meetings in Delhi -- three different Indian colleagues saw it on Twitter and relayed the news to me.) I would assume that these were not the intended target audiences for Becta's analytical work (why would they be?), but nonetheless, the fact that everything is available on the Web has meant that papers from Becta have been inputs into decision making in places as diverse as Bangkok and Buenos Aires. Cheers, Mike (For what it's worth: Based on my own anecdotal evidence, I would say that the 'What the research says' series seems to be circulated with particular velocity.)

Submitted by Gary on
As one of the major UK public sector bodies who relied upon BECTA it is good to hear that they were well regarded outside of the UK. There are two unfortunate circumstances that have led to BECTA being abolished. The first is that it grew too big and cost too much. Whilst around 30% of its budget and activities wwere very useful it's leadership absorbed generous UK funding and expanded into activities that were low value and high cost. So something had to give. Secondly. although a sensible review of BECTA under spending reductions would have led to a sharp, slim version of the organisation with much expertise retained there has been a lack of intelligence by UK government on how to implement cost reductions leading to the 'baby being thrown out with the bathwater'. BECTA being reduced in size and cost, good thing. BECTA going, bad thing. The UK government is now asking its citizens what cuts they think they should do. Maybe they should have asked BECTAs customers which bits they thought should go before swinging an indiscriminate axe.

It is a good thing that the decision to abolish Becta is getting attention outside the UK, and from people with a deep understanding of the issues. I'm broadly with Ray on the headline point "BECTA being reduced in size and cost, good thing. BECTA going, bad thing." - in the current climate it would be hard to argue against the former. But the tone of the decision to abolish Becta, which was trailed six months before the election in a speech by David Cameron (the incoming prime minister) means that reversing it does not feel like an option. Instead those with an interest in technology in learning (and my organisation is one of these) need to work together, with Government, and with Becta between now and its closure (slated to be no later than 1 April 2011), to ensure that the momentum that exists in the UK in learning technology is not lost, bearing in mind that Becta is not the sole state-funded entity which works in this field in the UK - JISC (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/) and LSIS (http://www.lsis.org.uk/) being two of several others, albeit with a focus on post-compulsory education rather than mainly on school education, as in Becta's case. Alongside this, Becta's documentary assets need to be preserved, and at least some of its tools (process and technical) need to be found new homes, as does its journal, the British Journal of Educational Technology- http://tinyurl.com/yk6qrrq. The strong sense I have is that colleagues within Becta are intent on ensuring this, and that some functions (procurement, for example) are likely to be transferred back into Government. But organising an orderly and responsible closure is one thing. The need for Government to provide some clear strategic oversight and leadership in the field of technology in learning is another. Over the next few weeks it will become clear whether the decision to close Becta is also a decision by Government to withdraw from the field as well. (This 28/5/2010 article http://tinyurl.com/2vmmged from ALT provides one perspective on the next steps.)

Submitted by Maryanne on
It is unfortunate to hear about this organization being abolished. It would be great if it could keep going by another company taking it over to continue the information and communication in technology efforts. These types of organizations allow education to be accessed globally which creates opportunity, because of the communication technology that has been implemented and carried through. I do hope that more agencies can open in support of technology for education purposes.

Hi Mike, I liked the post. I know we've talked about the dearth of demonstrated quantifiable benefits of using ICT in education in the past. One great contribution that BECTA made was the study here: http://publications.becta.org.uk/display.cfm?resID=25841 It'd be great to see a lot more of that kind of stuff. Of all of the papers published in the sector it's been one of the most useful for us

Just to point out that Becta and JISC are two separate organizations (I work for part of the latter). The Learning Literacies in a Digital Age you point to is a JISC publication.

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