Making ICT and education policy


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public domain image from Jossifresco via Wikimedia Commons

India is currently engaged in a consultative process to formulate a new ICT and education policy.  The United States is doing the same to prepare its new National Educational Technology Plan.

In the context of a discussion of ICT/education policies, GeSCI's Jyrki Pulkkinen takes a step back and asks, who really needs policy? While he doesn't provide answers to this question himself in his note (yet -- I suspect this is coming), he follows up with a set of high-level, practical guiding questions for people involved in these processes.  

When thinking about the questions that Jyrki poses, I had a few questions of my own: What are best practices for the development of such policies and plans?  Where can we turn to for examples of such policies and plans to help inform work in this area?

Thankfully many groups have been thinking about and contributing to our global comparative knowledgebase on this topic.

As with many topics related to ICT use in education, UNESCO's regional office in Bangkok did some of the earliest comparative work on this topic as part of a multi-year inititive looking at ICT in education policies in the Asia-Pacific region.  Out of this work was born the ICT in Education Toolkit for Policymakers, Planners and Practitioners, jointly supported by a number of partners led by UNESCO (infoDev later joined the project to support the completion and maintenance of the on-line toolkit), which has been used in 28 countries to date to aid in systematic planning processes related to the use of ICTs in education.  In principle author Wadi Haddad, the toolkit drew on a wealth of educational planning experience over three decades of work in the sector, as well as the lessons presented in the pages of the influential online journal Techknowlogia (which has, unfortunately, suspended publication but whose archives are available in full online).

The Toolkit is meant to suggest and support processes that could lead to best practice policy development.  But what do we know about actual ICT in education policies?

Many academics have written about the issue, but unfortunately much of this work sits -- rather furstratingly for many policymakers in developing countries unable to afford access -- behind firewalls at scholarly journals (Bob Kozma's Comparative Analysis of Policies for ICT in Education [pdf] is one exception).

One could root around the various regional ICT and education country surveys that infoDev and UNESCO-Bangkok have sponsored (in Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean) for links and references to such policies, but this is a laborious process.  Thankfully, UNESCO-Bangkok has collected summaries and links to policy papers of Asia and the Pacific on its web site (although many of these links are a bit dated).  More recently, and broadly, GeSCI has done a very useful job in collecting examples from around the world in a single document [warning: this is a link to a Word document; hopefully GeSCI will post a PDF of this at some point?]. As GeSCI's Mary Hooker has remarked, it is noteworthy just how varied these policies are!

One can roughly put ICT and education policies into one of three categries:

  1. a national ICT in education policy
  2. a national education policy that includes ICT
  3. a national ICT policy that includes education 
    (The Commuication Initiative Network has done a good job of cataloguing and analyzing some of these.)

(Some would rather cheekily argue that there is actually a fourth category: de facto policies that remain in perpetual 'draft' status.)

This is all well and good, you might say, but it is the link between policy and action (and ultimately impact) that is really what is important.  One good example of how a country's ICT in education policy was fleshed out into a practical implementation plan can be found in Namibia (and here's the web site).

Jyrki would no doubt agree that this is all useful information, it is useful to know what has come before us.  But what about what lies ahead?  How can and should such policies enable the use of ICT and innovative methods in schools going forward?

As infoDev's Knowledge Map on ICT and eduction policy issues [pdf] notes,

"Even within a particular educational reform process, or indeed where no reform process is on-going, the pace of technological innovation outruns the pace of institutional innovation." 

If this is the case, what's a policy maker to do?



Michael Trucano

Global Lead for Innovation in Education, Sr. Education & Technology Policy Specialist

Join the Conversation

Jyrki Pulkkinen
September 21, 2009

Dear Mike,

Thank you for taking my rhetoric question forward. I did not answer my question because the policy makers should actually answer it before creating policies.

In many cases the policies are there for standardizing the infrastructure in education institutions to be manageable and maybe also affordable for the country. So, in this case the policies are needed at the upper level of the education system for controlling purposes. Maybe this is also why the policies are not necessary appreciated to much among the developers. These policies may go under Mike's categories 1 and 3. The middle one (2. Education policies including ICT) remaining a challenge.

However, policies can also be seen as enablers for new innovations in education, if understood like this. Policies can provide incentives and directions to soleve educational problems with ICT instead of giving “implementation models", standards, restrictions and limitations. Having seen so many schools just replacing books with computers, I think this is the missing link in many of the policies related to ICTs in education. So, I would categorize policies to restricting and enabling policies -- just because that is what matters in the end of the day.

It is indeed very valuable work what WB/InfoDev as well as GeSCI is doing by collecting and researching the policies related to ICT4E. Only this way we can learn from the past and see the limitations of the current practices in different countries. The current practices are not just emerging from nowhere, but they are results of the current policy frameworks (or lack of such a framework).