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Information and Communication Technologies

Lessons from the drafting of national educational technology policies

Michael Trucano's picture
let me make sure to press the right levers in the right order so that I’m in harmony with everyone else
let me make sure to press the
right levers in the right order so that I’m
in harmony with everyone else

Begun in 2004 by the ICT/education team at UNESCO-Bangkok, who were later joined by AED, Knowledge Enterprise and the infoDev program of the World Bank (where I worked), the ICT in Education Toolkit for Policy Makers, Planners and Practitioners was utilized as part of policy planning and review processes in over thirty middle and low counties in the course of the following decade.

In support of face-to-face and online interactions that typically lasted for many months (and in a few cases, years), mainly in countries in East Asia and the Pacific, the Toolkit provided interactive instruments and step-by-step guidelines to assist education policy makers, planners and practitioners in the process of 'harnessing the potential of ICTs to meet educational goals and targets efficiently and effectively'.

The toolkit was designed with the needs of two specific groups in mind: (1) Key decisionmakers in countries and educational institutions as they struggled with the challenge of introducing and integrating ICTs into education; and (2) program officers and specialists in international development agencies as they identified, prepared and appraised ICT-in-education projects or ICT components of education projects.

The ICT in Education Toolkit itself is no longer in use -- with the great changes in technology over the past ten years, maintaining an online toolkit of this sort proved to be too difficult. That said, a number of key lessons emerged from this effort which might be quite relevant to policymakers going forward who are seeking to provide policy guidance, direction and oversight on issues related to the use of new technologies in education systems.

Here are some of them:

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Why don’t voters demand more redistribution?
The Washington Post
If you believe economic inequality is a political problem, these are trying times. As economic inequality increases in many of the world’s wealthy democracies, so does the disproportionate political influence of the rich. As a recent Monkey Cage post explained, even though economic inequality is on the rise, politicians around the world have grown increasingly attentive to the demands of the “1 percent” — and less responsive to the less well-off.  If you believe inequality is a bad thing, this trend is worrisome. The power of the rich to mute everyone else’s political voices could push economic inequality even higher, as the wealthy erect ever-higher barriers to policies that might work to reduce poverty and/or inequality.

Why Technology Hasn’t Delivered More Democracy
Foreign Policy
The current moment confronts us with a paradox. The first fifteen years of this century have been a time of astonishing advances in communications and information technology, including digitalization, mass-accessible video platforms, smart phones, social media, billions of people gaining internet access, and much else. These revolutionary changes all imply a profound empowerment of individuals through exponentially greater access to information, tremendous ease of communication and data-sharing, and formidable tools for networking. Yet despite these changes, democracy — a political system based on the idea of the empowerment of individuals — has in these same years become stagnant in the world.

A technological revolution in the Arab world…..People are assets, not problems

Maha Abdelilah El-Swais's picture
internet - street sign in Arabic l Shutterstock - Vladimir Melnik

It may not be surprising that the number one country in the world with the most Youtube users is Saudi Arabia. But what is surprising, with Youtube’s overall global viewership predominantly male, is that the majority of Youtubers in Saudi Arabia are women. And even more surprising, is that the most-watched Youtube content category   in Saudi Arabia is education. 

MOOCs in China are growing

Yidan Wang's picture

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) refer to any online learning or use of education technologies. In China, a country of 1.4 billion people, these are growing.

The Chinese government expects MOOCs to bring “revolutionary” change to the education system by reducing inequity in quality of education between urban and rural schools and by sharing the best teaching resources. One of the government’s goals is to train 13 million k-12 (“k-12” is the sum of primary and secondary school years) teachers on education technology skills in the next five years through MOOCs. Yes, you read it correctly, 13 million teachers. 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

ICT Facts and Figures – The world in 2015
The ITU ICT Facts and Figures – The world in 2015 features end-2015 estimates for key telecommunication/ICT indicators, including on mobile-cellular subscriptions, Internet use, fixed and mobile broadband services, home ICT access, and more. 2015 is the deadline for achievements of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which global leaders agreed upon in the year 2000, and the new data show ICT progress and highlight remaining gaps. 

Focus on Private Sector: New tech shouldn’t mean no jobs
The development anthropologist James Ferguson published a new book last week: Give a Man a Fish.  Drawing on research conducted across southern Africa, Ferguson argues the world has entered a new economic era in which many people, including able-bodied, working-age people, may not find paid work for large stretches of their lives.  The sources of this are twofold: demographic changes are increasing the number of working-age people in developing countries, while technological advancements that enable automation are shrinking the employment footprint of many sectors.

Energy analytics for access, efficiency and development

Anna Lerner's picture
Image from Chris Chopyak, who captured the workshop in
simple designs and strategic illustrations
What do Open and Big Data principles and advanced analytics have to do with energy access and efficiency? A lot. At a recent workshop, we explored a range of challenges and solutions alongside experts from the U.S. Department of Energy, the University of Chicago and other organizations.
Today, about 1.1 billion people around the world live without electricity. Cities, which now house more than half the world’s population, struggle under the weight of inefficient, expensive and often-polluting energy systems. Energy access and affordability are paramount in addressing poverty alleviation and shared prosperity goals, and cleaner energy is critical in mitigating climate change.
Applications of Open and Big Data principles and advanced analytics is an area of innovation that can help address many pressing energy sector challenges in the developing world, as well as provide social and financial dividends at low cost.

The World Bank Group is committed to accelerating the use of Open Data and advanced analytics to improve access to reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity, in line with its commitment to the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative. In order to increase awareness around opportunities of new data capturing and analyzing solutions in the energy sector in emerging markets, the World Bank Group and University of Chicago hosted a training session and a subsequent workshop in mid-May.

In Afghanistan, new technologies for doing business in the 21th century

Ikramullah Quraishi's picture
The Enterprise System is handed over to Hashim Naeem Tailoring Company and its employees, Parwan, Afghanistan
The Enterprise System is handed over to Hashim Naeem Tailoring Company and its employees, Parwan, Afghanistan

Sail Food Production Company is one of the largest food manufacturing factory in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Despite countless hours spent on manual bookkeeping, its owner always complained about errors when reporting profits and losses on the company’s balance sheets.

At the close of each monthly accounting period, the company was always late in submitting profit and loss statements to the Provincial Department of Finance. Similarly, there were many inefficiencies in production and raw material tracking due to the absence of a proper inventory control system.

The scarcity of information technology integration within business operations has limited the development of Sail Food Production and many other Afghan small and medium enterprises (SME) as they are trying to remain competitive in a global business environment. How could this be improved?

Flexibility, opportunity and inclusion through online outsourcing jobs

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford's picture
What is online outsourcing, and how could countries leverage it to create new jobs for youth and women? Those are questions we will help answer as part of an upcoming report and toolkit.

The World Bank, in collaboration with our partners at the Rockefeller Foundation, recently met with government agencies and other key stakeholders, as well as the online work community in Kenya and Nigeria, to discuss these issues. Online workers from these countries also presented their stories, including the highly inspirational story of Elizabeth, a retiree who was able to take in an orphan and provide for her schooling, as well as afford a lifestyle upgrade because of her online outsourcing work.
Elizabeth supports her
family through online work.

Elizabeth, 55, originally worked as a stenographer. Her husband died in 2003, and she is the sole breadwinner for three of her own children and one other orphan who she has informally adopted. She works online on writing platforms, and is currently being on- boarded to start work with CloudFactory. At the moment, she earns between US$50–80 per week working online; this is her the sole source of income, from which she pays her family’s rent, living expenses and short-term loans.

“I lost my husband in 2003, so I am the mother and the father," Elizabeth says. "I am self-sufficient. Online work does not confine me to an 8-5 time frame. I can work at my convenience, and I can manage my own home while I work.”

Online outsourcing (OO) is providing this kind of flexibilty and earning potential to millions of people around the world. OO generally refers to the contracting of third-party workers and providers (often overseas) to supply services or perform tasks via Internet-based marketplaces or platforms. Popular platforms include Elance-oDesk (now known as Upwork),, CrowdFlower and Amazon Mechnical Turk. The industry’s global market size is projected to grow to US$15-25 billion by the year 2020, and could employ at least 30 million active workers from all over the world.

Research questions about technology use in education in developing countries

Michael Trucano's picture
let's investigate this systematically ...
let's investigate this systematically ...

Back in 2005, I helped put together a 'quick guide to ICT and education challenges and research questions' in developing countries. This list was meant to inform a research program at the time sponsored by the World Bank's infoDev program, but I figured I'd make it public, because the barriers to publishing were so low (copy -> paste -> save -> upload) and in case doing so might be useful to anyone else.

While I don't know to what extent others may have actually found this list helpful, I have seen this document referenced over the years in various funding proposals, and by other funding agencies. Over the past week I've (rather surprisingly) heard two separate organizations reference this rather old document in the course of considering some of their research priorities going forward related to investigating possible uses of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to help meet educational goals in low income and middle countries around the world, and so I wondered how these 50 research questions had held up over the years.

Are they still relevant?


What did we miss, ignore or not understand?

The list of research questions to be investigated going forward was a sort of companion document to Knowledge maps: What we know (and what we don't) about ICT use in education in developing countries. It was in many ways a creature of its time and context. The formulation of the research questions identified was in part influenced by some stated interests of the European Commission (which was co-funding some of the work) and I knew that some research questions would resonate with other potential funders at the time (including the World Bank itself) who were interested in related areas (see, for example, the first and last research questions). The list of research questions was thus somewhat idiosynscratic, did not presume to be comprehensive in its treatment of the topic, and was not intended nor meant to imply that certain areas of research interest were 'more important' than others not included on the list.

That said, in general the list seems to have held up quite well, and many of the research questions from 2005 continue to resonate in 2015. In some ways, this resonance is unfortunate, as it suggests that we still don't know answers to a lot of very basic questions. Indeed, in some cases we may know as little in 2015 as we knew in 2015, despite the explosion of activity and investment (and rhetoric) in exploring the relevance of technology use in education to help meet a wide variety of challenges faced by education systems, communities, teachers and learners around the world. This is not to imply that we haven't learned anything, of course (an upcoming EduTech blog post will look at two very useful surveys of research findings that have been published in the past year), but that we still have a long way to go.

Some comments and observations,
with the benefit of hindsight and when looking forward

The full list of research questions from 2005 is copied at the bottom of this blog post (here's the original list as published, with explanation and commentary on individual items).

Reviewing this list, a few things jump out at me:

A real-time food security information system is a Big Data reality

John Corbett's picture
Today, all the necessary information assets are available to provide actionable insight to farmers: models, real-time local weather, crop and agronomic insight and calendars. What is also emerging is the technology to deliver actionable insights directly into the hands of farmers: information and communication technologies (ICTs) including cell phones, tablets and other personal communication tools.   

​With a cell phone in hand, a farmer becomes connected to a network of invaluable – and timely – information. There is greater demand for information as extreme weather variability necessitates new farming practices. Local and timely insights help inform farmer decisions. Big Data methods and practices, meanwhile, ensure that this multi-directional information contributes across the agricultural value chain as input providers and produce buyers are also informed.

The warming of the atmosphere is leading to a tremendous increase in weather variability. This variability affects agriculture in a multitude of ways and most insidiously for farmers, in the uncertainty that impacts each step in their production and livelihoods. 

The most common human reaction to uncertain times is to become more risk averse.  For our planet’s 570+ million small-holder farmers, this means lower productivity. With the impeding population surge, particularly in Africa, and diet changes requiring “70 percent more food production,” change must come now.