Information and Communication Technologies
Almost a decade ago, delegates from over 175 countries gathered in Geneva for the first 'World Summit on the Information Society', a two-part conference (the second stage followed two years later in Tunis) sponsored by the United Nations meant to serve as a platform for global discussion about how new information and communication technologies were impacting and changing economic, political and cultural activities and developments around the world. Specific attention and focus was paid to issues related to the so-called 'digital divide' -- the (growing) gap (and thus growing inequality) between groups who were benefiting from the diffusion and use of ICTs, and those who were not. One of the challenges that inhibited discussions at the event was the fact that, while a whole variety of inequalities were readily apparent to pretty much everyone, these inequalities were very difficult to quantify, given the fact that we had only incomplete data with which to describe them. The Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, an international, multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators, was formed as a result, and constituent members of this partnership set out to try to bridge data gaps in a variety of sectors. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) took the lead on doing this in the education sector, convening and chairing a Working Group on ICT Statistics in Education (in which the World Bank participates, as part of its SABER-ICT initiative) to help address related challenges. At the start, two basic questions confronted the UIS, the World Bank, the IDB, OECD, ECLAC, UNESCO, KERIS and many other like-minded participating members of the working group (out of whose acronyms a near-complete alphabet could be built):
What type of data should be collected related to ICT use in education?
Not to mention:
What type of data could be collected,
given that so little of it was being rigorously gathered
across the world as a whole,
relevant to rich and poor countries alike,
in ways that permitted comparisons across regions and countries?
Comparing ICT use in education across all countries was quite difficult back then. In 2003/2004, the single most common question related to the use of ICTs in education I was asked when meeting with ministers of education was: What should be our target student:computer ratio? Now, one can certainly argue with the premise that this should have been the most commonly posed question (the answer from many groups and people soon became -- rather famously, in fact -- '1-to-1', e.g. 'one laptop per child'). That said, the fact that we were unable to offer globally comparable data in response to such a seemingly basic question did little to enhance the credibility of those who argued this was, in many ways, the wrong question to be asking. Comparing ICT use in education across all countries remains difficult today -- but in many regards, this task is becoming much easier.
With shiny apps hogging the mobile spotlight these days, one could be forgiven for forgetting about SMS (“Short Message Service” or text messaging). But although apps often disguise themselves as universally useful, their data and hardware requirements preclude their widespread use in poor countries. Amongst the world’s poor, SMS is still king. Given the World Bank’s mandate to serve the exactly that population, and in response to demand from staff, I recently attended a 2-day Frontline SMS training here in DC.
The training took place on the 2nd floor of the OAS building, otherwise known as the “OpenGovHub.” The hub hosts many organizations working at the intersection of data, governance and development, including Ushahidi, Accountability Lab and Tech4Dem. Though only one block from the World Bank, it definitely has a Silicon Valley vibe - open offices, young CEOs, bumperstickered laptops and standing desks abound. Thankfully, this open and informal environment carried right into the training, giving participants the chance to experiment with the software and engage in candid discussions with Frontline’s leaders. Two days of training, only one Powerpoint presentation. I know, right!?
On the second day, I was particularly struck by a question posed by Frontline CEO Laura Hudson. In explaining the design tenets of using FrontlineSMS, she asked us: “What decisions can you make that exclude the fewest voices?” That’s a question the Dispute Resolution & Prevention team wants all staff designing grievance redress mechanisms for their projects to ponder as well.
As mentioned in the previous post, the three grand prize winning teams of the Sanitation Hackathon boarded from their home countries – Indonesia, Senegal, Tanzania, and the UK – for a week-long trip to Silicon Valley, hosted by IDEO.org. They met with companies such as Zynga, the world’s leading social gaming company, Facebook, the social network giant, AirBnB, a travel site, The Hub, a collaborative work space, and Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform. The young web developers learned about the importance of data, how to reach large networks, why trust and collaboration are key, and what makes a crowdfunding campaign successful.
One consistent theme that I hear quite often from policymakers with an interest in, and/or responsibility for, the use of ICTs in their country's education system is that they want to 'learn from the best'. Often times, 'best' is used in ways that are synonymous with 'most advanced', and 'most advanced' essentially is meant to describe places that have 'lots of technology'. Conventional wisdom in many other parts of the world holds that, if you want to 'learn from the best', you would do well to look at what is happening in places like the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Singapore. (Great internal 'digital divides' of various sorts persist within some of these places, of course, but such inconvenient truths challenge generalizations of these sorts in ways that are, well, inconvenient.) Policymakers 'in the know' broaden their frame of reference a bit, taking in a wider set of countries, like those in Scandinavia, as well as some middle income countries like Malaysia and Uruguay that also have 'lots of technology' in their schools. Whether or not these are indeed the 'best' places to look for salient examples of relevance to the particular contexts at hand in other countries is of course a matter of some debate (and indeed, the concept of 'best' is highly problematic -- although that of 'worst' is perhaps less so), there is no question that these aren't the only countries with lots of ICTs in place (if not always in use) in their education systems.
What do we know about what is happening across Europe
related to the use of ICTs in schools?
The recently released Survey of Schools: ICT in Education Benchmarking Access, Use and Attitudes to Technology in Europe’s Schools provides a treasure trove of data for those seeking answers to this question. Produced by the European Schoolnet in partnership with the University of Liège in Belgium, with funding from the European Commission, the publication features results from the first Europe-wide survey of this sort across the continent in six years:
Please note that deadline to submit your applications for the Tech Awards has been extended to May 8th!
Know someone who is changing the world?
Encourage them to apply to the Tech Awards 2013!
"There is not a group that you would rather
be stuck on an island with than The Tech Awards laureates." -Michael MacHarg, Simpa Networks,
laureate, The Tech Awards 2012
The Tech Awards, a signature program of The Tech Museum, is an international awards program that honors innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity.
In 2013, The Tech Awards will honor 10 international innovators who are applying technology to confront humanity’s most urgent challenges. The Tech Awards honors individuals, non-profit organizations and for-profit companies who are using technology to significantly improve human conditions in 5 awards categories. The technology used can be either a new invention or an innovative use of an existing technology.
When it comes to ID systems, India's Aadhaar initiative sets a high bar for the rest of the world. Aadhaar is a state-of-the-art online system that provides unique 12-digit ID numbers to residents of India. These numbers can be used for a wide range of public and private services.
Technology use in schools at reasonably large scale began in many OECD countries in earnest in the 1980s and then accelerated greatly in the 1990s, as the Internet and falling hardware prices helped convince education policymakers that the time was right to make large investments in ICTs. In most middle and low income countries, these processes began a little later, and have (until recently) proceeded more slowly. As a result, it was only about ten years ago, as education systems began to adopt and use ICTs in significant amounts (or planned to do so), that efforts to catalog and analyze what was happening in these sets of countries began in earnest. UNESCO-Bangkok's Meta-survey on the Use of Technologies in Education in Asia and the Pacific, published in 2003, was the first notable effort in this regard. A trio of subsequent efforts supported by infoDev (Africa in 2007; the Caribbean in 2009; and South Asia in 2010) helped to map out for the first time what was happening in other regions of the world related to the use of ICTs in education. While the information in such regional reports can rather quickly become dated in some cases, given the pace of technological change, they still provide useful points of departure for further inquiry. In some other parts of the world, even less has been published and made available for global audiences about how ICTs are being used in education.
Information about developments in many of the countries of the Soviet Union, for example, has not, for the most part, been widely disseminated outside the region (indeed, for many within the region as well!). The Moscow-based UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE) has been perhaps the best 'one-stop shop' for information about ICT use in the region. Recent work by the Asian Development Bank has gone much further to help to fill in one of the most apparent 'blind spots' in our collective global understanding of how countries are using ICTs to help meet a variety of objectives within their formal education systems. ICT in Education in Central and West Asia [executive summary, PDF] summarizes research conducted over five years (2006-2011) in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, with shorter studies on Afghanistan, Armenia, Georgia, and Pakistan.
Some key findings from this work:
For the last twelve years, the World Economic Forum and INSEAD have been publishing The Global Information Technology Report (GITR), which features a Network Readiness Index (NRI) that measures the ability of countries to leverage information communication technologies (ICTs) for growth and well-being. This year’s GITR, which focuses on jobs and growth, covers 144 countries. The assessments are based on a broad range of indicators that include Internet access, adult literacy, and mobile phone subscriptions. As noted in the report, the growing availability of technology has empowered citizens of both developed and developing countries with good access to the digital world. However, this year’s GITR has some sobering news about the state of ICTs in many parts of the developing world. Despite some positive trends, the report shows a sharp digital divide between impoverished nations and richer economies.
- leapfrog technologies
- Network Readiness Index
- Rwanda Metamorphosis to a Knowledge-Based Society
- The Global Information Technology Report
- World Economic Forum
- Information and Communication Technologies
- The World Region
- Digital Divide
- Colombia’s Digital Agenda
- and E-Government in Latin America
Three recent posts on MOOCs (MOOCs in Africa, Making Sense of MOOCs -- A Reading List & Missing Perspectives on MOOCs -- Views from developing countries) have generated a large amount of traffic and 'buzz' over the past week on the EduTech blog, and so we thought we'd interrupt our normal Friday publishing schedule to bring you one more.
Over the past month, the EduTech Debate site has been featuring posts and comments from authors exploring various issues and opportunities presented by the phenomenon of so-called Massive Online Open Courses. While perhaps it hasn't been a 'debate' per se, it has featured responses and reactions from the authors to each other's posts, and I thought I'd quickly highlight the conversation that has been occurring over there, in case you may have missed it and doing so might be useful.