What role should 'education' play in donor ICT strategies?


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A previous post on the EduTech blog asked, Is there a role for ICTs in international donor aid strategies for the education sector?  Today we would like to turn that question around a little bit, and ask:

"What role should 'education' play in donor ICT strategies?"

The World Bank is preparing to release the final version of  its new Education Sector Strategy, and has begun the consultation process to inform the development of its new ICT strategy.  As part of this consultation process, we recently convened representatives from partner institutions and various stakeholder groups to review and discuss the potential treatment of 'education' topics in the World Bank’s new ICT strategy, Innovate. Connect. Transform.   We thought we would share some of the emerging consensus from the first stages of the on-going consultation and related discussion here, in doing so might be of any interest to a wider audience, and to solicit additional feedback. While the discussions were quite lively, and touched on many different topics and approaches, three main suggestions emerged from the first consultation group around which there was broad agreement.  We have tried to succinctly summarize them here:

"Place the teacher at the center of the strategy"

Quality teachers, we were told, are the most effective change agents in the classroom. The review group recommended that the World Bank should place "the empowerment of teachers through the use of ICT" at the center of the strategy. As one participant noted, teacher professionalism “can serve as a powerful lever to move the entire system”. As an integral part of this focus on the teacher, the World Bank can, for instance, "more actively support client countries to review teacher competency frameworks and develop strategies to certify and reward teaching excellence".  As ICTs continue to transform teaching and learning, "continuous professional development will be essential" as teachers need to be better equipped to evaluate effective learner-centered approaches and promote the acquisition of various "21st century skills". The group noted that a 'bottom-up' approach empowering teachers at the grassroots level will need both to feed into --  and be supported by -- higher level reform through a focus on policy and planning.


"Policy and planning issues should be approached holistically, and systemically" 
The review group agreed that a holistic view of the use of ICT needs to be emphasized at the policymaking level, and that systemic change through the use of ICTs should be highlighted. (This means, for example, that an ICT policy should "not just focus on education management information systems" -- although that is certainly an important component.) The World Bank's convening role was emphasized here as a means in which to bring together policy makers and share global experience. As the field moves so quickly, the group also emphasized the value of so-called South-South learning. Also, "scalability and sustainability of ICT investments should be central to the World Bank strategy to move from the many small scale projects to scaled up, national initiatives". As an important consideration, 'softer' issues such as the importance of change management were emphasized by the review group as key inputs to identifying innovative applications of ICT and taking these ideas to scale. One reviewer emphasized that “the World Bank’s role should be to bridge the gap between the rapidly changing technology sector (as well as global economy) and the skills of personnel in Ministries of Education to ensure the next wave of investments in ICT is well-founded, up to date, and adaptive” (similar discussions around the appropriate institutional structures, skills and partnership necessary to effectively deploy and use ICTs in education have been highlighted previously on this blog). The review group agreed that issues such as the role of private-public partnerships and a better overall understanding of how to work with the private sector are important considerations for policymakers -- and for the World Bank as well. Finally, the review team emphasized that the strategy should ultimately support policymakers to think through the practical 'how to' aspects of introducing new technologies into an education system.


"Monitoring and Evaluation should be a central component of a new strategy"
The third major theme that emerged from the discussions was the importance of monitoring and evaluation. As one reviewer pointed out, “Where is the evidence that ICT investments improve education?" The review group suggested that data and knowledge should be central to the new ICT strategy. The ability to continuously scan global practices, evaluate the impact of interventions, provide tools for forecasting future trends and explore financial considerations through cost modeling "would be important contributions to the global knowledgebase". While the need for more rigorous data on the costs of investing in ICTs was noted as a key input into the policy making process, the group also turned the cost question on its head by wondering (similar to a recent post on this blog), “What is the cost of NOT investing in this area?”


Other Considerations: Other key areas that were brought to the discussion during the review included (to cite just a few examples -- the list here is not comprehensive): an expanded definition of “education” in the ICT strategy to better engage both formal and non-formal actors in World Bank client countries; issues of e-waste and local maintenance, which were highlighted as considerations that should not be overlooked, as strategies to deal with both the upkeep and disposal of hardware investments needs to be considered; and special circumstances related to students with a variety of special educational needs and the use of minority languages were also highlighted. Finally, it was felt that a clear synergy with the key elements of the overall ICT strategy – connect, innovate and transform – would be important in the next iteration of the strategy document.


We would like to thank the international review team for their frank input and welcome any other comments on the ICT strategy, and in particular the education-related component of this strategy, either in the comments section below, or via the dedicated web site for the World Bank Group's ICT Strategy Consultations, which includes the full text of the World Bank ICT Strategy Approach Paper.


Related note: A 'frequently asked questions' annex to the World Bank Education Sector Strategy 2020 (ESS2020) is currently being produced.  Here is what it currently says about ICT use:

7. What does ESS2020 imply for investments in ICT in education?

Given the much wider use of ICT in the workplace, a person‘s facility for using the technology is fast becoming a basic competency. ICT use in education has a clear promise for accelerating learning, especially if countries draw on the global lessons highlighted in the ESS2020 background note on ICT and education. At present, because ICT initiatives in developing countries have been focused much more on supplying schools with computers and internet connectivity than on integrating the technology into curricula at all education levels, ICT has so far largely failed to realize its promise as a 21st-century pedagogical tool. Moreover, the potential uses of ICT in education are not limited to the classroom. ICT can also allow much better and timely monitoring of the various dimensions of the education system and is therefore a valuable tool for implementing a system approach to education reform. For example, ICT can lower the cost of implementing student learning assessments and can better link those assessment results to teacher development and to the allocation of education resources. ICT can also make it much easier to supply up-to-date information on teacher professional development programs to prospective trainees and to enable learning opportunities outside of formal school settings.

Note: The image used at the top of this blog post of a fork in the road near the village of Farnham (Dorset, Great Britain) ("which way should we go?") comes courtesy of Toby Cullen via the UK's Geograph project site .  It is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.


Robert Hawkins

Sr. Education Specialist

Michael Trucano

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

Michael Trucano
March 23, 2011

Many thanks, Paolo!

Paolo Brunello
March 17, 2011

Dear Michael,
we met briefly at eLA2008 in Accra, and this blog of yours is one of the only 2 RSS coming directly into my inbox: I really value it.
Consequently, I won't miss the chance you offered to contribute to the ESS2020 by giving you my thoughts, on the 3 points you raise on the basis of my quinquennial experience in this field in Burundi.
I guess the best way to do it would be to refer you to this presentation I gave last week at the RED Conference, in Switzerland: http://bit.ly/RED2011 where I tackle the issues of sustainability and above all resilience, a concept that I believe should become more popular in this ICT4E arena.
If you like the pres, you may also like to have a look at this paper I've recently published in ITD Journal, that deals precisely with what I believe are the structural reasons for the fragility of ICT4E projects: http://bit.ly/ITDJ-ICT4E It is focused on bilateral cooperation, but I suspect a lot could also apply to WB multilateral projects. Ciao