[also available in Thai]
Recent headlines from places as diverse as Kenya ("6,000 primary schools picked for free laptop project") and California ("Los Angeles plans to give 640,000 students free iPads") are just two announcements among many which highlight the increasing speed and scale by which portable computing devices (laptops, tablets) are being rolled out in school systems all over the world. Based on costs alone -- and the costs can be very large! -- such headlines suggest that discussions of technology use in schools are starting to become much more central to educational policies and planning processes in scores of countries, rich and poor, across all continents.
Are these sorts of projects good ideas? It depends. The devil is often in the details (and the cost-benefit analysis), I find. Whether or not they are good ideas, there is no denying that they are occurring, for better and/or for worse, in greater frequency, and in greater amounts. More practically, then:
What do we know about what works,
and what doesn't (and how?, and why?)
when planning for and implementing such projects,
what the related costs and benefits might be,
and where might we look as we try to find answers to such questions?
The World Bank has not thus far been involved in providing substantial direct financial assistance to support these sorts of programs (although we have been involved in numerous related policy dialogues, and have done some evaluation work here and there, as a way to help inform such policy dialogues). A number of the high profile 'one laptop per learner' projects have now reached new phases of development, and new sets of large scale educational laptop programs are being announced. At the same time, 'educational tablets' have gone from a curiosity and novelty in some education systems to become the primary computing devices meant for students and teachers in others. A few years ago, the EduTech blog published a list of '1-to-1 educational computing initiatives around the world' in an attempt to identify large scale programs providing each student with her own laptop computer. Much has (obviously) happened since then. Despite being over three years old, that blog post still generates a decent amount of traffic, and the list apparently still is cited rather often. I have asked been asked by groups in a few places for updated pointers to some prominent initiatives from which useful lessons might be learned in the coming years. In case this information may be useful to or of interest to anyone else, I thought I'd offer, in no particular order, a small list of
Big educational laptop and tablet projects: Ten countries to learn from
Reflexively, many countries look to, and hope to compare themselves against, the United States when considering educational technology initiatives. (Whether or not this is a good or useful practice, especially for many less affluent countries, or for countries with decidedly different educational contexts and socio-economic circumstances, is perhaps fodder for another discussion.) The United States is of course a very big and diverse place, with a very decentralized education system (some might say it is actually a collection of education systems). Technology purchasing decisions are not made at the national level, but at the state or, more often, the district level (the country has over 14,000 school districts in total), which tends to complicate other countries' attempts to 'benchmark' their level of use of educational laptops and tablets against 'the U.S. experience'. Focusing one's gaze at the state or local level can be more useful. While some elements of its program may change going forward, the U.S. state of Maine has been, and continues to be, a global pioneer in the use of laptops in schools, and lessons from the Maine experience have influenced policymakers in scores of other places. The recent decisions of the Los Angeles Unified School District to purchase iPads for its students (here are some thoughts from Larry Cuban on this announcement) and that of education officials in Miami Dade (Florida) to ensure access to digital devices to all students are worth noting, as these are two places likely to receive a great deal of media and research attention in the coming years. It is perhaps also worth mentioning that many school districts the U.S. are increasingly promoting 'bring your own technology' (or 'BYOT') initiatives (also known as BYOD, or 'bring your own device') as a way to increase the access to laptops and tablets within schools, which raises sets of additional questions worth considering related to things like (among others) equity, costs, maintenance and digital safety.
The first country in the world to provide all primary school students with free laptops (in public schools), Uruguay's pioneering Plan Ceibal now finds itself at a crossroads. While the project continues to enjoy wide support from citizens, the sight of young children toting and using their small green and white One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO laptops is no longer novel, but rather part of the educational and cultural landscape. How can the level of excitement and momentum engendered by Plan Ceibal be maintained and sustained, especially as the really tough work begins: helping to catalyze and enable change as part of larger efforts at 'whole system reform'?
While most large scale efforts to introduce '1-to-1 computing' in education have featured laptops, Thailand is notable in that it has instead chosen to use tablets. Heralded as the largest educational tablet initiative of its kind when it was first announced (although this title is now claimed by another country, see below), Thailand's efforts are just beginning, but, as with similar initiatives in many other countries, have already served as lightning rods for criticism and optimism.
Close to one million OLPC XO laptops have been distributed to students in Peru, a process which began in 2008, focusing initially on small schools in poor (and often rather remote) communities. Examining the Peruvian experience, colleagues at the Inter-american Development Bank (IDB) has been engaged in the first large-scale randomized evaluation of the impact of the OLPC program. The results so far should provide much food for thought for educational reformers and technology proponents in other countries who feel that large scale introductions of new technologies will, in and of themselves (and perhaps magically), bring about a variety of promised positive changes in educational systems. Reality can be a little more complicated -- and messy.
5. Kenya (and Rwanda)
While it has not yet even begun, the bold three-phase plan in Kenya to begin rolling out laptops in its education system in January 2014 has already attracted much international attention. Starting with 400,000 free laptops delivered to new first graders, this project, if it proceeds as announced, would quickly become the largest effort of its kind on the continent. While Kenya has been home to a number of encouraging small pilot projects, the logistical challenges of doing something this large, this quickly, will be, as they like to say in Silicon Valley, 'non trivial'. Lessons from its East African neighbor, Rwanda, which has distributed over 200,000 OLPC XO laptops so far, are no doubt being eagerly consumed and digested by policymakers and experts in Nairobi. While difficult, success in logistics is only a means to an end. Impacting the teaching and learning process inside and outside of schools in positive ways, fuelling the aspirations of a new generation of Kenyan students (and their families), sustaining positive momentum and results over time -- these are much more difficult goals to achieve. And then there is the question of how to pay for all of this, especially in ways that do not impede or constrain efforts to address other pressing educational and developmental priorities. In these and in other regards, the Kenyan experience with eduactional technologies will definitely one to watch in the coming months and years.
While Thailand's plans to introduce tablet computers into the hands (and onto the laptops) of its students immediately marked it as a potentially pioneering middle income country in the scope of its use of educational technologies, the scale of what is being rolled out in that Southeast Asian country has since been dwarfed plans and efforts at the other end of the continent, where Turkey's FATIH ("Movement to Increase Opportunities and Technology") project is introducing over ten million tablets (and tens of thousands of interactive whiteboards, printers and other peripherals) into Turkish schools. Large scale pilots are already underway, as is a huge tender process to award contracts to roll out and support the project. In contrast to how the tablet project was conceived in Thailand, local manufacturing is meant to play a very important role in the project in Turkey.
Before Turkey, and before Thailand, it was the Aakash project in India which excited the imagination of many proponents of putting huge numbers of tablet computers into the hands of students in a developing country. That project has moved forward in fits and starts, but is only one of numerous efforts to introduce tablets at laptops across the continent-sized South Asia country. Large efforts in Rajasthan have recently been announced, following on efforts which began earlier in states like Uttar Pradesh. Initiatives across India will be particularly interesting to monitor, given the scale at which they will be occurring, and the fact that there is already a great deal of local knowledge about various approaches that have worked, and that haven't, based on earlier educational technology programs in the country.
Building in part on lessons from early efforts in San Luis province, Argentine projects like Conectar Igualdad and Plan [email protected] BA (in the nation's capital, Buenos Aires) will eventually be, in aggregate, larger than the one laptop per child initiatives in Peru and Uruguay combined. Given the size and variation of these projects in these three countries, policymakers in other parts of the world seriously interested in learning from the hard won lessons of others before embarking on their own 1-to-1 education computing programs could do worse than to learn some Spanish (not a terrible amount of related information is available in English, let alone other international languages) and reach out to (and perhaps visit with) their colleagues in South America.
The most ambitious European effort to date to provide students with laptops has been in Portugal. Given its recent history (a member of the European Union, Portugal was itself a developing country not that long ago), lessons from the eEscola project and Magellan initiative may be particular relevant and useful for middle income countries about to embark on large scale 1-to-1 educational computing programs -- especially those that wish to utilize 'public-private partnerships' along the way.
As is the practice with lists of ten presented on the EduTech blog, #10 here has been left deliberately blank, as both an invitation for people to tell me what I have missed (or ignored), and as an acknowledgement that my own knowledge of such things is decidedly incomplete.
There are certainly lots of other places to look for inspiration, for best (and worst) practices, for hard-won implementation expertise and (hopefully) for hard data on costs and impacts. While Mexico recently cancelled a 240,000 unit procurement of laptops for students, this may perhaps be viewed more as a short-term hiccup in longer-term plans. A recent survey of technology use in education across Europe (One laptop per child in Europe: how near are we? [pdf]) highlights the extent to which students in countries like Denmark and Norway, as well as Latvia and Spain, already learn in environments where one laptop/tablet per learner is the norm. Netbooks on the rise [pdf] attempts to survey and distill lessons from across the Europe. Australia, the country that is often touted as having the first 1-to-1 computing initiative (at Methodist Ladies' College way back in 1989 is nearing the end of a program that has seen almost a million laptops distributed to schools while at the same time tablets seem to be quickly gaining ground. (Side note: The Australia-based Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation (AALF) is a great resource for information on 1-to-1 computing efforts.) The EduTech blog has previously looked at educational laptop efforts in Georgia (the country in the Caucasus, not the state in the American South). A post on lessons from Quebec's Eastern Townships has long been in the queue for publication; those who don't want to wait are directed to related research published late last year.
Some closing remarks
Most of the large proposals for educational technology programs that come across my desk these days highlight the use of tablets (almost always Android devices, for what that's worth, presumably for reasons of cost, and because the iPad, the market leading tablet device in OECD countries, does not currently have wide distribution in most middle and low income countries). Rarely (or more accurately: almost never) do I find a compelling reason why tablets are being chosen over laptops
(or desktops ... or ... anything else, really). This is not to say that there aren't potentially compelling reasons why purchasing tablets for use in schools and/or by teachers or students might make sense (although seeing hybrid devices, laptops with touchscreens, and tablets with dockable keyboards does leave me confused at times about where to draw the line between various product categories), rather that this technology choice often seems driven by assumption rather than as a result of careful deliberation. Worldwide, the general trend is clear: PCs and laptops are slowly being eclipsed by tablets in the consumer space. I do suspect that what I am seeing in many of the education project proposals I read is in part just the latest manifestation of a long-observed trend that refuses to die: that of simply wanting to buy the latest popular gadget for use in schools. All too often, the related question being asked is not 'what challenges are we trying to solve, and what approaches and tools might best help us solve them?', but rather, 'we know what our technology 'solution' is, can you please help us direct it at the right problems?'
As in other parts of life, in education the answer you get is usually a function of the question you ask. In the process of attempting to formulate their questions related to the purchases and implementations of huge numbers of new laptops or tablets (or whatever tomorrow's device of choice may be) to help support teaching and learning, hopefully more education policymakers and politicians will take the time and effort to try to learn from the experiences of their counterparts in other countries who have already been down similar paths. While studying lessons, both positive and negative, from some of the countries listed here may not provide them with all of the answers they seek, doing so just might help some of them re-think and re-frame some of the questions they are asking.
Also of potential interest from the EduTech blog:
- Next steps for Uruguay's Plan Ceibal (and other posts about Uruguay)
- The Maine thing about 1-to-1 computing
- Around the World with Portugal's eEscola Project and Magellan Initiative
- Evaluating One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) in Peru
- Assessing education with computers in Georgia
- The Aakash, India's $35 (?) Tablet for Education
- One-to-one computing in Latin America & the Caribbean
- 1-to-1 educational computing initiatives around the world
- Ten comments on 1-to-1 computing in education
- Laptops for education: $10, $35, $100 and points in between (but not above!)
as well as posts related to educational uses of e-readers and mobile phones.
Note: The image used at the top of this blog post ("tablets loom increasingly large on the horizon in many places") comes from the (excellent) Flickr photostream of Adrian Sampson via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license. The image used near the bottom of this blog post of a whole bunch of tablets of various sizes, shapes and colors ("are tablets the newest cure for what ails education?") comes from the Wikipedian Pöllö via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
Perhaps the most comprehensive recent list of 1-to-1 educational technology initiatives is the 'International 1:1 Open Access Database' which is available as a Google spreadsheet at http://goo.gl/S9oim, which is discussed in an article in a recent issue (Vol. 9, No. 1 (2013)) of the International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT), "Large-Scale 1:1 Computing Initiatives: An Open Access Database" [http://goo.gl/BwiZlx, pdf].
I am happy to see my country Kenya among the ten.The OLPC is a great initiative and the literature of the experiences and practices around are helpful.It is my belief that a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.Definitely challenges will be there.Since new technology is here with us we must be ready to prepare globally competitive citizens who have the skills required in the 21st century such as problem solving,corroborative skills, creative thinking and the like.However new technologies cannot be effective without appropriate content and professional development of the teacher.The question is;who develops content in countries which has already rolled out OLPC Programmes.
My other concern is the notion that when we discuss about ICTs in education we tend to concentrate too much on the computer based instruction.As a specialist in Educational media I feel that we have media convergence.Could you give links to other best practices on the use of other initiatives like radio and Educational television.
Excellent post as always, thank you.
One thing I'm curious about in this area, but haven't seen a lot on, is the plan for educational content for all of these devices. There are many criticisms one may lob at OLPC thus far; for me, the lack of effective content strategy and integration into lesson plans is the most important one. And to the extent that the educational content sources (lessons, articles, whatever) are derived from online sources, what are the plans to introduce connectivity into classrooms? (And how does that help for 1-to-1 initiatives where students can take the devices home - but don't have internet access there?)
I find the results from Worldreader to be quite interesting in this respect. You might argue that their initiative is very content focused (1-to-1 distribution of basic Kindles with preloaded books - so kids can consume these materials anytime, anyplace). Worldreader has shown a statistically significant positive impact on reading scores - I'm not aware (perhaps I've missed something though) of many other ICT initiatives that have shown considerably better, clear positive results in impact studies.
I have received a number of emails from friends and colleagues in/from Tamil Nadu asking why the laptop for students scheme in that state in the southern part of India was not mentioned above. No one has mentioned the Tamil Nadu program in the comments section here, though, so I will add it myself. I am actually planning a separate post on laptop/tablet schemes looking just at India, which would prominently feature the Tamil Nadu initiative, but in retrospect should have included it in the short blurb on India above (which I was trying to keep short, so as not to repeat information in the upcoming post on India). For those not familiar with it: http://goo.gl/Q7bzl , http://goo.gl/CEaLqQ , http://goo.gl/seLUV4
Dear Michael, I agree to your analysis but like to go beyond it.
The entirety of "ICT 4 Education" projects falls short since all resort to tools which are not optimised for this purpose but to optimise the revenue of their vendors. And if its not the case -- like Sugar OS -- it remains unfinished forever. Since 2006 up to today we got version 0.98!
Therefore as the winner emerges commercial Android, Google's Troyan Horse -- with the built-in attachment to their 'we don't do evil' ecosystem!
What I don't understand is, that Kenya alone intends to spend US$ 300 mil for procuring hardware, but only 50 years after gaining independence willingly submits to the on-line compulsion of the Google empire with Big Brother monitoring everything, as Edwards Snowden just quite plainly demonstrates -- may I name it 'smart imperialism'?
There is rather a revolution being imposed, than the WSIS-Commitment of Tunis 2005 being implemented. Wasn't the pledge about a “people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented” evolution?
“In the evolution of the Information Society, particular attention must be given to the special situation of indigenous peoples, as well as to the preservation of their heritage and their cultural legacy.” (Art. 22)
Exactly this approach the KUKU Trust is pioneering in Tanzania as her official language Kiswahili has been neglected at all by the software industry. We worked out an ingenious grassroot concept which will lead to a sustainable development towards a Tanzanian Information Society – using hard- and software provided by her own IT-industry!
The concepts cornerstone is a free and open software desktop environment -- Uhuru OS. I assume nobody doubts that software is the master and hardware the slave -- Microsoft's success story is the best prove.
The Uhuru OS platform consists of some of the finest code ever programmed:-
* An UNIX system core – tier one industrial standard, backbone of the Internet;
* A desktop environment similar to Apple’s Mac OS X in technology and usability;
* A software componentry framework, ready to carry out customary tasks, designed for easy extensibility to any further necessity. Yeah, that's OpenDoc unearthed, which broke Apple buried 1997 under Microsoft's pressure.
Because of its ingenious design Uhuru OS can be localised into other languages without great efforts or cost; thereby enabling even indigenous peoples to utilise PCs while facilitating the “preservation of their heritage and their cultural legacy” in accord with the UN Commitment 2005 on ICT.
Lets hope that at this point everybody can agree that not only Kenya's capital of US$300mil is better spent to found a sustainable national IT-industry, by procuring an array of more useful custom-made devices, while taking supreme control by domestically maintained and extended software and establishing a domestic service- and supply chain.
If still doubts remain, welcome to our website which discusses in depth the issues mentioned above and more. My goal was was to kick-off a debate with my post.
After 4 years of fighting for ICT-development at the frontline in an African country I came to realise, that the fundamental reason why the situation is like Michael analyses (What do we know about what works,...) , is the lack of inspiration and imagination of all stakeholders -- nobody seems able of 'thinking outside the box'!
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
You make good points about the possible risks of using not just Android but any for-profit company that may have ulterior motives (such as farming and selling data). And in an ideal world we could develop something both cheaper and better than Android (not just OS stability and quality - but much more importantly available applications and dedicated hardware makers operating at scale).
An attempt to produce an African alternative is admirable. But it is also costly and highly risky in competing against the scale leader everywhere from North America to China. Cellphone penetration exploded in emerging markets, with huge benefits, not because someone developed special cellphones (either hardware or software) for Africa or poorer countries, but because as scale built up in developed countries it drove costs down to the point that it became affordable in Africa too. The same will likely be the way forward for larger computing devices (i.e., tablets).
"I don't look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over."
Are you aware that by clicking on my name you are linked to the website of this undertaking you refer to? Most of the questions you put up in your post are discussed there at length and in academic fashion. Since we are a Tanzanian recognised non-profit organisation cooperating with the government I hope that Mike won't mind when I repeat the link here:
You definitely didn't research there, or at Wikipedia looking for OpenDoc:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opendoc
After burying a brilliant alternative to develop software, the IT-industry currently buries the generative computation.
Regarding your second paragraph:
1) Its not an African alternative but a global alternative like Linux - just better structured.
2) No, its not costly but more cheap as you believe. In fact it requires less than the cost of 1 Toyota Landcruiser! Look at the page where I just set-up a crowdfunding campaign it just takes ca. 3000 people to give EUR20 or USD25 each and the Uhuru OS becomes available for everybody.
3) No cellphone use is not affordable for most local Africans, they do without food occasionally just to remain connected. The mobile phones are of lowest quality, the Internet connections are ridiculously slow and unstable.
4) A tablet is rather a content player than a computer.
Tariq, you are welcome to study our KUKU concept online, your critics suggestions and support is always welcome.
Thanks for the notes Matthias. Good luck with KUKU, I hope you succeed in creating a viable alternative to the established players.
Great article and list. You missed the United Arab Emirates. It launched a huge initiative in September 2012.
Thanks for your comment, and the information about the UAE.
Other countries that I also didn't mention (but all presumably potential sources of useful lessons) include Bangladesh http://goo.gl/tXbHGr and Mauritius http://goo.gl/LZ4XxK [pdf].
A few people in the OLPC community have essentially directed me to the official list of OLPC deployments http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Deployments, and one person wrote in referencing this (old) map of Intel Classmate deployments http://goo.gl/IZ0PJM. One country notably absent from the list is Venezuela http://goo.gl/OnHg9R -- I simply don't know much of anything about what has happened with this project, but I suspect that, by confessing my ignorance here, someone may write in to educate me! Another project about which I am largely in the dark is this one in Russia http://goo.gl/XOTGWv.
I think you have identified fairly well why the K-12 system is functioning as it is in the U.S. in relation to 1:1 programs. I would add a couple of additional comments that may help with perspective.
The first is that I think what you are seeing in the lack of detail comes from a number of conditions. In K12, we are desperate. Because we exist within a political body, desperation can drive schools to need to seem to "not be behind" our neighbors. That is the key reason this is exploding. Secondly, we are desperate for results - and if someone has sold us a promise of results, we don't dig deep to verify the promise.
Largely, superintendents and school boards know this issue at a fairly superficial level. I don't mean to insinuate anything about intellect, but they rarely dig deep into the research or into framing this question the right way or any other processes which would lead to deeper understandings. As a result, many school districts are making a decision with a superficial-level belief that, in general, 1:1 will lead to higher engagement, personalized learning, more authentic learning experiences, 21st century skills, and the list goes on. I do think decision-makers have a general belief that the technology will transform classrooms, but few schools define performance measures and follow-through with the work needed to continue to drive something towards a set of end-goals. (To often, the gather anecdotal evidence or survey data after the fact - and that stuff generally trends positive).
In fact, I am very, very concerned that we are putting a lot at risk for education by not doing some of the things you have pointed out as lacking in the proposals you have seen - we are potentially putting ourselves at odds with partners at a time when support for public education is a little hard to come by. Additionally, we potentially put our schools at odds with parents and community (although most school systems with 1:1 initiatives are getting a pass due to the superficial beliefs I mentioned above).
Clearly you have not given schools a pass.
I have gone through your article and also through all the comments, conspicuously the trickle of laptops & tablets projects in a couple of states here in Nigeria you failed to mention. In the state of osun where the 'opon imo' tablet was recently launched is a good example of a tablet with offline content. Also in ekiti state of Nigeria where a massive rollout of Samsung mini laptops to high schoolers has also missed your mention. The impact of new technology on the African child cannot be over emphasized. Also the challenges are glaring. Like in Nigeria where there is shortage of power & little or non existent internet connection. All these can affect the use of these new technology .
Thanks for the comment! You are certainly right that I neglected to make any mention of what is happening in Nigeria in this area. I do try to follow reports from many proposed and emerging initiatives there, from which I expect there will be many lessons to learn, but I must confess I don't know as much about them as I do about what has been happening in the countries I listed above. My hope in leaving #10 blank above was precisely to get others to tell me things that I missed. Those wishing to learn more about the Opon Imo project may wish to visit the project web site, http://www.opon-imo.com/, or just type those two words into your favorite search engine. Searching for 'Ekiti' and 'laptops' will also yield some interesting infromation about the related initiative in that Nigerian state.
The post's heading 'Ten countries to learn from' is at odds with the paragraph that follows: 'Are these sorts of projects good ideas? It depends. The devil is often in the details (and the cost-benefit analysis), I find. Whether or not they are good ideas, there is no denying that they are occurring, for better and/or for worse, in greater frequency, and in greater amounts.'
If it's not clear that OLPC is a force for good, let's please not post on a World Bank blog that countries using it as an educational tool are countries to 'learn from'. It's rather misleading and dangerous.
Here's reference to a study on the efficacy of learning: http://www.economist.com/node/21552202
Here's the study, which finds that OLPC doesn't help with literacy or numeracy:
Thanks for your comment. A quick response:
I am quite familiar with research that has emerged, and is emerging, from the various OLPC projects around the world -- a topic which has been covered many times on the EduTech blog in the past, including specific attention to the IDB study on Peru (for which I was a peer reviewer, and to which I link twice in the blog post above).
In the short blog post above, I have intentionally refrained above from providing value judgments on whether any of the projects or initiatives listed as 'good' or 'bad'. By highlighting the fact that such projects have occurred, or are occurring, my hope is that some of the policymakers supporting similar sort of programs in other countries may take a step back and ask, 'is there anything we might be able to learn from other places who have done, or are doing, or plan to do, similar things?' Where policymakers decide to ask such questions (and we actively encourage them to do so!), we are most happy to put them in touch with key decisionmakers and stakeholders who were involved in such projects in other countries, and with researchers who have observed and evaluated such projects.
A consistent theme on this blog is the power of learning from failure (http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/category/tags/failure). Indeed, given the number of 'failed' projects to introduce educational technologies into education systems around the world, this is fertile ground for research and learning. However one may feel about individual projects, my opinion is that it would be (to adopt your terminology) 'misleading and dangerous' to ignore lessons from such projects.
To quote from an earlier post on the EduTech blog (http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/worst-practice):
"In business and in international development circles, much is made about the potential for 'learning from best practice'. Considerations of the use of educational technologies offer no exception to this impulse. That said, 'best practice' in the education sector is often a rather elusive concept (at best! some informed observers would say it is actually dangerous). The term 'good practice' may be more useful, for in many (if not most) cases and places, learning from and adapting 'good' practices is often much more practical -- and more likely to lead to success. Given that many initiatives seem immune to learning from either 'best' or even 'good' practice in other places or contexts, it may be most practical to recommend 'lots of practice', as there appears to be a natural learning curve that accompanies large scale adoption of ICTs in the education sector in many countries -- even if this means 'repeating the mistakes' of others.
But do we really need to repeat the mistakes of others? If adopting 'best practice' is fraught with difficulties, and 'good practice' often noted but ignored, perhaps it is useful instead to look at 'worst practice'. The good news is that, in the area of ICT use in education, there appears to be a good deal of agreement about what this is!"
By providing this excerpt from an earlier blog post as part of my comment here, I don't mean to imply that any of the country initiatives listed above (OLPC or otherwise) are failures -- or successes. Rather, it is to suggest that, if you are going to try to do something, it may be worth your while to go talk to some of the people who have already attempted something similar. Whether they succeeded or failed (most likely they have done some of both), you just might learn something as a result.
Tablets in Rural South Africa. Although not a project on the scale of what you've mentioned above (yet), the CSIR Meraka Institute is in the process of piloting (Android) tablets in Cofimvaba, one of our (very) rural school districts in the Eastern Cape. The project is being driven by our Departments of Science and Technology, Basic Education and Rural Development. It is currently part of a much larger initiative, Technology for Rural Education Development (TECH4RED), which aims to contribute to the improvement of rural education through technology-led innovation. The aim is to influence policy via evidence-based research. We're attempting to actively build on learning from other one-to-one initiatives, whilst customising approaches based on our particular context. The output will be a replicable model for large-scale mobile device deployments in South Africa. We're currently in year 2 of the initiative, which we've dubbed "ICT4RED".
You mention that you don't find a compelling reason for tablets vs laptops. We're currently preparing our first M&E report on our year 1 experience. We can say categorically that our experience has been that the uptake of tablets amongst the educators and the ease of integration into actively using them in the classroom far surpasses anything we (or any of our partners) have experienced thus far. This is partly due to the fact that the jump from a phone to a tablet is far less intimidating than the jump to a laptop. The usability of tablets is a major plus point - no grappling with operating systems or external pointing devices, no trying to figure out where to find the software and how to install it, etc, etc. The fact that it's really easy to use the device's multimedia capabilities to record, video, take photos, etc. is also a no-brainer. And if you're used to using a phone's small keyboard, using a much larger touchscreen keyboard is really easy - it depends what you're used to!
For the first time, it's actually possible to focus on teaching strategies supported and enriched by technology, rather than spending days and weeks on how to use the device. Our teacher professional development methodology is based on this premise and we've had overwhelming success thus far. We literally have older "gogos" (grannies) who, after 2-3 lessons are confidently using the tablets in the classrooms - applying advanced pedagogies such as "jigsaw", "roleplay" and storytelling" techniques.
If anyone wants a blow-by-blow account of the little miracle happening at the poorest of the poor schools in South Africa, you can follow our @ict4red twitter account or search for the hashtag #ICT4RED.
Thanks for the information (and best of luck with this project!).
Responding quickly to one item:
I didn't actually say that I don't think there are compelling reasons to choose tablets over laptops. To the contrary: I actually think that there *are* indeed potentially some very good reasons why you might chose to go the tablet route (or the laptop route, for that matter). What I was meaning to convey was that I don't typically hear these reasons presented as part of the rationale behind making this choice of technology. Why not? Maybe the answers are so obvious ... but I usually don't get the sense that that is the case, at least in the conversations and scenarios in which I typically find myself. Instead, the reason seems to be that the tablet is the 'newest' device on offer, and new automatically means better. This isn't to say that the choice itself is wrong. It's always possible to make the right decision for the wrong reasons -- or indeed for no reason at all!
A number of the things you mention in favor of tablets in the ICT4RED project related to usability don't, in my opinion, need *only* relate to tablets. There is no reason you can't design laptops (or whatever device) that are easy to use as well. In a way, I wonder if the 'new' form factor of a tablet allows designers to dispense with some of the complexity that people now expect (for better or worse) in laptops. (I put have deliberately put 'new' in quotation marks here, as I recognize that this is not actually terribly new in a chronological sense, just that it is 'new' in the sense of being a dominant relevant choice for consumers). That said, I do take your point (even if I have grumbled to myself about the very poor usaibility of some of the low cost tablets that have been demo'ed for me recently).
I do think your point about the transition from phone to tablet is an important one -- both from the perspectives of users *and* designers. Most young people today in Africa (if not the world) will first interact with a phone before they interact with a laptop or desktop, and the commonalities in usability between phones and tablets is important. One of the advantages that many user interface designers who work on tablets have, I think, is that they are not wedded to many of the 'old' UI paradigms that continue to plague the experiens of many people who use laptops. Some of them also probably came from, or simultaneously work in, UI design for phones, and bring with them ideas about simplicity that the small screen and limited input mechanisms of that device compell.
I look forward to following the learnings from the ICT4RED project!
Rural villages across Argentina participate in this program. Educators and community leaders have mixed feelings about the impact of this opportunity-equalizing scheme. Beyond the obvious positive impact in brining technology to a generation that may otherwise never have known it, several criticisms have been directed toward the program from the press and individual testimonials:
Problems in the distribution of laptop computers result in some generations of students and educators having them while others don´t, creating some resentment and many unanswered questions among school age children and their families. This is closely tied to the dual concern regarding the origin of funds to finance the program and unlikely sustainability of providing computers to an ever growing school age population. Further, computers are being utilized by most students to stream music and videos and hardly to process text or do homework, according to anecdotal evidence of some villagers. Computers have no safe browsing feature or parental control, and during the initial launch of the program - not anymore - featured an image of the President on system startup, lending to accusations of political propaganda, reminiscent of the times of Peron and his party's incursions into school material such as elementary reading textbooks.
There are other similar criticisms, but the program has helped close the breach between the haves and the have nots, in some respects, and in some communities, to varying degrees, at least for the time being.
The problems that are facing Argentina are the same set that are awaiting kenya. The infrastructure sees feeble to support such a project which is big in Kenyan standards. The majority of the public schools, where the initial roll out will be done have no power, the classes are in need of repair, under staffed teachers most of whom do not have the know how among myriads of other technical challenges. On one hand, it might be a political promise to settle but on the other hand, its such a boost to the education system of the country. But for it to be successful, the underlying hurdles should be minimised to realise the desired output.
I think we should support such projects and do whatever we can do for them, villages now are turning into cities poeple are getting aware of mobile technologies and other tech like laptops and computers. Strategies should be develop to implement the IT education system in rural areas so that effective results to come.
Michael, Technology is here with us - the change it brings is inevitable. Keep us informed if possible of the 'Best practices' 'Good practices' so that we avoid the 'worst practices'