Much of what we read and hear discussed about 'emerging trends' in technology use in education is meant largely for audiences in industrialized countries, or for more affluent urban areas in other parts of the world, and is largely based on observations on what is happening in those sorts of places. One benefit of working at a place like the World Bank, exploring issues related to the use of ICTs in education around the world, is that we get to meet with lots of interesting people proposing, and more importantly doing, interesting things in places that are sometimes not widely reported on in the international media (including some exciting 'innovations at the edges').
We are often asked questions like, "What trends are you are noticing that are a bit 'under the radar'?" In case it might be of interest to wider groups and/or provoke some interesting discussion and comment, we thought we'd quickly pull a list of these sorts of things together here.
Inclusion on the list below doesn't mean to imply that a given trend is 'good' ... just that it is apparent and interesting to us in some way. We don't mean to suggest that these trends are apparent everywhere; they are largely born of our personal experiences, and so are perhaps informed more by strings of compelling anecdotes and 'gut feelings' about what is relevant than on hard data that we can cite. We have deliberately omitted a number of trends that we have noted in prior posts that didn't necessarily have a specific developing country focus (including those mentioned in an entry on 10 Global Trends in ICT and Education that is now a few years old) or which are cited in widely read publications like the Horizon Report (whose K-12 edition for 2012 was released earlier this month). In some cases, the trends have been observed and noted in more 'advanced' countries for some time, but are only now gathering momentum (sometimes with a twist) in many less economically privileged parts of the world. In other cases, the trends may have emerged in developed country contexts, and are finding particular resonance in some less economically developed places.
With that explanation out of the way, here are, in no particular order ...
Ten trends in technology use in education in developing countries
that you may not have heard about
1. tablets tablets tablets
Whereas five years ago there was a great deal of (new) excitement about low cost laptops for students in so-called 'developing countries', in 2012 much of the mindshare previously occupied by such programs is being taken up by large scale initiatives to put tablet computers into the hands of students. While in industrialized countries there are scores of iPad in education projects, in developing countries much of the discussions is around the use of lower cost Android tablets or simple e-book readers. Large projects like those in Russia, Turkey and Thailand, where plans to purchase hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions of low cost tablets, are now underway and, we expect, represent the leading edge of a very large wave of activity in this regard.
2. my learning network is a social network
One use of ICTs whose use has exploded among students and teachers in developing countries is social networking (especially Facebook). In few cases do we find this being harnessed in systematic ways by education systems (apart from isolated instances by rather atypical educators), and in fact, many education systems filter the use of social networks in their schools. (We do note that increasing numbers of schools are establishing an official 'Facebook presence', although this is often meant as a sort of website replacement for basic one-way communication purposes.) Outside of school, however, the phenomenon is quite apparent in many places, and while, in our experience most of this use by students is, well, *social*, it is being utilized by students as part of their learning activities outside of school, especially as a homework and test prep aid.
3. lost and found in translation
It may be true, as a 19th century English travel author once said, that 'translation is at best an echo'. Where silence is at hand, however, such sounds, no matter how faint, may be quite welcome. Efforts to translate Khan Academy content or to make use of crowdsourced translations of popular TED Talks are representative of a trend that we see picking up steam -- translating readily available digital learning materials into other languages. Sometimes part of open educational resources (OER) activities and/or taking advantage of various Creative Commons licenses, it is true that many such translation efforts are to transform educational content created in industrialized countries for use in developing countries, and that comparatively little efforts have been made to translate education materials created in the global 'South' for use in other developing countries (or indeed by countries anywhere). It is also true that translating and contextualizing content to meet local circumstances and needs are not the same thing. That said, what was once largely the domain of enthusiasts utilizing new digital tools to make available their own translations of (for example) Japanese comics and animation for wider audiences is becoming an activity that, while perhaps not mainstream, is of increasing relevance to learners in many countries.
4. the great firewall of ... everywhere
While rhetoric perhaps doesn't match action in most cases, there does appear to be an increasing recognition by educational policymakers in developing countries of the important roles schools can play in digital safety and digital ethics issues. Where there is lots of action is in the use of a variety of filtering tools to help keep 'bad content' off schools networks (sometimes complicating the work of teachers and students who are blocked from accessing relevant educational content because the filters are too broad). Whether such activities are a first step in a larger process that slowly leads to the inclusion of important topics like digital citizenship and cybersafety as part of the roll out and use of new technologies in schools in developing countries, or if beliefs that child digital safety issues are really technical problems that are best met with technical 'solutions' (e.g. web filtering software that blocks access to certain types of web sites) continue to dominate related discussions, remains to be seen.
5. earlier and earlier
Ten to fifteen years ago, when decisions were first made to introduce lots of computers into schools into many developing countries, it was often considered 'obvious' to start first with secondary school students. ('Obvious' in many cases because it was felt that older students would be less likely to break them, that their use would be of more relevance to their studies, because there were fewer secondary schools; because secondary schools typically had better security -- to prevent theft -- and access to reliable power; and because higher qualified secondary school teachers would be more likely to know, or figure out, how to use them. Practical experience has led some folks to question many of the things that they previously considered 'obvious', but that's another issue.) Now, many places are specifically interested in investigating the use of ICT devices at the pre-school or early childhood development level. There are, we presume, a few reasons that might account for this, including the fact that, as other levels of education have already been introduced to computers, ECD is the next frontier; companies are more explicitly targeting this area as a potential growth area, both on the hardware and software side; the demonstration value of the pass-back effect, where parents give their phones to their children to keep them occupied, has convinced people of the potential utility of using ICT devices at increasingly younger ages; more attention to ECD in general in many places, so rising funding tides raise the boat of educational technology for young kids as well (we are a little skeptical of this explanation, but we hear it often enough to include it here); and the fact that gesture-based computing is more relevant to young learners than typing-dependent applications often found on computers. While there has long been robust debate about the 'impact' of ICT use in education on the development of various cognitive skills, it is particularly acute at the ECD level; while this debate goes on (and benefits from increasingly useful research), many countries, especially in Asia and Latin America, are moving aggressively forward.
6. special needs
Even where many countries have been aggressively taking measures to ensure 'education for all' and have signed on to key international standards like those articulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there is a very long way to go in many places to ensure that students with a variety of *special education needs* are able to participate as fully and productively as possible in formal and informal schooling. As ICTs are introduced into schools in ever larger numbers, some countries are trying to use them as part of their efforts to engage with special education needs students in new ways. Most such activities appear to be in their infancy (albeit, in some cases, highly touted), and often times limited to dedicated schools in urban areas, but they are starting to occur more frequently than even five years ago.
7. all this tech is going to my waste
Five years ago we often had to struggle to get issues of 'e-waste' included into discussions and plans for large scale ICT/education schemes in schools in many developing countries. In 2012 the reluctance to discuss this topic has dissipated in many quarters, and we find increasingly widespread acknowledgement of the importance of the issue -- even if, as a practical matter, this acknowledgement has not yet translated into actual action.
8. open data, big (brother?) data
As more flows of information are digitized, and as more people have access to (and know how to use) computers and other ICT devices, there is an increasingly recognition that such data can be 'mined' in new ways that are quite relevant to many key issues facing educational decisionmakers. At the same time, there is a(n often not unrelated) movement to ensure that data are 'open' and available for use by the public in standard formats. (The World Bank itself has been moving aggressively to open its data.) This confluence of trends -- together with a recognition by many vendors that they can sell their related products and services into new markets -- has, in our experience, not yet resulted in lots of action in the places where we work. That said, we are increasingly finding it a theme of and for discussion, whereas even a year or two ago this was only a hypothetical, and prospective, topic for consideration.
One area where we have seen tangible activities related to the collection and use of los of new data relates to the 'tracking' of students and teachers. A widely circulated BBC report from earlier this year about the use of 'intelligent uniforms', containing a small chip that would allow schools in a city in northeastern Brazil to know automatically if students were at school or not (with a automated text message sent to the parents of truant pupils) is just one example of a increasingly evident trend to use new technologies to monitor student attendance. And it's not only students: There are numerous efforts to monitor teachers as well, via programs that introduce video cameras into classrooms or projects where teachers are photographed at the start of each day to confirm their attendance.
However one feels about one things, this is a trend that appears inexorable, and is perhaps only the edge of a much larger wave of the use of various types of inexpensive sensor and monitoring technologies to 'help' schools and parents track what students and teachers are doing. When we mention such activities to counterparts in government (often as part of an attempt to initiative discussions about the privacy and ethical implications of such activities), we often find that many folks are quite excited about the potential to do similar things in their schools. 'This', one education leader once said to us, 'is one use of technology in schools that I can get behind, as its impact is clear.' Whether or not you agree with such a statement, in our experience it is not an outlier opinion.
9. getting school leadership on board
Especially in countries where the first wave of large scale investments in educational technologies is subsiding, we see a recognition that some of the cost effective investments education system can make are in related outreach to and training for school headmasters and principals. If you've spent tens (or hundreds) of millions of dollars on putting computers in schools, training teachers and digitizing content, spending a small sliver of such amount to do targeted outreach to school leaders can help remove many barriers to the productive realization of the potential benefits of such investments. Where a principal is not perceived to be supportive of uses of new technologies in a school, they often tend not to be used productively in new ways by many teachers. Providing relevant 'training' (for lack of a better term) for them can help turn them from indifferent observers (or even wary adversaries) into people supportive leaders for changing attitudes and practices. This makes perfect sense, of course, and we do often wonder why this is a 'new trend' -- but, in our experience, it is.
There are other trends that we expect (and in some cases hope) to see in developing countries in the not too distant future, but have not included here, as, where they exist at all, they are still largely in very embryonic stages. These include things like the 'maker' movement (often linked with educational robotics movements -- something that has been around for a long time in various forms in developing countries); BYOD/BYOT (shorthand for 'bring your own device' or 'bring your own technology', i.e. the phenomenon of education systems taking advantage of the technology devices that students themselves already own and bring to school); and the use of assessment systems that bundle in educational content (including OER content) in ways that make it difficult to separate the two. We don't mention the OER movement because, well, we expect most regular readers of this blog already know a lot about it. (Those who don't should have a look here.) There are a few 'trends' which are not infrequently presented at international conferences (augmented reality is one example that springs to mind) that we don't see in evidence in any fundamental way beyond, perhaps, some high profile but small pilot efforts, so we didn't include them here.
As we have done with other 'lists of ten' published on the EduTech blog, we have left #10 deliberately blank as an acknowledgement that that are many more things happening out there related to the use of educational technologies in developing countries that are perhaps 'under the radar' which we, given our own limitations, have not included here. (We have also run out of space.)
Please feel free to add in your own #10 below.
So there you go: That's our list of "ten trends in technology use in education in developing countries that you may not have heard about". As a lot of these things seem to us to be happening a 'bit under the radar', we have had trouble finding lots of links (in English) which illustrate examples for all of these trends. (We have also been told that recent blog posts have been a bit long, and so we wanted to shorten things up a bit, although we are not sure we succeeded in that regard.) As we noted at the start of the post, we concede that our impressions are just that -- our impressions -- and are based on specific projects and discussions in which we have been involved, and so they may well not be representative of anything other than our own individual experiences (and biases). If past experiences are any guide, we do expect to receive emails from folks who say the equivalent of "this isn't new, I was involved in [#___] with my students in [Leeds or Brisbane or some other urban area in an industrialized country] way back in the 1980s". We don't doubt that such statements are true ... but knowledge of such practices, let along the practices themselves, has made little impression on policymakers in developing countries with whom we regularly speak until very recently. Our goal here is to offer up these 'ten trends' in case they might be interest to wider communities as they debate and discuss what will, or should, 'come next'. Inclusion here is not meant as an 'endorsement' of a particular trend as necessarily a good thing; it is just an observation about what we are seeing happen across lots of countries where we work. Hopefully at least one of them will provide you with some new food for thought.
Note: The image used at the top of this blog post of a surfer enjoying a ride in the famous Mavericks competition ("not everyone is riding these big waves ... yet") comes from Shalom Jacobovitz via Wikimeda Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.