A new education sector strategy -- what role for ICT?

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 a fresh look at things in the new year | photo credit at bottomThe World Bank is developing a new ten-year strategy to guide its work in the education sector.  This new strategy will replace the World Bank Education Strategy paper of 1999 , which was updated in 2006 [note: link is to a pdf].

Fair enough, you are probably saying, but why should we care?  (If you haven't already registered your disinterest by clicking over to another web page, that is!) 

I am anticipating that this post will not attract the large readership of recent posts about e-books in Africa, the OLPC project in Uruguay, or come anywhere near generating the types of traffic we see for posts about the use of mobile phones in education(Note: Newcomers to this blog as a result of the Learning and Technology World Forum are directed to our list of top EduTech posts from 2009, which might be of greater interest.)

That said, I hope that this blog posting is more than just institutional navel gazing:


While its role within the international aid and development community has changed considerably in the last twenty years, the World Bank remains one of the most significant international actors supplying funding and doing research to promote the development of education in developing countries. Some quick data points: 

  • The active World Bank education portfolio totaled $8.8 billion in FY09.
  • 20 education projects were co-financed by bilateral and multilateral agencies, representing total funding of $1.2 billion
  • About half of the World Bank's total education lending supports activities in the world's poorest countries (i.e. those eligible for support through IDA)
  • Last year alone, the World Bank published 100 knowledge products on education

In other words: The World Bank continues to play an important role in helping to set developmental agendas in the education sector in many countries around the world. Its strategy for engagement in and support for the education sector can have profound consequences, both directly and indirectly, on the education (or lack thereof) of hundreds of millions of children and young people around the world. 

A lot has certainly changed since the last full World Bank education strategy was articulated in 1999.  Even if we still have far to go in many places, there can be no denying progress made in gettings millions of children, especialy girls, into formal schooling as a result of Education For All initiatives.  Forces for globalization continue to bind us all closer together, in ways both good and bad.  Armed conflict, both across and within national broders, remains all to prevalent, with devastating impacts on the livelihoods and education of millions of children.  The threats and instabilities caused by pandemic disease have not been eradicated -- and indeed may well be increasing.  Expensive toys for well-healed executives only two decades ago, the explosion of mobile phone use in even some of the world's poorest communities demonstrates just how quickly -- and pervasive -- information and communication technologies of various sorts are becoming to the lives of much of the world's population  While attempting to predict where things will stand in 2019 may be a fool's quest, there is no denying that the impact of technological change will continue to have profound impact on societies around the world.  Preparing for future generations to be able to adapt to, harness, and drive such changes will no doubt be a critical challenge for education systems around the world, rich and poor, in both insutrialized and emerging economies.

A country’s wealth -- and its prospects for development — depends on the quality of its people — the skill and creativity of its work force, the capability of its leaders to govern well and to manage its resources, and the ability of its adult generation to raise healthy, educated and happy children.  The new ten-year World Bank education sector strategy will outline how this particular institution will work with its developmental partners to support the development of skills for life and work that will reduce poverty and promote long-term growth and good governance.

How, specifically, should the World Bank incorporate, anticipate, and respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by technological changes over the next decade -- of various sorts, with consequencies both predicable and surprising -- into its new strategy for engagement in the education sector?

This is a theme to which this blog will occasionally turn in 2010, and about which we hope to receive comments, feedback, suggestions and criticism. 

The World Bank hopes to utilize various 'multi-media approaches' as part of a broad consultation process around the development of the strategy.  The mechanisms for this consultation are still being worked out.  On the social media side, I note that this remains the only blog focusing on education issues at the World Bank, a fact that I hope will change soon -- both as a mechanism for and symbol of a greater degree of openness and transparency in the consultative process to develop the new strategy, as well as a means to more quickly and more efficiently involve a wider number of stakeholders in the process. 

Some background:

For those of you still reading, I thought I'd briefly review how and where issues related to 'technology' were presented, discussed and prioritized in the last education sector strategy update [link to pdf], in case doing so might be of any interest.

Some may argue that it is a bit unfair to use the search utility to see just how often certain terms and concepts were mentioned in the last paper ... but I will do so anyway! To begin, I note that the body of the last education strategy update contains but two brief mentions of 'computers' (and none of 'phones').  While 'innovation' is mentioned numerous times, there are only three quick mentions of what many people feel is an important ingredient in promoting and reaping the rewards of innovation -- the promotion of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurialism. And I wonder if I should read any significance into the fact that the only mention of 'ICT' in the paper is in the list of acronyms and abbreviations on p. iv?  

This is not to say that ICTs are not discussed at all.  On p.35, for example, we read that:

Countrywide policies related to information and communications technologies are crucial for education as well. For policymakers aiming to tackle the growing digital divide, the challenge comprises massive investments in information infrastructure and equipment—and a lot more. There is a need to go beyond inclusion of technology components in projects and focus support on the full range of efforts needed to effectively integrate information and communication technologies in education systems, including in the area of curriculum and pedagogy, institutional readiness, teacher and principal training, long-term financing, and establishment of an enabling environment for technology investments. National policy for information technologies must be rewritten to incorporate the needs of the education sector, including sustainable low-cost access to the Internet. Moreover, it is essential that such support be informed by evaluation of previous information and communications interventions, at the country-specific as well as global level

On p.46, we read that "More countries use knowledge and technologies to leapfrog toward faster growth." (Use of the term 'leapfrog' has been quite common in many policy papers over the past decade ... even if what exactly this might mean on a practical level is often left to the imagination -- to say nothing of leaps in the wrong direction.)

Reading these passages, and the ones that follow, it is clear that many elements of the last strategy have not lost their relevance today (and one can imagine with a fair degree of confidence that they couldprobably  be included in a strategy paper written in 2019 as well):

As knowledge accumulation and application begin to play a bigger role in economic development and as comparative advantage among nations becomes more and more a function of technical innovation and use of knowledge (rather than natural resources), the priority for building up an educated and skilled workforce escalates greatly. [p.47-48]

Information and communication technologies, in particular, have
the potential to multiply access to learning opportunities to those who most need them, including hard-to-reach populations, students with disability, and out-of-school youth. Such technologies can also play an important role in improving the quality of teaching—and thus learning—outcomes. [p.48]

There is a succinct discussion of "Using Education to build knowledge economies" that begins on p.56.  One excerpt:

"To ensure their full participation in knowledge-driven development, countries need to build their human capital and adapt their entire education system to the new challenges of the “learning” economy. Education plays a critical role in supporting knowledge-driven economic growth strategies in two complementary ways: (a) through the formation of a strong human capital base and (b) by contributing to the construction of an effective national innovation system." p.58

There is a short pronouncement of the importance of "Using information technologies to strengthen education outcomes." [p.86]

All of these statments and assertions remain as accurate and relevant today as they were when the past strategy update was published -- if not more so. 

Is this attention sufficient -- or is it just lip service? Does the nature and power, opportunities and challenges that new information and communication technologies are having on societies around the world merit more attention, or a different sort of attention -- in the new World Bank Education Sector Strategy Paper?  If so, how and in what regard? 

These are just a few of the myriad questions that we will be wrestling with in 2010 -- and we are happy to invite you to join us in this process.

Note: The image at the top of this blog postings is from the World Bank photostream on Flickr and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons license.


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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