ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch -- and Learn From

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KERIS looms increasingly large on the international ICT/education scene | image attribution at bottomAs part of engagements with ministries of education around the world, I am often asked to provide lists of countries considered to be 'best practice examples of ICT use in education'. I am asked this so often that I thought I'd provide a representative list here to help point people in some useful directions, in case doing so might be of any interest.

But before I get to the list ...

First, I'd like to say that I prefer the term 'good practice' to 'best practice'.  This may seem to be unnecessary semantic nitpicking, but 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. 

And: Given that many initiatives seem immune to learning from either 'best' or even 'good' practice in other places, I am coming to the conclusion that it may be most practical to recommend countries that have had 'lots of practice' (of any kind).  Is this ideal?  Obviously no -- but it tends to yield better results. For whatever reason, there appears to be a natural learning curve that accompanies large scale adoption of ICTs in the education sector in many countries, and that there is an important element of 'learning by doing' that appears to be important, even if this means 'repeating the mistakes' of others. (This is a process often known in international development circles as 'capacity building'.)

Second, some caveats:

  • Given how much is widely known about what is happening in North America, Western Europe and Australia, and the World Bank's focus on low and middle income countries, I am deliberately excluding the United States, Finland, Canada, Australia, etc. There are other good sources for information about what is happening in such places.
  • Because we deal primarily with national governments in our work at the World Bank, I have concentrated here on highlighting countries with national programs.  There are of course scores of interesting initiatives occuring within pockets in countries, and/or across borders (fodder for future blog posts).
  • I have tried for reasonable geographic diversity.
  • Given that most visitors to this blog are (presumably) English language readers, I have focused on places where there is documentation available in English to enable follow up for readers here.

With all of that out of the way, and in alphabetical order ...

Of all the programs in middle income and developing countries that have sought to introduce ICTs systematically into the education, the Chilean experience  is perhaps the most lauded and studied.

Costa Rica
The partnership between the Ministry of Education and Fundación Omar Dengo in Costa Rica is seen by many as a model for introducing, implementing and evaluating technology use in education.

India (Kerala)
(OK, here's an admitted exception to the caveats listed above.)
With a population of over 31 million, the Indian state of Kerala -- home to the IT@school initiative -- has more people than all but two of the countries listed here. IT@school, which provides ICT-enabled education to 1.6 million students per year in the state, is considered by some to be the largest educational program of its kind utilizing primarily free and open source software.

Efforts have been made in numerous countries to replicate and adapt the model behind the innovative public-private partnership driving the forward-looking Jordan Education Initiative, perhaps the highest profile initiative of its kind among developing countries -- and one of the better evaluated ones.

Macedonia's Primary Education Project (PEP) contains a large ICT in Education Component supporting the computerization of Macedonia’s primary schools by training teachers, developing maintenance solutions, providing digital content, and introducing innovative uses of ICT such as computer control, robotics, electronic music, video & audio recording. Supported by USAID and a variety of public and private sector partners, Macedonia became the world’s first “wireless country” of its size or larger.

Now entering its second decade, the Smart School project is the flagship example of what has been happening in Malaysia, considered a global leader in the use of technology in education.

TECH/NA!, Namibia’s ICTs in Education Initiative, is a comprehensive strategy for the integration of ICTs across the entire education sector, and a model for many countries in Africa (and beyond).

At the World Bank, no ICT/education project has been larger than the Russia E-Learning Support Project, and we expect to publish additional findings from this project in 2010.

Singpore's Masterplan for ICT in Education (now in its third edition) is perhaps the model for forward-thinking, holistic and flexible policymaking in this area. A tiny city-state that has moved from 'developing' to developed' status in just one generation, Singapore is in many ways an exceptional case, but that doesn't mean that its experience is not instructive for other countries.

South Korea
50 years ago per capita GDP in South Korea was on par with Ghana.  Last November this East Asian Tiger became first former aid recipient to join the OECD Development Assistance Committee and become a donor country, in large part to its successful achievements in both the technology and education sectors. Since the late 1990s, the Korea Education Research & Information Service (KERIS) has been the focal point for the country's ambitious efforts to integrate technology throughout the education sector, and is now 'exporting' lessons from this experience to developing countries.

In a sign of just how fast things are changing, Uruguay would not have been on anyone's list of the countries to watch only five years ago.  Now, through its ambitious Plan Ceibal, this small South American country, by providing free laptops to all primary school students in public schools (among other initiatives), is increasingly the focus of the attention of practitioners and scholars alike.

What's missing?

Most obviously, there is ... China. In my opinion, what is happening in China (in its developed coastal cities, its emerging urban conglomerations in the interior and its rural areas) is perhaps the most interesting and relevant experience for many other developing countries.  (This is true for the use of ICT in education, as in so many other areas.)  It is especially true given China's emergence as an important developmental partner for many countries (in Africa and elsewhere) and the fact that the center of production of most ICT equipment used in the world's schools is in Southern China.  That said, there has not been much be written about the breadth of Chinese experience in English in recent years, which is why I habve omitted it here.  (This will be the focus of a series of EduTech blog entries later this year.)

OK, but what about [insert country name]?, you might also ask.  Limiting examples to eleven is admittedly (and purposefully) artificial, and striving for geographic diversity means that places like Mexico and Brazil and Thailand (subjects of future posts to this blog) are not listed here.  Feel free to chime in with other notable ommissions below.

An announcement of potential interest to readers of this blog:

International Conference on 1-to-1 Computing in Education

Together with our co-organizers, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), we are proud to announce an International Conference on 1-to-1 Computing in Education hosted by the government of Austria from 22-24 February 2010 in Vienna.

Results from this event will be covered on the World Bank EduTech blog beginning in March.

For more information and event registration, please see www.bildung.at/nml-conference2010.

Please note: The image of the headquarters of the Korean Education & Research Information Service (KERIS) used at the top of this blog post comes via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Michael Trucano

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

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