"ICT is both an icon and an engine of innovation"

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image courtesy of infoDevAt the end of last week's blog post I mentioned the new Educational Technology Debate web site sponsored by infoDev and UNESCO.  Every month, this site will offer up a topic for consideration, and two discussants will stake out positions on (roughly) opposite sides to kick off what is meant to be a lively on-line 'back-and-forth' in the subsequent weeks.  The first question for debate asks,

Given the limited resources available in educational systems in the developing world, and the lack of any great will to change the situation, is it better to invest in known teacher aids like textbooks, chalkboards, or basic school supplies or do new technology options, like ebooks, smart boards, computers really offer a paradigm shift in educational efficiencies?

Tim Kelly begins things by arguing that ICTs are a 'pretty good' investment (if not quite the best).  Wayan Vota responds that our emphasis should be on the teacher, not the technology.  Both have now posted amended positions, having considered 40 or so comments from people around the world over the previous week. Have a look.

My favorite comment is actually made by Ed Gaible on his blog, where he writes (among other things) that :

The motivational impact of ICT in schools turns out to be,

(a) among the first impacts ever demonstrated;
(b) still cropping up in studies today, despite the increased presence of computers outside of school;
(c) one of the few impacts that is as strong, or stronger, in developing-country schools. 

It IS easier to engage the imagination with computers, precisely because IMHO students imagine the use of computers to do impossible things--write to a kid across the world, find out about China or the USA, make a web page that tells about your own life. No one in the real world does those things with chalk and slate.

For students in those poor countries, ICT is both an icon of and an engine of innovation. It motivates and it enables. [emphasis added]

"ICT is both an icon and an engine of innovation" -- quite a deft turn of phrase, Ed! 

In my interactions with ministries of education around the world, with parents, community leaders, and with students, it is clear that there is a large and undeniable aspirational component to investment decisions to put computers in schools.  For many, especially in developing countries, an investment in ICTs in schools is a tangible way to signal belief in the future.  With potential returns to investments in education by definition long-term (and hotly debated), there is perhaps no more fundamentally optimistic endeavor in which we regularly engage than educating our children. 

Critics of ICT use in schools are often quick to cite the very shaky evidence base upon which decisions in this area are often made.  (Some commenters in the United States like to joke that the large-scale investment in ICTs in schools is one of the great 'faith-based' initatives in the education sector!).  They -- we -- are right to ask for proof

But, for better or for worse, this lack of evidence does not appear to deter increasingly large scale investments to promote ICT use in schools to aid a wide variety of developmental objectives. Ed's aphoristic comment points to why this might be the case.

Follow-up: A few people have written in to say that they have had troubles accessing the online debate between Sir John Daniel and Bob Kozma on technology and education sponsored by The Economist back in October 2007 to which I linked last week ("This house believes the continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education").  Indeed, a log-in box does appear when you try to access this URL; just hit [cancel] and you should be fine.  The archived debate is as relevant today as it was back in 2007, and something that I enjoy re-reading every few months.  In addition to the statements by Bob and John and moderator Robert Cottrell, there are guest appearances by Linda Darling-Hammond, Kevin Bushweller and Don Knezek -- and 370 others!


Michael Trucano

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

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