Teachers, Teaching & ICTs

This page in:
it's part art, part craft ... and there's some science in there too
it's part art, part craft ...
and there's some science in there too

For the past seven years, the Korean Education & Research Information Service (KERIS) has hosted an annual global symposium on ICT use in education, bringing senior policymakers and practitioners from around the world to Seoul to share emerging lessons from attempts to introduce and utilize information and communications technologies to help meet a wide variety of goals in the education sector. Each year this event, which is one important component of a strong multi-year partnership between the World Bank education sector and the Korean Ministry of Education, focuses on one particular theme. This year's symposium examined the 'changing role of teachers' and featured presentations from, and discussions with, policymakers from 22 countries. This was also the dominant theme of the first global symposium back in 2007 -- but, oh my, how the nature and content of the discussions have changed!

At that first symposium, much of the talk from policymakers in middle and low income countries was still of promise and potential, of the need to begin preparing for what was inevitably going to come. Where there were specific lessons and models and research to share, these were largely those from places like the United States, the UK, Australia -- and of course from Korea itself! For most of the policymakers from middle and low income countries participating in the event, helping to prepare and support teachers as they sought to use ICTs in various ways in support of their teaching, and to support student learning, was something being explored in various 'pilot' activities, and a topic perhaps given some (at least rhetorical) attention in national education policy documents. It wasn't yet a real area of large and sustained activity and expenditure -- largely because there just weren't that many computers in most schools, and what computers that were present were mostly to be found in computer labs, presided over by 'computer teachers' of various sorts. As this year's event made clear, the introduction of PCs, laptops, tablets, and interactive whiteboards is something that is now happening *right now* in very large numbers in countries of all sorts, and ministries of education are ramping up and reforming their teacher training efforts as a result.

A few quick highlights from this year's symposium:

  • A presentation from Turkey was received with great interest, given the huge magnitude of that country's FATIH initiative, under which over 12 million tablets are being procured, over 100,000 interactive whiteboards are being installed in schools, and a tremendous amount of digital educational content is being made available.
  • A representative from the MOE in Ghana presented plans to connect schools and roll out tens of thousands of educational laptops and digital content.
  • A participant from INSPIRE in Italy presented results from a recent OECD review of the Italian 'strategy for digital schools', which highlights challenges related to teacher training and support.
  • A representative from the MOE in Malaysia shared lessons from efforts there to offer as the online ICT competency test in that country (in 2013, 420,000 students and 10,000 teachers will take this test online).
  • A representative from the MOE in Viet Nam presented on that country's new 'National Strategic Plan on ICT Application & Teachers Professional Development'.
  • A representative from Thailand presented on that country's large educational tablet project and the implications for teacher training.

With so much happening, so quickly, and at such great expense (!), there was common agreement about the need for not only detailed impact evaluations (although of course there was pretty unanimous agreement about the importance of such work) but also for the dissemination of findings from quicker, 'lighter' (and cheaper) types of evaluation work, given that ministries of education are moving forward very quickly, and not ready to wait for unequivocal results from multi-year randomized control trials of the use of yesterday's technologies as they attempt to make decisions about how to plan for the use of the technologies of tomorrow.

We need ways to stay on top of emerging trends and lessons, especially as they emerge from other middle and low income countries, and help in communicating findings from on-going efforts and research in ways that policymakers can quickly digest and use as inputs into our decision making. We need to know what makes a difference (and what does not), but also very practical 'how-to' advice while we attempt to identify and explore these differences, I was told.


To help kick off the discussions, I attempted to provide a quick snapshot [here's the presentation] of what the research literature and emerging 'good practice' tells us about a number of key topics related to the use of informational and communication technologies (ICTs) by teachers, and about ICT use in teaching, of potential relevance to policymakers and planners, especially in educational contexts in middle and low income countries. As part of a quick summary of a very large body of knowledge based on practical experiences around the world, I looked at what we know, what we don't, and what we believe (although there may not be evidence in support of this belief) related to things like pedagogical practices; teacher knowledge, skills and attitudes related to ICT use; professional development and support; and incentives/disincentives enabling/inhibiting effective use of technology. In the course of doing so, I made five general assertions:

1. Teachers remain central to the learning process in the digital age
Despite fears often expressed by some groups (e.g. teachers unions) about technology being used to replace teachers, and the interest in some quarters to use technology to this end, there is no evidence that such a phenomenon is occurring. To the contrary: The role of the teacher in countries where technology is in widespread use is typically seen as more important, not less, than it was previously.

2. The promise and potential of ICT use by teachers is recognized but largely unmet
The potential for ICT use to support and enhance the work of teachers – to engage with learners in new ways (including those with special educational needs), to broaden access to high quality learning materials, to lessen various administrative burdens, and to offer more effective tools to aid in formative and summative assessment – is widely acknowledged.  In reality, however, technology is, for the most part, having little substantive impact on observable teaching practices in the classroom.

3. Innovative pedagogical practices are increasingly linked to the effective use of ICTs
Many countries have identified the need to help learners develop sets of "21st century skills" if they are to effectively compete and prosper in increasingly globalized economies and become healthy, happy and productive citizens in their increasingly interconnected societies and communities. In order to meet new demands placed on them, education systems are being challenged to innovate, both at the system level, and at the level of instruction. In classrooms, innovative pedagogical practices are often closely linked to, and enabled by, the use of ICTs.

4. Incentives and support mechanisms need to be put in place to motivate and support teachers in their use of new technologies
Providing technology infrastructure in schools, and placing this infrastructure in the hands and on the desks of teachers, is only one step in a process. For teachers to actual use this equipment in support of their teaching objectives and practices, a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic incentives need to be employed, at various levels.

5. Teacher training is a critical component if investments in ICTs are to be maximized
Teacher training and continued, on-going, relevant professional development for teachers are essential if benefits from investments in ICTs are to be maximized.  In the absence of sustained and various opportunities for teachers further enhance and improve their skills and knowledgebase, the use of technology can still (potentially) make good teachers better, but (often) can actually make poor teachers worse.

From this very general start, things quickly got very specific. Jonghwi Park from UNESCO reviewed findings from an upcoming paper reviewing national ICT competency standards for teachers across Asia. Javier Luque from the Inter-american Development Bank previewed findings from an upcoming research paper exploring how the deployment of ICTs is affecting teaching practices in Honduras. The presentations are all available on the related event web page.


During one of the discussion sessions, I shared two anecdotes that seemed to resonate with many policymakers because they highlighted practical opportunities and challenges related to teacher professional development as they might relate to training in new technologies. Given the response I got in person (and subsequently by email), I thought I'd quickly share them here, in case they might be of any wider interest:

The first related to potential linkages between planned raises in teacher salaries, the introduction of new competency requirements for teachers, and ICT roll-outs. In many countries, there can be opposition of various sorts from teachers (and teachers unions) to plans to spend lots of money putting computers in schools. One commonly voiced argument in this regard (there are many) is: Why not just simply give us (i.e. the teachers) this money instead of buying all of this new equipment? We are underpaid as it is and could do with a raise, and now you expect us to deal with the inevitable disruptions that will result (at least in the short term) from introducing all of these new devices? These are quite legitimate questions, of course!

A somewhat related joke which I've heard from a few people (but perhaps told most engagingly by Brian Gonzalez of Intel, so I'll credit him here):
  • When teachers hear that computers (laptops, tablets) are coming to their school, they are excited.
  • When teachers hear that computers are coming to their classrooms, they are delighted.
  • When teachers hear that computers are coming for every student in their classroom, they are terrified.

The point is that the mass introduction of devices directly into the hands of students can be very disruptive -- and teachers will need to be supported as they manage their way through (and, hopefully, take advantage of) this disruption.

One often sees the mass introduction of ICTs into an education system as an important component of a larger educational reform process. About a decade ago in Jordan, there was a big push to further 'professionalize' teachers and give them a large raise. In order to qualify for the raise, though, teachers needed to successfully complete some new training activities so that they could be promoted to a higher level. At the same time, a large number of computers were being introduced into the countries schools for the first time under the Jordan Education Initiative, and teachers were able to use their successful passing of new ICT-related competency exams as a way to qualify for promotion -- and thus get their raise. So, one lesson for other countries might be: If you are planning on increasing teacher salaries across the board by a large amount (i.e. not just a small cost of living adjustment), and if you are embarking on a plan to help support teachers by enabling them to develop additional sets of skills and competencies, and if you are at the same time looking to introduce ICTs into your education system at a mass scale ... might there be a way to link all three of these interests in ways that are useful and strategic?

The second anecdote (from a country which I'll not name, but which I expect some long time readers of the EduTech blog will be able to identify) concerned the introduction of new teacher training and competency requirements related to ICT use in one particular province. As it was explained to me at the time, teachers under the age of 32 were required to take 100 hours of ICT-related professional development in order to keep their jobs. For teachers aged 32-45, a similar 40 hour training course was recommended. Teachers over age 45? Not required, not recommended -- and not even offered. Why should we invest in the teachers who will be the first to retire and how are the most resistant to change and technology use? I was asked (rhetorically, I assumed). It's better to concentrate our investment on younger teachers, who are already more comfortable with using the technology to teach and who will be teaching with it for decades to come, especially given that our resources for training are scarce. I was, to be honest, rather shocked by this at the time (still am, in fact). When I asked if I could get a copy of the policy outlining this practice, I was told that there was no such official policy written down, but that, given the fact that they had to roll out the new teacher training activities over a period of many years, and that an inevitably a new reform would be introduced at some point anyway, this sort of thing could be arranged at the implementation level.

I told this anecdote at the global symposium as a way to illustrate how one country was choosing to address issues of teacher age, perceptions about attitudes toward technology, and scarce resources, assuming it was an extreme outlier. Upon hearing the anecdote, policymakers from two different  continents confided that something similar happens in their countries as well. The point here, I guess, is that policymakers have to make tough decisions about use of scarce resources -- including related to teachers, training, and the use of ICTs -- and there are, it appears, some rather inventive ways that such decisions are playing out in different parts of the world.


However one feels about the mass introduction of new technologies into education systems around the world, the trend is clear. Just as the lives of teachers and students outside of schools will (for better and for worse) be increasingly enabled, mediated, and distracted as a result of technology use, so too will teaching and learning practices within classrooms change. Change inside schools will no doubt happen at a much slower pace -- but it will happen. For it to happen in ways that are useful / impactful / productive /  efficient (feel free to substitute in your adjective of choice), education policymakers will need to invest resources in ways that support teachers as they utilize ICTs. This year's global symposium on ICT use in education in Seoul provided yet more evidence in support of this belief.
Note: The image of traditional Korean dancers used at the top of this blog post ("it's part art, part craft ... and there's some science in there too") comes from Seong J Yang via Flickr and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic  license (CC BY-SA 2.0). it was located with the help of the Creative Commons search tool.


Michael Trucano

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

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