Despite limited digital connectivity, I just thought I would upload a short summary of my upcoming keynote at the Commonwealth of Learning’s Seventh Pan-Commonwealth Forum this afternoon to encourage productive debate! Its central argument is that we are not delivering as effectively as we could in using ICTs for education at all levels, because of very explicit interests that are serving to limit this effectiveness.
I begin with a short overview of ten good practices that need to be in place to ensure effective use of ICTs in education:
- It’s the learning that matters, not the technology
- Teachers must be involved from the beginning
- Sustainability built in from the start
- Supporting infrastructure must be in place
- Appropriate content must be developed
- Equality of access for all learners
- Continual monitoring and evaluation
- Appropriate maintenance contracts
- Using the technology 24/7
- Good practices, rather than best
So, why are these not done?
I focus here first on the observation that ICTs generally increase inequalities unless very specific actions are taken to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised are able to benefit.
I then explore the various interests that tend to limit delivery of the above ten practices, focusing especially on the activities of the private sector, and especially hardware and software companies, connectivity companies and content developers.
In so doing, I also draw on some of the increasing amount of empirical evidence that the use of computers in education is actually damaging learning.
Implications for innovation
In the final section, I explore some of the implications of these trends for innovation and creativity, paying specific attention to five themes:
- Content replication
- Language and literacy
- Personalised searching
- Privacy and failure
In drawing these reflections to an end, I argue that one way forward is to work towards new and effective models of multi-stakeholder partnerships for education, that address education as something much more important, much more complex, and much more exciting than merely as a vehicle for economic transformation.
I had the great privilege – especially as a white Yorkshireman – to be invited to chair the session on Smart Education at Transform Africa 2013 held in Kigali, Rwanda – a conference led by Africans, for Africans. It is some five year since I was last in Rwanda, and the changes that have been made in the country over this time, especially in the field of ICTs, are palpable.
It was really excellent to hear seven Presidents of east African countries champion the potential of ICTs to transform Africa, whilst also being realistic about the challenges that still remain in using them effectively to contribute to the social, political and economic development of their countries.
It was also good to experience some of the musical heritage of Rwanda – and even to have the chance of learning yet another different style of African dance! This was especially so at the launch of Rwandapedia this evening – an excellent resource for those wishing to learn more about Rwanda’s turbulent history over the last 20 years or so. Congratulations, too, to the Panorama Restaurant at the Des Mille Collines for what has to be one of the best dinners I have recently had in Africa!
The photos below catch but a glimpse of some of my experiences here over the last few days.
I spent last week in Abuja for the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation‘s Annual Forum and Council meeting, during which there was also a meeting of ICT Ministers, at which many of them highlighted the importance of ICT initiatives for education in their countries. One thing that particularly struck me about some of the discussions I had was, that despite such interest, there remains a surprising lack of knowledge about many of the challenges that exist in delivering such initiatives. All too often it is simply taken for granted that such programmes must be successful, and that they will unquestionably lead to an improvement in education. I find this deeply worrying, because one of the few things that we really know is that the majority of ICT for education initiatives in developing countries have actually been disappointing failures – at least as far as delivering effective educational change is concerned. I have therefore spent some of today writing a page on the CTO’s site about this, trying to summarise some of the findings of work in which I have been engaged over the last decade.
I am also making these ideas available on my personal blog to try to encourage debate around this important subject. There is far too much duplication of effort, and reinventing the wheel in terms of how to deliver effective ICT for education initiatives. This can be incredibly wasteful of valuable resources, and I hope that by providing links to some of the more important available resources people will at least have a starting point from which to work. It would be good also if colleagues could add to the list of the most important references and websites/portals by leaving comments, thereby using this as a vehicle for sharing more information on the subject.
Based on my work over the last decade or so, I have come to the conclusion that ten key issues need to be considered if effective ICT in education initiatives are to be delivered:
- It is the learning that matters and not the technology. Many e-learning and m-learning initiatives place the emphasis on the technology – be it laptops or mobile ‘phones. Effective initiatives begin with identifying the learning objectives, and then identify the technologies that are best suited to delivering them.
- Teachers must be closely involved in the implementation of ICT for education initiatives, and they need to be given effective training in advance of the roll-out of computers in schools.
- Sustainability issues must be considered at the very beginning. Computers, laptops and mobile ‘phones are expensive. Whilst it can be affordable to purchase these as a one-off investment, careful thought must be given to the budget costs of maintaining this equipment, and of how to provide it for the next generation of school-children. Computers do not last forever, and a substantial budget stream must constantly be made available.
- The supporting infrastructure must be in place. All too often insufficient attention is paid to ensuring that there is sufficient reliable electricity and Internet connectivity to enable the equipment to be used, and for teachers and students to gain access to the Internet.
- Appropriate content must be available to help deliver the curriculum and learning needs. All too often ICT initiatives merely provide access to internationally available content delivered in foreign languages. It is important that local content developers are involved in shaping learning content, and that as much attention is focused on using ICTs to provide new ways of communicating, and not just delivering information.
- Ensure equality of access to all learners. ICTs enhance inequality between those who have access to them and those who do not. It is essential therefore that attention is paid to ensuring that all learners are indeed able to access the benefits. Usually, ICT for education initiatives start with those who are already privileged, through their wealth or by living in urban environments with the necessary infrastructures. Enlightened initiatives actually begin with delivering learning solutions to the most marginalised people and those living in rural areas. Remember that people with greater disabilities have more to gain from learning ICT skills than do those with fewer disabilities.
- Appropriate monitoring and evaluation must be undertaken from the very beginning to ensure that learning objectives are indeed being delivered, and that the initiative can be tweaked accordingly.
- Appropriate maintenance contracts for equipment and networks need to be established. Training local people in the maintenance of learning technologies is essential so as to ensure that the equipment is used effectively. This can also provide a real boost to local economies.
- Use equipment and networks in schools for as long as possible each day. ICT equipment and networks in schools should be used by local communities in out-of-school hours. This maximises the use of expensive equipment, and can provide a source of income generation that can help defray the costs of its usage.
- Think creatively in your own context. There are no best practices, only a range of good practices from which to choose. Develop solutions that best fit your learning needs, and then get on with implementing them!
I very much look forward to developing these ideas in more detail in my keynote address on technology in education at the Commonwealth of Learning’s seventh Pan-Commonwealth Forum to be held in Abuja this December.
It is hugely difficult to summarise the vast wealth of existing literature on ICTs and education in a development context, but I suggest that the following ten publications are essential reading for anyone engaged in delivering effective ICT for education initiatives, particularly through multi-stakeholder partnerships (listed alphabetically):
- Farell, G., Isaacs, S., and Trucano, M. (eds) (2007), Survey of ICT and Education in Africa: A Summary Report Based on 53 Country Surveys, ICT and Education Series, Infodev
- Gutterman, B., Rahman, S., Supelano, J., Thies, L., and Yamg, M. (2009), White Paper – Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) in Education for Development, Washington: GAID
- Hawkins, R.J. (2002) Ten Lessons for ICT and Education in the Developing World, Chapter 4, World Links for Development Program, The World Bank Institute
- Hennessy, S., Onguko, B., Harrison, D., Ang’ondi, E.K., Namalefe, S., Naseem, A., and Wamakote, L. (2010), Developing the Use of Information and Communication Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning in East African Schools: Review of the Literature, Centre for Commonwealth Education & Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development –Eastern Africa Research Report No. 1
- Kozma, R., and Isaacs, S. (2011), Transforming Education: The Power of ICT Policies, UNESCO
- Trucano, M. (ed) (2005) Knowledge Maps: ICT in Education, ICT and Education Series, Washington: infoDev
- UNESCO (2011) UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers, Paris: UNESCO (Version 2)
- Unwin, T. (2012) Challenging educational norms: wisdom from the web, in: Sadowsky, G. (ed.) Accelerating Development Using the Web: Empowering Poor and Marginalized Populations, World Wide Web Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation, p.119-130
- Unwin, T and Wong, A. (2012) Global Education Initiative: Retrospective on Partnerships for Education Development 2003-2011, Geneva: World Economic Forum
- Wagner, D., Day, B., James, T., Kozma, R.B., Miller, J. and Unwin, T. (2005) Monitoring and Evaluation of ICT in Education Projects: a Handbook for Developing Countries, Washington: infoDev.
I have always found that the following websites on ICTs and education in a development context (listed alphabetically) contain a wealth of useful information:
The latest Education Fast Forward debate is due to be held tomorrow, 17th July 2013, at 13.30 GMT+1. The debate, featuring Carol Bellamy and Andreas Schleicher on Access and Quality in Education – can we achieve both? can be joined live from the EFF site. Can also be followed on Twitter at #EFF7.
Education Fast Forward (EFF) brings together leading global experts and change agents from the world of education to discuss the topics that matter most. The forum addresses the key challenges facing governments, educators and employers both now and in the future, and aims to find practical resolutions.
Quality and access to education continue to top the list of education priorities in countries across the world. According to UNESCO in 2010 59 million primary school-age children were not enrolled in school and 31 million primary school-age children had dropped out of school. An additional 32 million repeated a grade. These figures are truly shocking but is access to education enough? Students today live in an entirely different world to 10, even 5 years ago. The digitally connected world is bringing down boundaries and making education more fluid. Pupils are increasingly demanding a more personalised working environment with instant access to data and collaborative team work as the norm.
EFF7 will look at key questions such as How can we balance the needs of access and quality and how do we measure quality? Can we achieve both? What will be the drivers and who will champion the students? What are we doing to address the issue of an education system that is still failing many students, leaving them poorly prepared for work or enterprise?
Filed under Education, ICT4D
I had the pleasure of participating in the Planet Earth Institute‘s discussion on mobile technology for education in Africa, held on 5th June at the House of Lords. It’s interesting how such occasions, where one has to speak on the spur of the moment about important issues, provide a spur for innovative and creative thinking. The mix of the people, and the sharing of ideas really can generate new thoughts.
The main point that I tried to convey throughout the event was that it is the learning that matters. Far too many initiatives are technology-led, rather than needs driven. Hence, mobile devices are absolutely not the solution for African education, although they can indeed help to deliver certain new kinds of learning opportunity. After all, as I mentioned, many years ago I engaged in mobile learning when I read books on long car journeys!
At one point, we were asked to think about the barriers preventing the spread of m-learning in Africa, and I want here to expand a little on the five ‘Cs’ that I came up with. To be sure, they are a little contrived, but I do think that if these barriers can be overcome, then some real progress can be made:
- Connectivity. To me, this is one of the biggest challenges for any ‘mobile-’ initiative. Certainly people have developed simple SMS based learning solutions, and games that can function on basic phones and devices, but the difference between these and what can be done on smart-phones is huge. Smart-phones enable engagement with the wealth of resources on the web, and offer a completely different learning experience for people of all ages and backgrounds – if they can afford them (Cost!). So, providing mobile broadband solutions that everyone can access seems to me to be the most important challenge facing those who want to deliver high quality learning experiences through mobile devices. Hence, initiatives such as the work of the Broadband Commission and the Alliance for the Affordable Internet are of particular importance – but we must turn the rhetoric into reality! That’s one reason why the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation has placed such emphasis on the importance of mobile broadband in its current strategic plan.
- Charging (electricity). By this, I mean the importance of ensuring that it is easy and cheap to charge mobile devices everywhere. Electricity is absolutely essential for all digital technologies, and is all too often insufficiently considered when developing such initiatives. For those off the main grid, it is essential that simple, cheap and accessible means of recharging devices are developed and shared widely across the continent. Likewise, developing batteries that last much longer than at present is also an important consideration. My experiences in 2011 in rural China have given me lots of ideas about how this can be achieved – and where there are supplies of running water I have been very impressed with some of the micro-hydro initiatives that have been developed in south-east Asia.
- Communication rather than content. I have often written about this, but it seems to me that the really innovative thing about mobile-phones is that they enable entirely new ways of communication. Yet, far too often they are seen primarily as devices to supply/enable content consumption. I believe passionately that learning should not simply be about learning and regurgitating – yet our education systems seem to focus more and more on encouraging people to take on board accepted ‘truths’. Learning, should be about thinking for oneself, and coming up with new solutions to old problems! This is often best achieved through communication and interaction – the debating of ideas – and not just through digesting existing knowledge. Far too often, digital technologies associated with learning have reinforced regurgitation, rather than encouraging new ways of thinking. Hence, I want to shift the balance towards using devices for communication – they are, after all, mobile phones – rather than just for content consumption.
- Calculating (effective monitoring and evaluation). This is a bit contrived, but I could not think of a better ‘C’ for ‘monitoring and evaluation’! By ‘calculating’, I mean that we need to calculate the impact of our initiatives on learning achievements. Although many people talk about the importance of monitoring and evaluation, there is far too little good and effective work in this area. If we do not understand the real effects, including the unintended consequences, of the use of mobile devices in learning, then we cannot really determine how best to implement initiatives at scale. We must also be much more open about our failures so that others can learn from our experiences. Hence, the lack of quality monitoring and evaluation is a real barrier.
- Commitment. This is hugely important. There must be real commitment to using mobile devices effectively for learning, rather than simply using content provision as a means of selling more mobile devices! I fear that all too often, ‘m-’ initiatives are driven too much by commercial interests, often in alliance with those who see ICTs as some kind of silver bullet that will transform society for the better, rather than by the real health, learning or governance needs and aspirations of people.
At the end, I was asked by Lord Boateng to sum up my thoughts about barriers, and simply said that the biggest barrier of all was our imagination! If we really focus on the learning, and develop innovative solutions whereby everyone can use mobile devices to enhance their lives, wherever they are living, then, and only then, can we talk about real m-development.
For those interested in education partnerships The Partnering Initiative is convening what should be a very interesting breakfast event next week on 5th June at the Science Museum in London and there are still some places available (details at http://bit.ly/16ppNr7). Oh yes, and I am moderating a ‘table’ – be warned, it could be controversial!
In essence, the event is designed to explore how collective action can maximise the impact of business investments in education and skills.
As the organisers say, “Education is a fundamental pillar of sustainable development and underpins enduring prosperity and economic growth. Yet, achieving quality ‘Education for All’ remains a major global challenge. There is a growing trend of businesses investing in education and skills both for philanthropic reasons and to help ensure their own long term sustainability. However, businesses have tended to support their own, often isolated projects. Could a move towards stronger collective approaches lead to more effective, transformational delivery of education and skills? How can such approaches be encouraged and supported?”
- Ben Dixon – Head of Social Performance, BG Group
- Olav Seim – Director, Global Partnerships ED/EFA, UNESCO
- Darren Towers – Head of Sustainability and Environmental Leadership, EDF Energy
- Professor Timothy Unwin – Secretary General, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (yes, I think that’s me!)
Places are limited, so please register your interest with email@example.com – do include your name, organisation and job title.
The second WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) summit provided an opportunity for colleagues from Education Impact to host a lively and highly participatory workshop designed to contribute to more effective monitoring and evaluation of ICT in education activities, focusing particularly on developing countries.
It was premised on two assumptions:
- that there is too little monitoring and evaluation of ICT for education initiatives, and much of what is undertaken is of poor quality; and
- that it is important to differentiate between monitoring (the process of continuing self-reflection within organisations and individuals aimed at improving their performance) and evaluation (the review of outcomes against targets, often undertaken by external agencies)
The workshop began by identifying the reasons why there is so little effective monitoring
and then why there is so little good and effective evaluation
This was then followed by a discussion of how we can ensure better monitoring
and the things that need to be put in place to ensure better evaluation.
Clicking on the above mind-maps enables them to be viewed at full size!
Filed under Education, ICT4D
I do not usually like big conferences and summits. All too often, people read prepared papers or speeches, and rarely inspire or speak from the heart. However, the World Innovation Summit for Education held in Doha from 16th-18th November was surprisingly different. Of course there were some fairly tedious presentations, but the Summit nevertheless did have a buzz about it. People were talking, really talking, about the importance of education, and what we might be able to do enhance its sustainability, pluralism and innovation across the world. There were also some really inspirational presentations – both by academics and by politicians!
However, the hosting of the conference by the Qatar Foundation, bringing together 1000 of the world’s leading educationalists, and giving awards to six outstanding examples of pluralism, sustainability and innovation in education, raised many interesting questions. Why has so little yet been done globally to deliver on agreed educational targets? As the 2009 Global Monitoring Report summarised, “Progress towards the EFA goals is being undermined by a failure of governments to tackle persistent inequalities based on income, gender, location, ethnicity, language, disability and other markers for disadvantage”.
Three key inter-related issues come to mind:
- All too often education is now being treated as a private good – people are being encouraged to pay for education in the expectation that it will bring them advantages in their future lives. However, if we are to create a fairer, more equitable world, it is essential that education should be treated as a common rather than a private good. An educated population is an integral factor in helping to ensure good governance, equality of opportunity, peaceful co-existence, and innovative solutions to poverty.
- One of the reasons why governments across the world continue to provide insufficient funding for education, may be because in recent years they have come to believe that education is no longer a common good, but is instead a private one. This enables governments to argue that people should pay for education themselves, rather than funding it from the common purse. Increasing fees for higher education in the UK are thus regularly justified by government ministers who argue that a degree brings increased lifetime earning capacity, and that individual students should therefore pay for it. However, such arguments may also underlie the reticence of many governments across the world to fund education sufficiently. Even though 23 countries contribute more than 7% of their GDP to public expenditure on education, 35 contribute less than 3%. We need to work through existing global mechanisms more effectively to help ensure that all states fund education appropriately, so that all peoples can have equal and fair access to quality education.
- How, though, do we do this? How can we ensure that the enthusiasm and energy generated at events such as WISE is channeled effectively to initiatives that will actually make a difference? UNESCO has for long sought to promote the importance of education across the world, but has been beset by too high expectations and too low levels of funding to have been able to make the impact that many of its staff would like to see. How do we turn the energy that the Qatar Foundation released at WISE into systemic change?
Four more quirky observations from WISE:
- I did not hear anyone publicly thank the French agency \Auditoire who did all of the organisation of the Summit on behalf of the Qatar Foundation. They were quite outstanding, and much of the success of the Summit was undoubtedly due to the experienced and dedicated team that they had in place. Well done to all involved!
- Carla Bruni attended – was I the only one who was left decidedly unimpressed?
- Fidel Castro is alive and well in Doha – and can occasionally be seen in the Habanos bar in the Ritz Carlton – he did, though, look remarkably young – definitely in his prime! But, it was nevertheless strange to see him there
- I always thought that the role of a good master/mistress of ceremonies was to ensure that everything keeps to time, that the speakers and participants are able to shine, and that they should do so by being almost invisible themselves. It would appear that Nima Abu-Wardeh had been given a different set of instructions – or perhaps she simply had other ideas!
The Qatar Foundation has recently announced the launch of its WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) awards for outstanding educational achievements. In this inaugural year, the WISE Awards nominations will generate six prizes to existing projects aligned with the Forum’s three main themes: Pluralism, Sustainability and Innovation. Two prizes will be awarded for each of these three themes. Each of the six laureates will receive a WISE Prize Award of $20,000 at the Gala Dinner on November 17th, 2009. Laureates will also be given the opportunity to showcase their projects during the WISE Forum.
The WISE Awards application process is open to individuals or teams of individuals from across the world and in all education sectors, to be supported by a letter of endorsement from senior management of their organisations. The closing date for applications is 15th July 2009.
Laureates will be selected by a pre-jury and then by an International Jury consisting of some of the world’s leading experts in pluralism, sustainability and innovation in education, drawn from public institutions, civil society, the private sector, international organisations, universities and social entrepreneurs.
Further details are available as follows: