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:
- Education Fast Forward (Promethean) – debates on ICTs and education
- InfoDev – provides a wealth of information on ICTs in Education
- Mobiles for Education Alliance
- UNESCO-Bangkok ICT in Education in Asia-Pacific
- UNESCO ICT competency standards for teachers
- WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education)
- World Bank EduTech Blog – great informative blogs, mainly by Mike Trucano