I have all too frequently been asked to suggest examples of “best practice” in the use of ICTs for education, and have always so far resisted. “Best practices” tend to be promoted by those who wish to assert their pre-eminence in a field, or make considerable sums of money by selling their “solutions”! I strongly believe that there is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all” in education, and instead I argue that there are numerous good practices from which people can learn and develop their own local and contextualised educational activities using ICTs.
The opportunity recently to do some forward thinking with colleagues in UNICEF about the future use of ICTs in education, especially amongst some of the poorest and most marginalised children in the world, nevertheless provided the chance to reflect on the diversity of different dimensions of education in which ICTs are used, and also to identify examples of each from which we can all learn. The list below is a very attenuated summary of these case studies, drawing explicitly from different parts of the world and in different languages (although English dominates). They were chosen in part based on the recommendations of colleagues with a wealth of experience working in the field, but the final choice of examples is my own. Readers might like to add their own favourites as comments!
Educational content and skills development
The development of different ICTs over the last two decades has led to an explosion of new types of content, and new ways of delivering it, increasingly through the plethora of apps on mobile devices. Such content varies hugely in quality, in cost, and in the level of learning for which it is intended.
- The power of multimedia One of the greatest strengths of ICTs is to bring learning to life through a diversity of multimedia resources. In particular, games, videos and audio can enliven learning, and provide real world examples of how things work that cannot be experienced in schools. Examples of multimedia include:
- Re-versioning and localising content One of the benefits of open content is the opportunity that it provides for re-versioning existing content into local contexts. Examples include:
- Local content development Demand for local content in schools can also provide the basis for local economic growth in poorer countries of the world. Examples include
- Learning platforms for content and skills Content needs to be delivered in an appropriate and appealing format, that is also flexible and easily searchable. Numerous such platforms have been developed, both for students and teachers. Examples include:
- Open and Proprietary Content Many of the above initiatives are Open, but there are many Proprietary solution also available, especially for richer children. One example where a government has chosen to purchase licences for proprietary content and make it available for free to its citizens is:
- Teaching the skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity Some ICT-based initiatives have focused on new ways to develop the basic skills such as literacy and numeracy that are required building blocks for the more advanced skills of communication and creativity. Examples include:
- Assistive technologies enabling children with disabilities and special needs to access content About half of the world’s children with disabilities are out of school. These are some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged children in the world, and yet have the most to gain from assistive technologies. Examples include:
Pedagogy and the practice of teaching
The role of the private sector has been substantial in disseminating new ICT-based teaching practices. For many years, ICT corporations such as Microsoft and Intel have provided basic courses and training for teachers in how to use digital skills in the classroom. These have traditionally tended to emphasise training in basic “Office” skills software that can be applied to an educational context. There are few convincing examples of successful teaching training initiatives that have really inculcated a comprehensive understanding of how the balanced use of ICTs can enhance the delivery of education in the poorest countries of the world.
- Interesting examples of the use of ICTs in teacher training include:
- the Enlaces programme in Chile.
- The Egyptian Teachers First Professional Development Program
- The Queen Rania Teacher Academy (QRTA)
- China’s support for teacher training
In a world increasingly dominated by technology, the successful acquisition of digital skills by young people has become a high priority for many governments and companies. It is important to differentiate between three broad types of digital skills: the basic skills necessary to use digital technologies; advanced skills specifically in areas such as coding and programming, often linked to an emphasis on the perceived importance of increasing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education; and the skills associated with knowing how to live in an increasingly digital world and to negotiate the challenges of digital technologies as well as their benefits.
- Skills in using digital technologies Basic digital skills are an essential pre-requisite for people to gain an interest in STEM subjects, and it is important that they are introduced in ways that encourage both girls and boys to gain an interest in the sciences. Examples include:
- Coding and programming In many countries, especially those in the richer parts of the world, there is increasingly strong advocacy from the private sector, government and some academics for all children to be taught coding and advanced computer skills from an early age. Interesting examples include:
- The skills to live in a world increasingly shaped through ICTs The most important digital skills that young people need to acquire are those concerned with living fulfilled lives in a world that is increasingly shaped by, and through, the use of ICTs. Interesting examples include:
Monitoring and evaluation
Unless high quality and appropriate monitoring and evaluation is undertaken on the impact of ICTs on educational outcomes, existing systems will not improve, and the real effects of new interventions will not be known.
- Examples include:
It is widely recognised that the successful use of ICTs in education programmes is heavily dependent on the enthusiasm of head teachers, principals and school administrators. An integral part of the success of such initiatives has been the design and use of appropriate Educational Management Information Systems (EMISs) that provide for digital collection, processing, analysis and reporting of school data.
- Examples include:
- The largely World Bank and Reconstruction Trust Fund funded Education Quality Improvement Package in Afghanistan.
- Bernbaum and Moses’s (2011) overview of lessons learnt from the use of EMISs in Malawi, Uganda and Zambia.
It is important to differentiate between the use of ICTs for formative and summative assessment
- ICTs in formative assessment Many of the platforms and content delivery mechanisms through ICTs described above also contain quizzes and tests that can provide an important element of formative assessment for children. Examples include:
- ICTS in summative assessment ICTs are also increasingly being used for summative assessment, especially since more sophisticated systems are now available that enable securer communications and reduce the ability of students to cheat.
Access to the potential benefits of ICTs in education in low-resource environments
Providing ICT for education connectivity and content in low-resource environments remains challenging. The following examples illustrate some of the ways in which infrastructure, devices and content have been made available in these circumstances.
- Access to digital learning materials in low-resource environments The availability of reliable electricity and Internet connectivity are essential pre-requisites for any comprehensive national ICT in education programme. Examples include:
- Hardware and devices enabling children to access content Children also need to have robust hardware through which they can access content and skills training. Examples include:
- Out of school youths Children out of school are some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the world. Examples include:
- The eSkwela initiative in the Philippines.
- Children with disabilities Children with disabilities are amongst the most marginalised people in the world, and in many countries there remains substantial prejudice against them. However, those with greater disabilities have far more to gain from ICTs and other assistive technologies than do those with fewer disabilities. Examples include:
- Refugees and displaced children The appropriate use of ICTs has considerable potential to enable refugee children, wherever they are, to be educated and to learn. Examples include:
- Girls’ education and ICTs ICTs can both unite and divide. One of the most striking observations about the use of new technologies in education and across societies is that gender digital divides are actually increasing. Interesting examples include:
This is the first of a series of short summaries of aspects of the use of ICTs in children’s education across the world based on my work for UNICEF (the second is on Why we don’t really know very much about the influence of ICTs on learning and education). I must stress that these contain my own opinions, and do not in any way reflect official UNICEF policy or practice. I very much hope that they will be of use and interest to practitioners in the field.