Tag Archives: Education

Against “EdTech”…


Sitting in on a recent donor-stakeholder discussion about the use of ICTs to support education for poor people in developing countries, inspired me to formalize my critical thoughts on the increasingly common usage of the term “EdTech”.   There are three main reasons why this terminology is so problematic:

  • children-in-malawi-schoolFirst, the term EdTech places the emphasis on the technology rather than the educational and learning outcomes. Far too many initiatives that have sought to introduce technology systematically into education have failed because they have focused on the technology rather than on the the education.  The use of the term EdTech therefore places emphasis on a failed way of thinking.  Technology will only be of benefit for poor and marginalized people if it is used to deliver real learning outcomes, and this is the core intended outcome of any initiative. It is the learning that matters, rather than the technology.
  • jica-stm-ptc-computersSecond, it implies that there is such a thing as Educational Technology. The reality is that most technology that is used in schools or for education more widely has very little to do specifically with education or learning.  Word processing and presentational software, spreadsheets, and networking software are nothing specifically to do with education, although they are usually what is taught to teachers in terms of IT skills! Such software is, after all, usually called Office software, as in Microsoft Office, or Open Office. Likewise, on the hardware side, computers, mobile phones and electronic whiteboards are not specifically educational but are rather more general pieces of technology that companies produce to generate a profit.  Learning content, be it open or proprietary, is perhaps the nearest specifically educational technology that there is, but people rarely even think of this when they use the term EdTech!
  • intel-classmate-zambia-2010Third, it is fascinating to consider why the term EdTech has been introduced to replace others such as e-learning or ICT for education (ICT4E) which clearly place the emphasis on the learning and the education.  The main reason for this is that the terminology largely reflects the interests of private sector technology companies, and especially those from the US. The interests underlying the terminology are a fundamental part of the problem.  EdTech is being used and sold as a concept primarily so that companies can sell technology that has little specifically to do with education, and indeed so that researchers can be funded to study its impact!

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Those who use the term EdTech are all conspiring to place the emphasis on the technology rather than on the education.  This is often deliberate, but always misguided!  Many of those who use the term are also concerned primarily in generating profits from education rather than delivering effective, life-changing opportunities for people to learn.  If you ever use the word again, please think twice about it, and preferably use something more appropriate!

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Education reform in Pakistan: rhetoric and reality


Shia TretOne of the most interesting aspects of my visit to Pakistan in January this year was the informal, anecdotal information that I gathered about educational change in the Punjab, and in particular DFID’s flagship Punjab Education Support Programme II.  I should declare right at the beginning here that I used to work for DFID (between 2001 and 2004), and I am a member of their Digital Advisory Panel.  I have many friends in the Department, and I admire much of the work that they do.  I was therefore indeed shocked by what I was told and what I summarise below.

When ever the subject of this particular programme came up in conversation in Pakistan, it was always greeting with severe criticism, even derision.  Most of my conversations were with educationalists, academics, landowners, and rural people in the Punjab.  I have not shared these comments before, because they were indeed anecdotal, and I did not see the evidence with my own eyes.  Nevertheless, a report that a colleague recently shared with me by Gethin Chamberlain in the Mail on Sunday (not a paper that I ever usually read!) updated on 14th April 2016,  coincides so strongly with what I was told that I do feel it is worth sharing some of my insights here.

In summary, the Mail on Sunday report commented that:

  • “Department for International Development gives £700m to Pakistan
  • In Punjab, which gets £383m, auditor general uncovered huge corruption
  • 5,000 schools and 40,000 teachers syphoning off cash in other area, Sindh
  • Rana Mashhood is under investigation for corruption”

To be sure, such allegations undoubtedly reflect internal political battles within Pakistan, and continuing complaints about corruption more generally in the administration of agriculture in Punjab (see for example, reports in the local press about matters such as laser land levelling technology, and the widespread corruption in the Agriculture Department of the Punjab Assembly). They are also intended to add fuel to the newspaper’s campaign to “end foreign aid madness”!  However, they nevertheless reflect poorly on the role of DFID and on the implementation of this particular programme.  There is an amazing dissonance between the rhetoric of success, and what I heard on the ground in Punjab.

The DFID programme is ambitious, as highlighted in a report in 2013 by Sir Michael Barbour (DFID’s Special Representative on Education in Pakistan, and Chief Education Advisor at Pearson) entitled The Good News from Pakistan: How a revolutionary new approach to education reform shows the way forward for Pakistan and development aid everywhere.  In this, he says “This time it’s going to be different” (p.9).  The work of DFID is wide ranging, and has many elements to it, but one of Barber’s main contributions was to explore ways through which expansion in low-cost private sector educational delivery might spur the government to reform itself (pp.49-50).  The private sector is also involved heavily in other ways, with British Consultancy Firm iMC Worldwide (an International Development and Engineering Consultancy) being the main contractor in rolling out much of the school building programme on the ground, through the Humqadam initiative.  iMC maintains the rhetoric of success, claiming that “In Punjab, the programme is helping the government to meet overall provincial needs, by providing missing facilities in 16,000 schools and providing 27,000 additional classrooms”.  The Humqadam website itself provides further euphoric statements about Britain’s support for education in Pakistan, noting that “Evidence regarding Pakistan’s education opportunities comes from none other than David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.  Following a recent visit to Pakistan, he laid the foundations for the initiation of this programme by highlighting the importance of education and Great Britain’s deep commitment, the Department of International Department (DFID), to support education sector reform and the promotion of a quality education for all school age children” (sic).  Humqadam goes on to note that they are working on school construction and rehabilitation using a £184 million allocation of funding from DFID, as well as funding from the Australian DFAT.

Irrigation and peopleThe reality, as it was relayed to me, is very different. Clearly, these are anecdotes, but the following were the main points that my colleagues mentioned:

  • They felt that the project was well behind schedule, and feared that delays would mean that delivery would thus be rushed in an attempt to catch up, leading to poor quality.  The programme was frequently described as a “joke”.  In contrast, DFID’s Development Tracker page suggests that there was a substantial over-spend in 2013/14, and a slight underspend in 2015/16, with 2014/15 being just about on budget.  Moreover, DFID’s most recent review of the project dated January 2016 had provided an overall very positive account of the work done so far, although it did note that “The school infrastructure component has been slow to perform” (p.2).
  • There was also a strong perception that those involved in the design of the project had not grasped the actual realities of the educational challenges on the ground in Punjab.  The truth of this is much more difficult to judge, but there was undoubtedly a feeling that the views of influential “outsiders”, who rarely visited schools and villages on the ground, but spent most of their time talking with senior government officials in offices in Lahore or Islamabad, had been prominent in shaping the programme.  Interestingly, I also overheard a fascinating conversation between two foreign aid workers over breakfast one day in a smart international hotel.  They were absolutely scathing in what they said about the programme in both design and delivery, and seemed to verify the comments that I had previously received from my Pakistani friends.  I so wanted to go over and ask them more, but I had felt guilty about listening to their conversation; in my defence, they were speaking so loudly that it was actually impossible not to hear what they were saying!
  • CowsFor me, though, the most important thing was what people said about the actual delivery of school building on the ground, and how it did little to counter the  power of landlords.  I was, for example, told on several occasions that some landowners used the newly built school buildings as cattle byres, and that the first thing that teachers had to do in the morning was to clean out all of the manure that had accumulated overnight before they could start teaching.  More worryingly, I was given one account whereby my interlocutor assured me that on more than one occasion a landlord’s thugs had beaten teachers and threatened to kill them if they ever returned to their new school buildings.  The reality and threat of rape for women teachers was a common complaint.  Again, I never witnessed this, but the assuredness of those who told me these stories, many of whom I deeply trust, makes me inclined to believe them.  This is the perceived reality of education reform on the ground in Punjab.

Even if these stories are untrue, and are themselves myths designed to undermine DFID’s important work in trying to help deliver better education in the Punjab, they are indeed damaging to DFID’s reputation.  I would love to know more about the reality of these claims, but as was pointed out to me during my time in Pakistan, it is not easy for a white European to spend time in villages, especially overnight, in the parts of Punjab where such things might be happening.

The main thing that persuaded me to write this piece was a Facebook message I received this morning, that then suddenly disappeared.  It read:

“It is true though Tim Unwin.  What is really pathetic is that neither Dfid nor Sindh/Punjab government are made accountable for those children whose education will discontinue after this debacle. Education Fund for Sindh boasted enrolling 100 thousand out of school kids. Overnight the project and project management has vanished, website dysfunctional…Poof and all is gone. There is no way to track those children and see what’s happening to their education”

This is so very sad.  We need to know the truth about educational reform in Pakistan – and indeed the role of donors, the private sector and richly paid consultants – in helping to shape this.   I cannot claim that what I have been told is actually happening on the ground, but I can claim that this is a faithful record of what I was told.

 

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Thoughts on mobile learning for the EFA GMR 2015


GMRI was delighted to have been asked by UNESCO to write an overview of the evolution of mobile devices and their uses in learning (m-learning), focusing especially on the fifteen-year period of the first Millennium Development Goals, as a background paper for the 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, and it is great that this has now been published.

I thought it might be useful to summarise some of the key points here. The paper highlights eight emerging good practices, and six significant policy implications. The emerging good practices are:

  • Focusing on learning outcomes not technology
  • Involving teachers and users at all stages from design to implementation and review
  • Involve participatory approaches in design so as to ensure that adoption of technology is user-centric
  • Consider sustainability, maintenance and financing right at the beginning
  • Think holistically and systemically
  • Ensure that all relevant government departments are involved
  • Ensure equality of access to all learners, especially those who are marginalised
  • Appropriate and rigorous monitoring and evaluation must be in place

The policy implications identified are closely linked to these and can be summarised as:

  • Joined up approaches across Governments
  • Sharing of effective and rigorous monitoring and evaluation findings
  • Ensuring affordability
  • Providing connectivity
  • Effective multi-stakeholder partnerships
  • Development of relevant content

Four case studies drawn from different parts of the world and at different scales were used to illustrate the considerable success that can be achieved through m-learning. These were:

  • BBC Janala in Bangladesh;
  • Red UnX: a mobile learning community for entrepreneurship in Latin America;
  • Learning on the Move in Singapore; and
  • Worldreader: making books available to primary school children in low-income countries

However, the paper also illustrates clearly that unless very considerable efforts are made to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised people and communities have access to appropriate devices, connectivity and electricity, any increased attention on digital technologies is likely to increase inequalities rather than reduce them.

It concludes that to date, great strides have been made in using the very rapid expansion of mobile devices for the benefit of education, and for those companies involved in exploiting this. However, as a review of delivery on the past EFA goals and MDGs, it is apparent that much remains to be done in using such devices to help achieve universal primary education and gender equality in education.  Looking to the future, as more and more people gain possession of, or access to, mobile devices, they will have the opportunity to use the Internet to access an ever more innovative array of learning tools and content. The challenge, particularly for governments, is how to pay for and use this potential to enable universal access, and thus equality of opportunity within the education sector. Given the central role of teachers and administrators within education, an important concluding recommendation is that much more attention should be paid to providing training, resources and support to them in the use of mobile devices. A well-equipped, knowledgeable and inspired cadre of teachers, capable of using mobile ‘phones effectively in their classes, is a crucial first-step towards delivering m-learning for all. Sadly, all too often, even in the richest countries of the world, children are told to switch off their mobile ‘phones before entering the classroom. M-learning has much potential, but we are still a long way from using it to benefit the world’s poorest and most marginalised.

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Education Fast Forward – 10th Debate


Education Fast Forward is a great initiative that brings together leading global experts and change agents from the world of education to debate key topics in contemporary education. The forum addresses many of the challenges facing governments, educators and employers both now and in the future, and aims to find practical resolutions.

Today’s debate (June 25, 2014 at 1pm BST) is entitled Better teaching for better learning: Results of the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).

The lead debaters will be the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher, Acting Director and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General and Professor Michael Fullan former dean of the Ontario Institute of Education Studies in Education. Plus specially invited guests.  Andreas will be revealing the results of the TALIS survey and looking at what conditions teachers face and how this data can influence policy to make sure that teachers have the best environment possible to create effective learning environments.

The debate will be live streamed at www.PrometheanPlanet.com/EFF  – there is no need to register, just click to view. The debate can also be followed on Twitter @effdebate and  questions and comments can be posted to #EFF10.

 EFF10

 So sorry that I cannot be there personally! Hoping that the debate goes really well, and looking forward to following up on the outcomes.

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Summary of Keynote for COL’s PCF7 in Abuja


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. (Later on 17th December: the slides that accompanied the keynote have now been made available by COL)

Good practices

I begin with a short overview of ten good practices that need to be in place to ensure effective use of ICTs in education:

  1. It’s the learning that matters, not the technology
  2. Teachers must be involved from the beginning
  3. Sustainability built in from the start
  4. Supporting infrastructure must be in place
  5. Appropriate content must be developed
  6. Equality of access for all learners
  7. Continual monitoring and evaluation
  8. Appropriate maintenance contracts
  9. Using the technology 24/7
  10. 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:

  1. Content replication
  2. Memory
  3. Language and literacy
  4. Personalised searching
  5. Privacy and failure

In conclusion

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.

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Transform Africa 2013 and a celebration of Rwanda


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.

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ICTs for Education Initiatives


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.

boy with computer smallI 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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):

I have always found that the following websites on ICTs and education in a development context (listed alphabetically) contain a wealth of useful information:

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