After OLPC: Ten Commandments of ICT for Education

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/24/2014 06:00:00 AM
Is tech the global education solution? I have an continuing interest in the information and communication technologies for education (ICT4E) field having worked on education reform and written an article on the ill-fated One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project for UC Berkeley's California Management Review. For the record, it was not an article I found pleasant to write about--these folks were well-intentioned, after all--but we need to explore why they failed. Isn't the appeal of the Internet obvious to all? Doesn't the Internet automatically promote development? Especially with OLPC, failure to read the political-economic environment of education procurement meant that its reception has been muted as the article explains.

There has been much research done in this field ever since not only by international organizations like the World Bank, regional development banks, UN agencies such as UNESCO, etc. Fortunately for us, ICT4E stalwart Tim Unwin (his fine blog comes highly recommended) lists the ten commandments of ICT4E in a new article for the Commonwealth publication Global: The International Briefing commemorating the Internet's 25th anniversary (WWW inventor Tim Berners-Lee is a Brit, right?) With the benefit of hindsight, you kind of wish the OLPC folks considered these earlier on:
  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 pinpointing the technologies that are best suited to delivering them.
  2. Teachers must be closely involved in the implementation of ICT for education initiatives: Teachers need to be given effective pre- and in-service training in advance of the introduction of ICT in schools. This is absolutely crucial and goes far beyond the mere learning of Office packages of software.
  3. Sustainability issues must be considered at the very beginning: Computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones are expensive. While 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 pupils. 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: Far 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 ICT to provide new ways of communicating, and not just delivering information.
  6. Ensure equality of access to all learners: ICT devices 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 starts with those who are already privileged through their wealth or by living in urban environments with the necessary infrastructure. Enlightened initiatives actually begin with delivering learning solutions to the most marginalised people and those living in rural areas. It is also salient to remember that people with greater disabilities have far more to gain from learning ICT skills than do those with fewer disabilities.
  7. Monitoring and evaluation must be undertaken from the very beginning: Evaluation ensures that learning objectives are indeed being achieved and that any initiative can be tweaked accordingly to improve its efficacy.
  8. Appropriate maintenance contracts for equipment and networks need to be established: Training local people in the maintenance of learning technologies is essential 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 also provide a valuable 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. Learners and teachers should develop solutions that best fit their learning needs and then get on with implementing them!
Technological revolutionaries have by now been disabused of the idea that ICT is the magic bullet to promoting education in developing countries. Alas, things are never so simple: the form (electronics) is secondary to function (education). Remember that.

Indeed, I am becoming more "computer-agnostic" in thinking that the presence of computers is incidental and not instrumental to learning.