Saturday, 29 May 2010

Avoid only "worst practice ICT use in education"?

Highlighting the Delhi debate in April/May 2010 organised by InfoDev/World Bank:
"Most Investments in Educational Technology are Wasted"
Three guest speakers defend the way computer technology has been introduced in middle and low income countries so far, and three opponents argue that much of the money could have been better used. Here is a response to that last position.

Michael Trucano, Senior ICT and Educational Policy Specialist at InfoDev/World Bank has seen it happening around the world, over and over again:
"Given that many initiatives seem immune to learning from either 'best' or even 'good' practice in other places or contexts, it may be most practical to recommend 'lots of practice', as there appears to be a natural learning curve that accompanies large scale adoption of ICTs in the education sector in many countries - even if this means 'repeating the mistakes' of others".

from:Michael Trucano on Fri, 04/30/2010
Worst practice ICT use in education

Next Trucano raises the question: "But do we really need to repeat the mistakes of others?" and concludes that maybe only "worst practice in ICT use in education" should be avoided. A statement like this from a top researcher at the World Bank reveals a lot about the common acceptance of the waste of investment in educational technologies. And "we" refers directly and correctly to the role of the IT community itself.

On a regular basis I talk to top management at government ministries in middle and low income countries and meet their influential IT advisers - mostly from abroad and paid by donor facilitating organisations. Ministers listen carefully to them. To me, it appears like these advisers are responsible for many of the policies subsequently adopted: it is at their level - and not the lower levels in the educational hierarchies - that decisions about the amount and destination of investments in educational technology are made. Outcomes have not been good and so for IT advisers and aid facilitating agencies a fundamental re-think is urgently needed.

Here Trucano's list of nine 'worst practices in ICT'         photo Trucano © World Bank 
(mostly directed by enthusiastic IT specialists and the computer lobby) -
1. Dump hardware in schools, hope for magic to happen
2. Design for OECD learning environments, implement elsewhere
3. Think about educational content only after you have rolled out your hardware
4. Assume you can just import content from somewhere else
5. Don't monitor, don't evaluate
6. Make a big bet on an unproven technology
7. Don't acknowledge total cost of ownership/operation calculations
8. Assume away equity (fairness; justice) issues but which need careful proactive attention
9. Don't train your teachers (nor your school headmasters, for that matter)
I'd like to add:
10: ignore the benefits of achievable ICT to modernise teaching at low cost and no risk (click)

There is a false dichotomy in the "Delhi - Waste debate". Are those who think too much money is wasted really against computers? I don't think so. There is a common understanding that computers have to be integrated in developing economies as fast as possible, wherever it makes sense and especially in education. That is why donor facilitators have established IT-task forces to promote and assist this strategy. But there is an enthusiasm within the IT community which makes them regularly overlook (for instantce) points 5 to 8 in Trucano's list. This oversight leads to unrealistic policies for middle and low income countries. The IT advisers reject 'waste' as an appropriate description of what is going on, as if they don't have to be cautious regarding the financial consequences of the implementation strategies they advise be taken.

Implementation strategies which advisers promote should become longer term, spending 3 to 7 years creating a stable infrastructure before teachers start using IT in their classrooms.
Analysis followed by evaluation based on research elsewhere is simply not being effective in most places, partly because researchers and opinion-makers who report to the IT community are too eager to get computers into classrooms as a first priority as the key measure of success. Conclusions are reported to 'the home front' in optimistic terms and tend to obscure the shortcomings or failure of programs - holding up the cheap promise of 'computers enriching education' as a cover, instead of concluding that a firm step-by-step approach dealing first with critical barriers is far preferable.
Being pragmatic is essential. Instead of implicitly allowing similar mistakes to be repeated, annalists, government consultants and education leaders should note carefully Trucano's observations and the Delhi debate outcomes and question themselves about the value and appropriateness of their future implementation advice.

Role of ICT conferences

5th African e-Learning Conference
Zambia May 2010
Photos by Inzy Studios Lusaka, © ICWE GmbH
ICT conferences are important places to promote and present sensible implementation plans, concentrating first on preparation (and to raise voices against investment schemes doomed to failure). But ICT conferences, like the one recently held in Zambia, traditionally celebrate the arrival of computers in education as if this will bring immediate blessings - no matter where and even when failure is highly predictable. Also and especially, the 'professional advisers' at such events ignore the downsides of computer technology in the classroom and set out false expectations for visiting educationalists and policy makers who want rapid progress in their schools and who are in positions to get money flowing quickly. Instead of being warned about doubtful investments (as listed by Trucano), they go home with unrealistic IT policies in their minds - a side effect of these over-optimistic gatherings which the organisers and guest speakers should plan to prevent.

How to come up with blueprints for success? How to replace misleading over-optimism with common sense? You do not have to be Einstein to understand that the highest priority is to promote solutions to critical barriers first - like developing a solid infrastructure, preparing the teachers and only introducing educational technology which has already proved its worth in low or middle income countries. With smaller spending limits, much more can be achieved when wastage is minimised. Researchers, opinion-makers and computer-industry promoters have much responsibility to exercise in this process. Consider Trucano's Point 8, the equity issue: developing economies have no money for experiments. Loans, taxes or donor money gets wasted and is lost for basic needs such as salaries, furniture to sit on, school lunches or schoolbooks. Here realism in setting goals is imperative to foster progress.

A new, scientific approach is required from infoDev, US-Aid, UNESCO ICT4D, GeSCI and others who promote implementing expensive IT in education. Novelties which seem promising, like Negroponte's new eBook Being Digital, can be experimented with in a few regions or small countries until a complete working model is capable of implementation at manageable and accountable cost. In the 21st century the approach of 'trial and error' should be left behind, especially by the IT community. If they really want to close the digital divide they by now have to come up with blueprints for success. Here's an eye-opener on this subject, courtesy of Chris Blattman who did put this speech on his blog a few days earlier:

Esther Duflo's TED talk
Prof. Duflo is development economist at M.I.T. and has been awarded the John
Bates Clark Medal for "the most significant contribution to economic thought
and knowledge.” This award is regarded as a step up for the Noble Prize.

To close the digital divide systematically,
see: ICT-IT harmonised
see: Beyond chalk and talk
see: Nationwide Visualisation Project

original post Trucano 
In the mean time:

Teachers in developing economies need in their classrooms robust and reliable tools.
The Nationwide Visualisation Project introduces on highschools simple to use teaching aids.
How relate rain, static electricity and lightning? Below one of the 2500 visuals: "Put on - take off".

Step up: "What is happening to the ice-cubs in the circle?

    Friday, 28 May 2010

    E-learning is not the point here!

    Nigeria has decided to adopt e-learning across the public school system and to include the curriculum. This happened in the weeks of the World Bank debate: "Most Investments in Educational Technology are Wasted". Hopefully Nigeria will take lessons learned elsewhere at heart. First and for all it has to prepare the infrastructure and invest in capacity building before expecting teachers to achieve curriculum goals digitally - according to reader comments. 

    From: Ngozi Sams, April 20, 2010 02:53AM
    Nigeria chooses digital education
    Some reader comments:

    "First we need electricity"
    Posted by KissTeeth on Apr 20 2010:
    E-learning (LOL). First we need electricity then broadband and computer industries then computer literate teachers and finally e-learning. In Nigeria, we always want to run before we even learn to crawl. And please I don't want some posters giving me a list of “text-book advantages” of e-learning -- as so often happens with crammers at school. That is not the point here.

    "How many of these teachers can even teach?"

    Posted by Seasonal on Apr 20 2010
    This should be a future oriented project. We do not even have stable electricity. Standards of learning in schools have fallen so low -and we think e-learning will make people smarter? Please... How many of these teachers can even use computers, also how many of these teachers can even teach? I remember when I was in secondary school, one or two of my English teachers couldn't even speak English well - imagine! Abegi. Although it's a good idea, it's not what Nigeria needs at the moment.
     High-school classrooms like many South of the Sahara - click on image to enlarge

    These readers comments are fully understandable and lead to only one conclusion: Nigeria has to start preparing for the introduction of computer technology in education now now now. Considering the state of public schools in Nigeria, this has to be done with a long term vision. In a systematic step by step approach the critical barriers have to be solved first. Only relative small budgets are available for this - not the trillions of dollars as any OECD country of Nigeria's size spends on IT.
    Fortunately the Delhi debate produces clear advices. With proactive attention Nigeria might be able to avoid the wrong policies which elsewhere have led to wastage or failure.

    Read the full article in Next and more comments here

    To close the digital divide systematically
    see:  ICT-IT harmonised
    see:  Beyond chalk and talk
    In the mean time:

    Teachers in developing economies need in their classrooms robust and reliable tools.
    The Nationwide Visualisation Project introduces on highschools simple to use teaching aids.
    How to learn about ways to struggle for independence?  
    Below one of the 2500 visuals: "Put on - take off".

    Step up question:  "When did most African nations become independant?"


    To modernise teaching today, see:  Nationwide Visualisation Project

    Thursday, 27 May 2010

    eLearning conferences: marketing vs realism

    An open answer to the eLearning Team Africa 

    Photo impressions eLearning Conference Zambia 
    May 2010   © ICWE GmbH  German organisers

    Thank you for letting us know about your appreciation of our blog and for the invitation to Tanzania in 2011.

    Let me ask, after following your conferences for several years: is the first priority for the organizers of the e-Conference Africa to focus on how to use ICT to the max to improve education in Africa? Or is it to serve the IT community, whose obvious aim is to get hardware and software installed everywhere?

    Let us set things out clearly for the better.
    To me, it seems the main problem with the eLearning Conference Africa is that, as organizers, you are not yet separating the aim of integrating computer technology at best in education from the aim of improving teaching.  
    There is hardly any serious attention given to the short-comings, complexities and extremely high costs of setting up and maintaining digital learning as evidenced by rich countries’ experience. Such experience should send a clear warning to less affluent countries about the over-optimism and problems associated with introducing computer technology into their educational systems. On top of this there is the issue of developing a new and effective pedagogy which teachers can use to maximize the benefits of e-learning approaches.

    Experts selected to make presentations and contributions at your conferences should be noted for their realistic assessments and advice about what is really achievable and what the first priorities should be if value for money is to be achieved. Such experts should be able to elaborate on strategies to overcome the most critical barriers first, instead of - excusez le mot - marketing the launch of unproven technologies and new gadgets as if these will achieve miracles on their own.

    It appears that your conference events are set up to demonstrate that success with digital technologies will be immediate. And your reports afterwards confirm this feeling. When I meet with policy-makers in Africa, or with educationalists who have visited your conference and refer to what they encountered, I am baffled by their unrealistic expectations – as if they have been lifted out of reality. Often the notion is lacking that a step by step approach is paramount. Your e-conferences so far have promoted that naive and potentially damaging optimism displayed by many in the international IT community and industry.

    Let us get a taste of your 2009 report, written under the glowing title: "eLearning Africa Conference Shows How ICTs Empower Education for All in Africa":   ... after three days of “sessions with world-class experts” ... “about the use of the vast potential of ICT to empower future generations of African children” ... “A Brilliant Mix of People, Opinions and Solutions" ... “Highlighting eLearning: Africa's innovative approach and setting the tone for future conferences” ... "Birthplace of numerous fruitful collaborations.”
    The message is breath-taking: everything will change soon - just sign up for technology.

    No lessons seem to be learned from the past or anywhere outside Africa. The denial reaches a level where one starts to wonder if the opposite is true. Is it really your aim to battle against the bitter realism found among your visitors one year earlier - in 2008? On your eLearning Conference in Ghana, 66% of participants agreed with the statement: 'Over the past decade the eLearning situation in Africa has hardly changed for the better' (eLearning 2020. 32 issues checked by M. Trucano, InfoDev World Bank and H. Fraeters, GDLN).

    Optimism rules again in your announcements for the eConference 2010 in Zambia (no report yet, just photographs). I hope that your 2010 conference evaluation this time will emphasize realistic views on what is needed prior to succes. There must have been at least some attention to the debatable impact todays' computer-learning has on students’ learning and to the debate on what steps in the African context urgently have to be taken one after the other to achieve computer literacy (and digital learning) and other benefitis of computers to schools. Unrealistic yet costly ambitions result from unreal expectations about the potential of today's digital technology for improving teaching and learning of almost all school subjects.

    You invite me to the 2011 eConference. For me it would be interesting to come - as for most visitors - when you have swapped your priorities from "ICT because of ICT" to: getting ICT to work on African schools effectively.

    Please address the bitter realism that visitors report and the disappointing results from eLearning over the last decade. I am sure that the audience will appreciate it when your 2011 Conference in Tanzania gives centre stage to - what so far was second on your conferences: “the challenges and obstacles that technology brings to daily routines in education”.
    Start with the educational management on the ministry and service institutes as for curriculum development, examunation and inspection: arrange speakers who can give direction for change and who have practical solutions for the vast preparations that are needed to effect change by this means. Be down to earth about what is needed and what is achievable now on ministries of education where e-mail and network problems are persistent and where toilets rarely flush. Have specialists elaborate “comprehensively” about the minimum requirements needed for the infrastructure needed for Internet access at the national level and then as a reliable element in teacher training and school and classroom practice. And deal head-on with the financial limitations of African countries and how they can overcome these as you “reflect the great potential of learning with technology”.
    This will not cut investment in ICT but put it where it is needed first.

    I can advise you about some key-note speakers who really have a message to share.
    Success with your work - make your eConference really exciting for real progress!

    Jan Krol - Visual Teach achievable ICT.

    Teachers in developing economies need in their classrooms robust and reliable tools.
    The Nationwide Visualisation Project introduces on highschools simple to use teaching aids.
    What water erosion and silt?  Below one of the 2500 visuals: "Put on - take off".

    Wednesday, 19 May 2010

    No surprises in our research reports

    Teachers are important - they compensate for static or negative results from computer assisted learning: a reaction from John Branfield, former Principal Inspector with Essex Education Authority (UK) and senior member of staff at a Specialist College for Mathematics and Computing.

    From: John Branfield, by e-mail May 2010

    Nothing beats a well qualified teacher

    On the subject of the research reports you identified recently, none of this surprises me. Having taught IT for over 10 years it's clear that the follow-up use of computer-based material for drill and practice or open-ended research followed up by teacher intervention is far better than using IT as some sort of teacher substitute. My experience of observing many secondary school lessons is that nothing beats a well qualified teacher (subject expert) with a clear lesson plan and the ability to engage with his or her students directly, understanding their prior learning achievements and being clear about the next steps needed. Learning through the medium of computer screen is a very poor second; high level classroom interaction beats a Google search every time.
    To close the digital divide systematically, see:

    Tuesday, 18 May 2010

    Investment research concludes: First Debug the Child

    Computers on schools can and will 'electrify education' (as Negroponte evaluated his OLPC projects) but only when implemented in a sensible way.  When brought into the classroom too fast, they might not enrich but damage education. This happens in rich countries as well as in middle and low-income countries. Some recent reports:
    Research in Romania, comparing families having computers with those families without found that computers had a negative effect on students’ grades and educational goals.
    In Colombia: with increased numbers of computers in schools, and curriculum support provided plus training for teachers, no positive impact on student outcomes was found.
    In India: using computers during school hours - essentially substituting computers for teachers - actually damaged learning.

    Some annotated observations, including the research findings above, from:
    Atanu Dey, a contributer of the April 2010 Delhi debate
    "Most of Technology Investments in Education is Wasted" 

    First Debug the Child
    My interest in the use — and misuse — of technology in education is a natural extension of that basic interest in development and growth. The One Laptop Per Child comes in for special scrutiny because the implications of such a program are phenomenal for a poor country like India. I have long argued that there are simpler, more affordable and more urgently needed interventions that is needed than is provided by the OLPC program. Here’s one that I recently became aware of. Timothy Ogden writes about "the glitzy One Laptop per Child program.” It’s clearly a well-written and well-researched article and is a must read. Here’s a bit:
    Despite the instinctive appeal of distributing laptops to schoolchildren, there is precious little evidence that making computers available to children improves educational outcomes. The circumstantial evidence that exists certainly doesn’t buttress the one-laptop-per-child approach.
    . . .
    Two other recent studies (2010 and 2009) conducted in the developing world are even more telling. Economists Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches studied a program in Romania that distributed discount vouchers for the purchase of home computers to low-income families. When they compared the families that used the vouchers to acquire computers with families that were just above the income cut-off to receive the vouchers, they found that computers had a negative effect on students’ grades and educational goals. Leigh Linden, an economist at Columbia University, and Felipe Barrera-Osorio of The World Bank studied a program in Colombia that increased the number of computers in schools and provided curriculum support and training for teachers — and found no impact on student outcomes. “In this case, despite the curriculum support, it was clear that the teachers simply weren’t using the computers,” Linden says.

    Linden also led one of the few experimental studies to show a positive impact from the use of computers — a project in India that provided computers and education software to schools and randomly assigned some schools to use the software during school hours and others to encourage computer use after hours. This study found that using computers during school hours —essentially substituting computers for teachers — actually hurt learning, while using them after hours as a supplement to traditional classroom teaching had dramatic positive effects on the weakest students. Even this outcome doesn’t really support the OLPC mission, though; the software evaluated is very much in the “drill and practice” model that Negroponte has explicitly derided.
    Ogden further on in the article mentions a few more effective means of improving educational outcomes. There are a number of simple, cheap programs that have been proven successful at getting children in developing countries into school and helping them learn more while they are there.
    The simplest and least costly of these programs is deworming. Nearly 2 billion people around the world are affected by parasitic worm infections, with children disproportionately affected. While each variety of parasitic worm affects a person differently, they all take a substantial toll on growth, energy and attention, with entirely predictable impacts on school attendance and learning. Harvard economist Michael Kremer has studied the impact of mass deworming in Kenya and India. Delivering deworming medication costs 50 cents per child per year in Kenya but yielded a 25 percent increase in school attendance; a similar program in India cost $4 per student per year and yielded a 20 percent attendance gain. “This is a simple, cost-effective and yet tragically not-done program. It’s a scandal that [deworming] hasn’t been addressed,” Kremer says. There are spillover effects as well. “The most surprising thing about the study in Kenya was the widespread impact,” Kremer says. The program drove down infection rates for several kilometers around the schools, he says, and there were significant improvements in attendance for untreated students, in the treatment schools as well as in nearby schools not in the program.
    Go read it all here

    To close the digital divide systematically,
    see:  Beyond chalk and talk
    see:  20 yrs IT in reality
    see:  Sound pedagogy

      Thursday, 13 May 2010

      OLPC: a "Computer Error"?

      "There appear to be cheaper, more effective ways to improve education 
      in developing nations than the glitzy One Laptop per Child program…"

      By Timothy Ogden (editor-in-chief of Philanthropy Action), August 20, 2009

      Computer Error?
      ... In the last year, though, the news on OLPC has sharply soured. Technical difficulties slowed the development of the second generation of the laptop. The second year of the “Give One, Get One” promotion — which offered the people a chance to pay $399 for two laptops, one that they would keep, with the other sent to a developing nation — dramatically underperformed. Then in early January, the nonprofit OLPC announced that 50 percent of staff were being laid off and a major restructuring was under way. To even its most ardent supporters, the project seems nearly dead in the water.

      And that may be great news for children in the developing world.

      Read full story here

      To close the digital divide systematically, see:

      Tuesday, 11 May 2010

      Does IT Improve Academic Achievement?

      A point made by these researchers: recent large-scale efforts to increase computer access for disadvantaged children around the world happens without paying sufficient attention to how parental oversight affects a child's computer use.

      Home Computer Use and the Development of Human Capital

      By: O. Malamud, Univ. of Chicago / C. Pop-Eleches, Colombia Univ.

      Key findings from the 2009 report include the following:
      Computer use was mostly focused on games displacing the time for home work and reading:
      - significantly lower schoolgrades in `Maths, English and Romanian
      - significantly higher scores in computer skills and fluency

      Find a downloadable pdf here
      And a review in Slate web magazine here

      Alex Tabarrok posted on the website Marginal Revolution, September 11, 2009, on the issue First debug the child, then the computer. We quote from the comments:
      High schools in South Dakota have had access to a state-aided program to provide kids with laptops for school use (they don't get to keep them). The school here tried to put as much of the curriculum as possible on them. They've found out that (surprise) kids may not take proper care of them or use them approriately; in fact the first year of the program at our school saw a huge increase in kids failing classes because they were using the computers for everything but homework. Maintenance costs have also proven to be a budget buster; replacing a broken computer is a lot more expensive than replacing a damaged book, and some parents have said "you're making them use it; you pay for it".
      Posted by: mikesdak at Sep 11, 2009 3:16:51 PM
      Read it here

      To close the digital divide systematically, see:

      Thursday, 6 May 2010

      Impression: Are ICT Investments in Schools Wasted?

      The debate left Yama Ploskonka duly confused - an appropriate state of mind for anyone considering honest investment in ICT for education... since FOR was “against” investment, seeing it as a waste, and vice versa, sometimes adding multiple negatives…

      Live Debate Impression New Dehli, 21 April, 2010
      Allen brings the negative together as follows:

      What struck me about the affirmative was the lack of any reference to history. It's not as if computers in education are a new idea although the advent of the Internet seems to have resulted in a case of amnesia regarding that historical fact. The first computer system explicitly designed for use in education was the Plato system designed by the University of Illinois in...wait for it...1960.

      Since then there have been an endless parade of projects to use computers in education and to be blunt, they've all failed. Some have failed spectacularly, others have simply not lived up to the promises made and implied at their start and in a few cases the measure of success has been sufficiently vague as to defy attempts to apply the success or failure label. But in terms of demonstrating lower costs or greater educational attainment I don't believe there's any reason to equivocate. Failure from start to finish.

      It would seem to me that this historical reality would be a well-nigh insurmountable obstacle to those advancing projects which propose to improve education via the use of computers and yet it does not seem to be so. Despite a uniform, and very expensive, history of failure new projects are continuously launched as if each is the first to attempt to improve education via the use of computers. Were I on the affirmative I would simply have reprised that history and challenged the opposition to offer some reason to believe that the new projects, indistinguishable except in detail from any that preceded, will succeed where all its predecessors have failed.

      You post a false choice Yama
      The false dilemma results from assuming that there's no down side to funding the use of computers in education so might as well. It's a choice between funding the use of computers and *not* building some bridge or road or some other project.

      Exactly! This blog presents arguments and reports experiences and research to point out the danger of e-learning in poorly prepared settings. Computer technology has to be introduced, which goes without saying, but only through use of tested procedures, proven to work. Like this, money can be saved to build roads to the future, removing critical barriers at the start. 

      To close the digital divide systematically, see: