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?


    eLearing Africa said...

    Hi there,
    Very interesting points in your blog post! As organisers of the eLearning Africa conference, we have the strong impression that our participants are very well aware of the challenges still facing eLearning, especially in developing countries. Each year, our sessions very comprehensively reflect the great potential of learning with technology, but also consider the challenges and obstacles that technology brings to daily routines in education. Why not come and see for yourself at next year's eLearning Africa in Tanzania?
    Best wishes, eLearning Africa Team

    Visual Teach said...

    eLearning Africa Team, thank you for your appreciation of our blog  
and for the invitation to Tanzania in 2011.
    But 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?
    Is it really your aim to battle against the bitter realism found among your visitors 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 investigated, M. Trucano World Bank).
    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.

    Therefore: 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.
    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 as described above. I can recommend you 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. 

    Click here for more

    Mike Trucano said...

    Hi Jan,

    Thanks for the very intersting post (and for the blog itself, which I only recently found -- I will now be a regular reader!).

    I just wanted to clarify one thing:
    I didn't mean to imply, as you state above, that that only [emphasis mine] "worst practice in ICT use in education" should be avoided ... but that this would be a great place to start!

    I didn't -- and don't -- mean to imply by this that "waste" is acceptable. But I do think, in many ways, the worst type of waste is that which we don't learn from. Mistakes happen, of course, and some of them can (and should) be deemed 'wasteful' -- and they are doubly tragic when they occur in places that can ill-afford them. But they also present us with opportunities for learning -- if only we are ready and equipped to take advantage of them.


    Visual Teach said...

    Hello Mike!

    What gets wasted in educational technology in poor countries is only a tiny fraction of what already is wasted in rich countries. Here important lessons can be learned. As you write: "the worst type of waste is that which we don't learn from ..."

    But first: I feel proud that you visit our blog, Mike. You are the most quoted author on this blog for good reasons. Even in your small reaction I see several to be used. Like you write about wastes: "But they also present us with opportunities for learning -- if only we are ready and equipped to take advantage of them".

    Do you think that the ICT community engaged in promoting and implementing ICT on the other side of the digital divide is ready and equipped to learn lessons from rich countries leading in creating digital teaching environments? - see my blog August 19: "Why to save $46 billion on ICT"

    Anyway - Mike, it seems we have more to discuss. Let's hope we meet soon.

    Jan Krol