Thursday, 26 August 2010

Why to save $46 billion (US$41 billion) on ICT

Evaluating 30 years: computers do not yet live up to their (full) potential in education. In rich countries investments in computer labs proof to be productive. However, it seems like digital teaching and learning tools in optimal situations improve, but in many cases bring down learning results - nationwide.  Governments have started to reverse policies: from technology to better teachers.
Policy effects of digital tools in classrooms in rich countries as summarised recently:

United Kingdom.  Evidence on the positive impact of ICT on standards remains unclear in 'PS Public Service' on 22 July 2010: "The most fundamental application of technology in schools is the way in which it enables teachers to concentrate on what they do best – teaching. Too much of the education budget in recent years has been spent on getting technology into the classroom with a view that the mere injection of technology itself will contribute to raising standards. However, it is the case that the evidence on the positive impact of ICT on standards remains unclear. The focus on the use of technology in schools, therefore, should be to support teachers' professional needs".

USA.  Obama's revolutionairy low budget Reform in Education 
focuses on quality teachers to turn the tide
in 'The Financial Times' on 28 July 2010: "In the last generation, America’s “K-12” (primary and secondary) public schools system has gradually fallen behind other developed countries (during the era that digital teaching moved centre stage at the expense of trillions of US$ - VT). 
American pupils come 31st in a worldwide ranking of proficiency in mathematics and even lower down in some of the sciences.
On some measures US pupils have a lower level of literacy in English than in some northern European countries where English is the second language.
Thirty years ago (before computers) the US regularly came in the top five on such measures."

With an eye on low-income countries: note that quality decline parallel with the introduction of digital teaching, occurred especially on weaker and on deprived schools (in USA one-third of public schools). 

AustraliaComputers alone provide a low-level of learning in 'Computerworld. The Voice of Management' on 23 July 2010: "The existing program is quite targeted around computers in schools. The coalition could very well look more broadly at supporting software and learning aids, because computers alone provide a low-level of learning.Therefore the planned investment of $46 billion for National Broadband Network, the "Digital Education Revolution" is considered to be cancelled.

These are "Frameworks for Interpreting the (negative results in) Romania and North Carolina Home Computer Use Studies" were Wayan Vota looks for in the Edutech-debate. They underpin the relevance of the August discussion of InfoDev (World Bank/UNESCO) about long-denied evidence that access to computers in many circumstances leads to poor educational attainment.

These evaluations feed the wider debate that is now surrounding Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows (2010). Carr argues that the Internet is leading to a short-attention-span culture. He cites a pile of research showing that the multi-distraction, hyper-link world degrades people’s abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation. Digital teaching might increase motivation of students - the stimuli used by teachers and the information is so diverse that it is merely processed in the short-term-memory. Like watching good National Geographic documentaries: after seen and understood: soon forgotten. Teaching becomes "edu-tainment". Knowledge that pupils have to learn does not get connected to or stored in the long-term-memory, which is the basis of secure learning.

Effective digital teaching. We obviously do not know yet how to use new technologies to really optimise learning processes. For established school subjects, teaching with digital equipment involves more than offering knowledge in understandable and interesting formats - the premises on which most ICT enthusiasts promote computer use by pupils.  From various studies we learn that the approach has to be holistic. To start with: pupils need varied and relevant exercises to fixate information into their long-term-memory. In neuro-physiological terms, to develop new neuron-clusters and the lasting neurological pathways to link new understanding to existing knowledge. What it takes to achieve this is gravely underestimated - joyful exercises commonly used in e-learning software turn out to be not good enough.
Secondly: digital equipment, being so flexible in offering so much, has proved to be a double-edged sword. Teachers must have clear lesson targets, know how to reach those and do so in a disciplined manner, otherwise learning suffers.

Thirdly, for high school students digital learning involves the need for personal interaction, role-models and teachers. Learning as part of growing up is a social process in which technology can help but cannot assume centre stage. 'Social learning' has become a high priority on the agendas of rich countries' educational practices. But creating a productive balance using a simple model with appropriate variation in activities is still a major challenge for 'the new digital pedagogy'. Not to mention how to prevent distraction and pupils just entertaining themselves.

A 'pedagogic leap' is needed for digital teaching to become truly effective. How will the average teacher develop - and how to be trained? We are now much more aware of the missing link between computers being motivational and engaging for youngsters and their role in developing effective, durable learning in school. This gap may take a generation to bridge. More sophisticated pedagogical understanding of digital teaching has to be developed and applied before students of the average teacher in rich and in developing countries can benefit from this type of technology in their classroom. There is, however, plenty of evidence, for instance from independent OECD studies in Europe, that the use of computers in computer labs and libraries has a positive impact - contributing to teaching and to learning. An area to prioritise in countries where budgets are low.

1899 Jean Cote's vision of a classroom in the year 2000: a teacher transmits books to pupils via a kind of 
mechanical micing device. It illustrates the long history of technological fantasies about education. 
Image in David Buckingham: 'Beyond Technology - Children Learning in the Age of Digital Culture'

Startling rhetoric  Considering its results the marketing of educational technology is startling. From the start it doesn't want to see any problems but only "practical solutions". True: the debatable effects could not have been foreseen 20 years ago, although negative results time and again were brought forward in independent studies (see menu-bar: Sound pedagogy). But up till today the marketing messages are relentlessly upbeat. Digital tools… motivate, inspire and stimulate teachers and students; the latest technology is Engaging - Enriching  - Empowering; IT transfers the learning experience by lightning the flame of learning. ICTs inspire creativity in the classroom, share knowledge, spark brilliance and transform the future.
Technology is about creating opportunities, realizing potential, achieving excellence. The effects of this rhetoric, and other aspects of the marketing of this trillion dollar saga, are evaluated in 2007 in the opening chapters of 'Beyond Technology' by Prof. Buckingham of London Institute of Education - a study in the United Kingdom, arguably world leader in digital education.
In low income countries with a poor educational infrastructure in all respects, a similar rhetoric is used by the ICT industry and experts to introduce the one-laptop-per-child concept after 2005 and other digital tools as the (only) solution.
"ICT as a teacher substitute 
ICT rhetoric can explain Ugandas' Minister Bitamazires' hope in 'technocentric' solutions as expressed in her statement on a symposium with "experts tipping the region over importance ICT" in Kampala on 29 of June 2010:
"Students learn more on their own when they interact with ICT than with their teachers".   (Photo Bitamazire © Uganda news-net)  

The new promise  Mitras' and Negropontes' philosophy of 'self-learning' of pupils in low income countries promises "… to leap-frog decades of development… (with computers giving access) to illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem solving potential". Experiences in rich countries where children over the age of four are surrounded by computers do not confirm this for the established school subjects and bring to light that reaching learning targets has become more difficult than before.     "OLPC pupils will educate themselves"  
That is why John Spencer in "Computerworld UK" (August 5 2010) concludes under the title "ICT as a teacher substitute": "CAL (computer assisted learning) and the VLE (virtual learning environment); don’t make me laugh. Never has so much money and time been wasted on such delusional nonsense. No amount of theorising about ‘constructivist pedagogy’ or ‘creating independent learners’ from the apologists can change this". As ICT specialist Spencer recognizes the importance of computers in education but not yet in the classroom. That can change in the future after a 'pedagogical leap' forward.

ICT aid   promoting unproven ICTs (the mediaeval approach)
Test and make it work first (the scientific approach)
Below: cure with leaches (untested for 3000 years)
TEST first!  Clever ICT investments for donors 
as advised in Esther Duflo's TED talk (see post May 29)
After 30 years this is clear for classrooms: before advising any unproven technology - InfoDev/World Bank, UNESCO, ICT4D and the others better invest and experiment with promising IT tools in two or three settings until these really work in poor environments. Implementation procedures have to be developed to make it all sustainable, also money-wise. Until then investments can safely be concentrated on computer labs and building up the infrastructure needed.

In the mean time for in classrooms: teachers used to 'chalk and talk' need robust and reliable tools which give them full control and immediate support. To improve learning achievements there is innovate 'achievable ICT': click for possibly the best way to modernise teaching.

Read full articles:
Wayan Vota 'Edutech-debate' 16 July 2010 
OECD 'Country case studies on digital learning resources as systematic innovation' 2008-2009

for more, see earlier blog posts and
see: 20 yrs IT - a reality check 
see: Sound pedagogy
see: ICT-IT harmonised

In the mean time:

How to explain 'infrastructure'? Below one of the 2500 visuals: "Put on - take off" - and ask:

Teachers in developing economies need in their classrooms robust and reliable tools.
The Nationwide Visualisation Project introduces on highschools simple to use teaching aids.

1 comment:

JoeN said...

So good to see other experienced voices beginning to question what really should have been questioned seriously ten years ago. The more I read and look into this entire business of how a lot of modern technology impacts on children (and often adults!) the less happy I am about it.

There really are some very unhealthy things which seem to be associated directly with some technologies. I've seen far too many "grown ups" who just don't seem to realise how enslaved to the ICT they are, even when it clearly impacts on those around them.