20 yrs IT reality check

Does IT, computer assisted teaching, contribute
to improved learning achievement?

20 years of Information Technology
in education: a reality check 
11 snapshots across the globe  2009/2010

IT in Education in high - middle and low income countries.
11 Snapshots reveal broken promises
when computers are introduced too fast.

Introduction  The blessings of computer technology are  mixed. The digital library and access to the world wide web have changed much in education. But IT has hardly contributed to better teaching of most school subjects: this can be confidently concluded from snapshots 1 to 5 about the impact after two decades' spending in rich countries. Snapshots 6-11 reveal that it is idle to believe that what is failing in rich countries will succeed in middle and low income countries. Only information technology (IT) that works should be introduced. Travel beyond the horizon to see what is happening around the globe - a source study by Jan Krol.

Snapshots high income countries:  
1  Scandinavia    UK     3  EU     4  USA    5  Asian Tigers

Snapshots middle and low income countries: 
6  Asia Pacific Region    7  India and South Asia    8  Mexico
9  Caribbean        10  OLPC in Peru/Ethiopia        11  Africa

How effective is IT
in improving teaching and learning?  

20 years of investments in the high income countries 
1 Scandinavia    2 UK   1 EU   4 USA    5 Asian Tigers

1   Nordic countries: wealthy information societies
Finland has, according to each three-yearly OECD Pisa Report, the best results and best educational system in the world. This quality is not related to the use of computers. The use of computers in the classroom in Finland is effectively declining since the late 1990s.* Finland's policy focuses on a good pedagogical climate in schools and invests heavily in the quality of good teachers who are not interested in today's hype about computer technology in the classroom and in gadgets such as electronic whiteboards. Teachers use computers mainly to prepare lessons and for administration; students use the Internet for homework and to make reports.
* OECD study on digital learning resources as systematic innovation - Country case study Finland, 30 Dec 2008

In Norway, research shows that few teachers use the available computers for teaching. Teachers use computers for lesson preparation (like they do in other Nordic and most West European countries).
The build up of portals and on-line sites, since the 1990s harvesting useful teaching and learning materials, has not been as successful as expected by teachers and students - the whole system will be reorientated.
* OECD - Country case study Norway, 2009 

2  United Kingdom invested most in IT
British teachers hold the EU top score for using computers in class, and interactive whiteboards were  installed nationwide after 2002.  In February 2010 the OECD reported that the past ten years' expenditure on IT has doubled digital technology in the UK but without noticeable effects on learning standards.

Already in 2007 an authoritative nationwide study* forecast the OECD 2010 report:
"Beyond Technology" by David Buckingham, Professor at the Institute  of Education, University of London, Director of the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media:
• ‘more entertainment than education’
• ‘utopian fantasies about the transformation of education’
• ‘superficial attempts to import technology into schools or 
combine education with digital entertainment’
Interactive computers might harm learning, other research confirms, due to the flow of information and distraction by visual or sound effects. This also occurs when teaching with the interactive whiteboard and also with much software for e-learning.

For wasting a budget for education, join the hype and bring computer technology in your classrooms. The promises of IT too often prove to be silver bullets instead of sound pedagogical innovation. Apostolic belief in the positive effects of IT can result in massive mis-investment. See how this works, e.g. in the EU.

3  European Union: policy without impact assessment
A pan-European EU study* reveals that the computer/pupil ratio is 1 to 9. Nordic ­countries, the UK and Netherlands score highest with 1 to 5. Computer labs are the ­starting point for most schools. 96% of the EU schools are Internet connected - 67% via broadband. Many teachers have appliances in their classroom but 70 to 80% rarely use them. Teachers who think that computers support teaching but do not use it complain mainly about the lack of computers. Even well equipped ­countries such as Norway are faced with a lack of technical support.

Typically, as on other continents, most research on IT in education (as this investigation to support EU policies) is not done by educationalists but by IT specialists, supportive of the grand idea: computers boost education. The tone in reports is promising - "computers enrich education" - but the learning results of the investments are not measured. ‘Is there enough?’ is the leading question. Monitoring ­success of IT implementation follows a returning ­hierarchy:  
1 computer/pupil ratio: need for more?
2 maintenance, is support available?
3 is educational software available?
4 do teachers have enough IT skills? (age issue?)

None of these priorities questions the effects on learning standards.
Impact assessment is rare, although this should be the basis for any policy.

* Benchmarking Access and Use of ICT in European schools 2006, by Gesellschaft für Kommunikations- und Technologie Forschung for the EU ‘DG Information Society and Media’

4  USA The quick fix  “enrich education with computers” (common IT phrase)
In no country has so much money been spent on education as in the USA - 60% above the OECD average. Much is invested in IT - with poor results according to Pisa Reports, consistantly well below average.

‘Oversold and overvalued’ warned Prof. Cuban of Stanford University in 2001, as do other independent studies on effects of IT on teaching and learning outcomes.
"Are we there yet? Research on schools’ use of the Internet" is a US survey conducted in 2004 for National School Boards Foundation which reveals startling gaps between the promise and reality of technology use in schools. The pedagogy (strategy to achieve teaching goals) is matched to the technology - a trap: the technology is just too tempting and starts to take over such that subject-related teaching goals get vague or disappear altogether. Teaching and learning becomes "edutainment". Distraction affects poor pupils most.
In "If it quacks like a duck. Emerging technologies for learning" (2008), Emma Tonkin makes memorable statements: "There is no Google generation (able to learn via searching) and no shortcut to understanding" - "People are still people"  -  "IT in education is evolution – not a revolution" - "With every advance there is a rush of hope and hype".

In the USA improving poor educational standards with the quick fix of computer solutions seems ­counter-productive. Teachers’ routines get distorted, standards go down as the role of computers increases. A similar trend of declining quality, parallel with the emerge of computers, is apparent in Europe, e.g. in the Netherlands. Like in the USA, students in Teacher Training don’t know how to make simple calculations, how to spell and lack basic general knowledge e.g. in geography and history.

“A rush of hope and hype” is especially true for interactive whiteboards (IWBs) which in the USA after 2000 got installed in schools in waves, firstly by Washington State and Arizona. This inspired policies in other states and other countries like Great Britain and even Mexico (in 2005). They have become a status symbol, yet their contribution to learning is questionable.*

On July 28  2010 the Financial Times reflects on the Obama Reform in Education: " In the last generation, America’s “K-12” public schools system has gradually fallen behind other developed countries (JK: during the era that digital teaching got central stage at expenses of trillions of US$). American pupils come 31st in 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, the US regularly came in the top five on such measures."

* ‘The Interactive Whiteboards, Pedagogy and Pupil Performance Evaluation’, University of London 2007:  Its pedagogy has to be developed - the value of the IWBs is not fully understood; ‘Interactive Whiteboards: Real beauty or just “lipstick”’, Educational Department Eastern Cape University Capetown, 2008   Advise: “Leap-frog” (skip) this generation of IWBs until its pedagogy is developed.

5  Asian Tigers Malaysia and Singapore
“Investing in ICT is an expensive business”, concludes in 2008 the Minister of Education in Singapore*. Singapore is with a GNI  p/c of $28,700 an average high-income country which spends more of it's educational budget to ICT than almost any other country.  His claims of progress in IT use in Singaporean schools might be (partly) justified*, but as in Western countries, 70 to 80% of the teachers regularly ignore the expensive IT applications in their classroom and e-learning is declining. Nonetheless: in May 2010 a
US$630 million tender is awarded for schools ICT infrastructure**Regardless of the results, and this seems part of the process, as soon as organised by a Ministry, ICT agencies tend to become self-enforcing f.i. by presenting their research with promising results which promotes education policies towards ever more expensive computer-technology.
In Malaysia*** courses for teaching how to implement IT fail: knowledge is not applicable - many teachers feel that they did not learn how to integrate IT in their teaching. Even here teachers who try to use IT face malfunctioning of the computer, servers and routers, despite the availability of technical assistance - a clear warning for low and middle income countries where technical assistance is often lacking.
* Opening address at the International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology (Suntec Convention Hall - 1800 visitors) Aug. 2008, by Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen 

**Singapore Invests $850 Million For Schools ICT Infrastructure - Source: GovMonitor Public Sector News,  June 10 2010
***Conditions and level of ICT integration in Malaysian Smart Schools 2009, by Wan ZWA, Hajar M, Azimi H in: International Journal of Education & Development using ICT - Vol 5 No 2 

Conclusion snapshot 1 to 5, the rich countries:  
 IT in education is still 'trail and error'.  
It might take another generation for computer assisted teaching 
to mature and live up to its potential. 

Graph: High income countries can afford to experiment with 
expensive IT technology until it will work for teaching.
Lower income countries cannot afford experiments.
click on graph for complete view

Next: IT  in middle and low income countries
6  Asia Pacific Region    7  India and South Asia    8  Mexico
9  Caribbean    10  OLPC in Peru/Ethiopia     11  Africa

    6  Asia-Pacific region: IT in teacher education
    A snapshot of low and lower middle income countries - from Thailand and Mongolia to Samoa.*  The report emphasises the value of IT and of small successes.
    It also shows the persistent enthusiasm of IT implementers but inevitably describes a considerable range of “challenges”, including:

    •  lack of electricity and Internet access
    •  organisational challenges constituting critical barriers
    •  important follow up activities by the government not implemented
    •  ongoing costs are a major concern
    •  teachers having developed basic computer skills are not able to use technology to improve teaching and bring about pedagogical change. 
    * ICT in teacher education: case studies from the Asia-Pacific region 2008, E. Meleisea, Eldis - Unesco Bangkok  
    chalk elephant

    7  India and South Asia:  "What is actually happening?"
    As for most parts of the world, there is no up-to-date and comprehensive documentation of the impact of IT and a lack of evaluation, with negative repercussions:
    •  on planning: countries and donors struggle to keep track of projects over which they have  no control and too little knowledge from which to draw conclusions 
    •  no information: data occur scattered and are often not accessible, or out of date.
    •  need for coordination of data collecting and use as a minimal requirement for policy.
    •  teachers and schools struggle to clarify roles
    Last but not least: lack of infrastructure, materials, know how
    * Survey of ICT in Education in India and South Asia 2009, Dr. Tim Kelly  InfoDev.org - World Bank 

        Bangalore - Central India, 2006  (Smart) Interactive Whiteboards, affordable
        for rich countries and wealthy private schools with a good infrastructure.
        A leap forward or another hype, implemented too early?

        8 Mexico: interactive whiteboard disaster 
        Mexico 2005, a middle income country with oil revenues. The Fox government installed 150,000 interactive whiteboards, firstly in primary schools, with computers, digital projectors and nationwide teacher training, an investment of nearly a billion dollars. After this pilot the plan was cancelled to equip another 40,000 classrooms in secondary schools. Today most of the 150,000 whiteboards are not in use. A Harvard Study revealed that where they were used learning results did not improve. As with all IT, a sound pedagogical understanding is needed about how to use IT to achieve curriculum goals. Fraud, corruption scandals and political plots came with the multiple million dollar project.*
        Meanwhile in IT conferences, also in middle and low income countries, the possibly biggest educational mis-investment in recent history goes unmentioned while advisers persuade Ministers about the endless possibilities of the IWBs and encourage spending limited budgets on this equipment.
        * The Mexican Digital Wave, Jo Tuckman The Guardian 6-5-2007. 

        For more on electronic whiteboards, see page "Silver bullits vs sound pedagogy"

        9  Caribbeans - typical for low and middle income countries
        Promising reports, in which "computers enrich education", foresee success after critical challenges are solved*. These are, to list a few:

        •  organisational infrastructure fails,
        •  material infrastructure lacks
        •  human resources fall short
        •  running costs/maintenance problems e.g only 40% of the computers function
        •  access to IT on teachers training institutes is small, significantly lower than in other  tertiary education institutes
        •  from small and high profile “failures” so far is not - but should be - learned. 
        * Critical Review and Survey of ICT in education in the Caribbean, Dr. Tim Kelly  InfoDev.org - World Bank     
          10  ‘One Laptop Per Child’ OLPC - at  US$200 per laptop

          © Daniel Drake/flickr


          So far: Haiti 13,800 laptops, India 720, Rwanda 110,000, Uruguay 300,000. Visiting the OLPC website gives a real positive impression of the laptop and its possibilities. Clicking through to a supporting website as in Uruguay shows that the digital curriculum materials for download by children are still to be developed for each school year. The  know-how to do so seems limited. It leaves the teacher with a ‘monumental task’.
          Yet, for children it is great to get a laptop - a step towards a computer literate society.  Children pick up IT skills amazingly fast.* “They can teach their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents to use the machines”. This might be true if, as Rwanda tries to at the moment, a solid Internet infrastructure is provided to tap in to, free of charge. The Ministry also has started to sell the laptops at cost price - obviously a good idea. Can the OLPC approach provide a basis for education in developing economies? is the next question.  
          * Hole-in-the-Wall. Lightning the spark of learning, Saguta Mitra / Hiwell
          After observing how easily children in empovrished slumbs pick up computer skills when exposed to this technology, Mitra concluded that computer based learning can be considered as a complex self organising system - like galaxies or cells are.

          Considering costs of OLPC:
          If introduced in poor countries, in the first year the OLPC ‘One Laptop Per Child’ at $200 per child, will take c20% of the total national income plus 5% in each following year to maintain the programme. In effect, from the second year onward OLPC takes c50% of the budget available to the Ministries of Education to run the educational system with.
          Typically, governments in low income countries receive c50% of their budget from rich countries, directly or via other means made available for their policies. In Rwanda this is 70%.

          10  OLPC in Peru:  “When a country tries to fly before it even knows how to walk” 
          The Peruvian government is one of the low and middle income countries so far persuaded by the founder of OLPC, Prof. Negroponte: “... to leap-frog decades of development ... Children in emerging nations will be opened both to illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem solving potential”.  In 2006/7 Peru purchased and distributed 260.000+ of his ingenious laptops among children. In 2009 Kiko Mayorga identifies an “amazing non-connectness between reality and publicity”: The government claims that reading comprehension on primary level has been improved by 50% since introduction. In reality, at the ministry there is no e-mail list of teachers involved and no system to write them. Less than 5% of the laptops is connected to the internet. On the web there are virtually no OLPC communities, forums nor blogs -  there are no feedback or user reports. Nor can children get their software updated. It is amazing how little communication teachers get or initiate. Laptops are isolated and deeply lost - many kids and teachers use them in trial and error style*. 

          Now the discussion is on or the government should buy the new software ‘XO-2’ for the laptops or stick to the old ones which they bought 260.000 times 3 years ago.
          * OLPC Peru is Still Far From Our Goals, 2009 Kiko Mayorga on Digete Esculab.

          10  ‘One Laptop Per Child’ OLPC - in Ethiopia
          Ethiopia: in 2007, a donor project of 5000 OLPCs for ‘self-empowered learning’ started.
          The Ministry of Capacity Building, GTZ (German) and EduVision (Swiss) coordinate the implementation. Researchers find that, despite being introduced with care, many laptops become little more than distracting toys in the classroom*: Pupils tend to play with them, largely by taking photos with the built in cameras. Teachers are left frustrated because pupils master the technology easier and play on them instead of listening to them. Students need more content and teachers are not adequately trained which in itself is described as “a monumental undertaking”. Matt Keller, director OLPC Europe, Middle East and Africa sees no danger in these problems. They are a part of this early stage of implementation: “Take a long term view and access the impact of the project afterwards”. In Ethiopia (GNI p/c is $170) an OLPC approach for all 16 million children costs US$3 billion.
           “Ridiculous for such a poor country” concludes David Hollow, “Better teach children good basic literacy and counting skills”. 
          * OLPC in Ethiopia, April 2009 David Hollow, Royal Holloway - on ICT4D Conference London.

          11  Africa’s untamed enthousiasm about IT potential 

          Despite vast progress south of the Sahara over the last 20 years, most schools in urban and rural areas are still poorly equipped and lack the material infrastructure for IT applications. Half of the schools have electricity; c20% of these have a running computer lab; c15% of schools are connected to Internet - broadband is a rare novelty. Based on a Nokia concept, the new hype is to use mobile phones to improve learning. Teachers earn up to US$300 a month and cannot afford a computer at home. To make students computer-literate, computer labs in each primary and secondary school are a necessity - in tertiary education computers are available; some lecturers use digital projectors.
          Neither Ministries nor educational institutes have the capacity or human resources to support IT projects. Most are busy with more basic activities, making education accessible for all in adequate buildings.

          IT pilot projects come and go. Unknown amounts of money needed to improve schools are lost*. The impact of IT on the development of Africa’s primary and secondary education is - after 20 years experience worldwide - predictable when policies are based on the belief that IT will make up for the shortcomings of teachers and the lack of learning materials. In no other continent however are expectations as high - that IT, and “ICTs” only, will improve education and lift Africa out of its abject poverty. But now, donor countries have become sceptical. Despite this, Africa’s IT community still rallies around the golden idea, stimulated by IT specialists from near and far. See page 9: their aim is not simply integrating IT in education to achieve computer literacy and access to the digital library and web, but to transform education as happened nowhere else. The effect is counter-productive: IT strategies are not focusing on what is achievable, like first creating conditions to bring computer labs into schools, e.g. automatisation of the administration. And ICT opportunities are missed: feasible ICT offering direct help to teachers, like school TV or the overhead projector, are considered poor choices - out of date - inadequate. 

          *“Nobody seems to want to learn from the other” is an observation in: Survey of ICT and Education in Africa” 570 pages Oct 2007, ICT4E - InfoDev.org - World Bank; Survey of e-learning in Africa 2008, Tim Unwin - Unesco

          For more World Bank monitoring: InfoDev, Information for Development Program (www.infodev.org/ict4edu-Africa)
          For more about what can go wrong with  IT see also: "Knowledge Maps: ICT's in education: What Do We Know About the Effective Uses of Information and Communication Technologies in Developing Countries", more specifically chapters: "Impact of ICTs (read 'IT') on learning  and achievement" and "School-level Issues".

          click on picture to enlarge

          Eleven snapshots: what can be learned? 

          Computers are great research tools for students and teachers, pushing up the level of education in e.g. North European countries.
          For teaching, IT only adds value when: 

          a. teachers are good presenters, confident and competent with the computer and know well what to do to achieve their teaching goals;  
          b. the hardware is working properly and the educational software is top quality. After 20 years of heavy investment these conditions are rarely met in rich countries. In conclusion: it will take another generation for e-learning and digital teaching to mature and reach its potential.

          Computers will continue to damage teaching of the traditional school subjects until useful pedagogy and didactics are mastered. This is not well understood in either high or low income countries and is widely underestimated. In high income countries computers in the classroom often remain unused or decrease quality of teaching: in middle and low income countries nothing is lost when the introduction for teachers is postponed. 

          To expect miracles of computers anywhere is logical - though not justified. Where computer-based-education sets foot, self-promotion seems to become a powerful force in its own right.  Regardless of the results, IT soon tends to define education policies towards more expensive computer-technology. If a countries' budget is limited - like in middle and low-income countries - this self-enforcing ability of ICT enthusiasts for lobbying for more computers everywhere anywhere, should be noted. To prevent this, careful proactive attention is needed in favour of a balanced development of the school system at affordable costs.

          That in most cases is not yet reality - on the contrary.

          Hawky’s Law gains force in middle and low income countries
          According to Hawky’s law, confirmed by accountants in the 1990s, from all the money which governments invest in computer technology some  50% is wasted at the start, 30% during implementation and only 10 to 20% yields output. Lower income countries perform worst case scenarios. Collateral damage by undermining effective teaching traditions continues to erode best practice. Therefore, creating conditions to introduce IT first and then start the evolution via computer labs seems the safest approach. 

          For in the classroom there are cheaper and better alternatives.

          For more: 

          Teachers in developing economies need in their classrooms robust and reliable tools. 
          The Visualisation Project introduces simple to use teaching aids.
          Below: to explain and discuss world population development. Simply put on - take off.
          One of the 2500 large screen presentations for Geography, History, Physics, Chemistry and Biology