In January this year the eLearning Africa news service reported on the progress being made towards the impending Millennium Development Goal (MGD) deadline and highlighted the worrying trend of prioritising quantity over quality in efforts to reach the target of universal primary education by 2015. New eLearning technologies offer the tantalising potential to spread high-quality education across the developing world. This could be an answer to the problem, but it is never a simple case of ‘just add ICT’.
By Alicia Mitchell
In his keynote speech at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2012, Michael Trucano, Senior ICT and Education Policy Specialist at the World Bank, noted the dangerous tendency of policy makers to “dump hardware in schools [and] hope for magic to happen”. Projects that just ‘dump and walk’ are not only wasters of time, money and resources, but are also disillusioning, leading to less inclination to further experiment with ICTs in education.
Technology dumping is not only an affliction of developing countries. In an in-depth report into ICT policies, Robert B. Kozma points to “the limited extent to which the information technology paradigm has been incorporated into educational systems around the world”.[i] Kozma cites a study that showed that, in 2006, almost all schools in the OECD countries surveyed were equipped with computers, but only two thirds of teachers had actually used them with their students in the preceding year, and the majority of use was to display pre-prepared presentations. So despite the technology being present, it hardly precipitated a revolution in pedagogical practice.
Obviously something more than just equipment is needed, and ‘teacher training’ is often the knee-jerk reaction to under-used ICT. However, schemes offering computer ‘driver’s licences’ and literacy programmes may provide educators with the basics of operating a computer, but this is merely a starting point. Knowledge obsolescence is something that can occur very quickly as new technology trends sweep the sector. For instance, the emphasis on cheap laptops that sparked projects such as One Laptop per Child (a key proponent of dump-and-walk initiatives) has now been eclipsed by interest in tablet and e-book readers.[ii] With this in mind, basic ‘how-to’ courses in computer usage are not only ultimately limited in their usefulness but potentially a great financial burden providing negligible outcomes.
The issue is not purely that teachers do not understand how to use new technologies and therefore do not use them, but rather that, left unaltered, traditional teaching modes leave no space to imagine how ICT can be effectively integrated in the development of new pedagogies.
UNESCO has been prominent in its research and recommendations regarding the effective deployment of ICT in education through Teacher Professional Development (TPD). In 2008, and then again in 2011, UNESCO published its ICT Competency Framework for Teachers (ICT CFT), in collaboration with global technology powerhouses such as Intel and Microsoft. Then, in 2012, the UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) published their ICT-enhanced Teacher Standards for Africa (ICTeTSA), “an attempt to help contextualise the broader UNESCO framework and standards based on specific needs and contexts expressed by education policymakers from across Africa”.[iii]
In addition, in February of this year the International Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) launched a three-month long online forum to address the current crisis in Teacher Professional Development. ICT was its second discussion topic, guided by James Lawrie, Education Advisor at War Child. In his blog contribution to the forum, Lawrie highlights innovative use of Open Educational Resources (OER), offline audio, video and text-based teaching material, lesson recording for personal, professional review and computerised student testing systems as ways in which ICT can complement a teacher’s professional development.
Laying down specific guidelines for how ICT should be implemented into the curriculum is only a small part of the journey. The impact of these frameworks and standards, if indeed there are any, is not yet apparent, and there are many other factors that must come into play if teachers are to be able to effectively and imaginatively deploy digital technologies in their classrooms.
But, despite these reservations, it does make a lot of sense to integrate ICT into the training and on-going development process of teachers’ learning. When they themselves have experienced the positive impact that digital technologies can have on their own practice it not only enables them to pass on their skills to their students, but also to enthusiastically participate in the development of new pedagogical thinking.
With career-long support and rewarding personal experience, surely teachers can be equipped with the skills and confidence to ensure that ICT is not abandoned in a dark corner, but rather that it facilitates far-reaching, quality learning for both staff and students.
[ii] Ten trends in technology use in education in developing countries that you may not have heard about. Michael Trucano et al. EduTech, 26.06.2012.