When planning ICT deployments in schools, there is much talk around making the effort sustainable. But what does “sustainability” really mean in this context? If we tweak and paraphrase the Wikipedia definition of “sustainability”, we could say that: “Sustainability is the ability of an educational ecosystem to maintain scholastic processes, functions, diversity and productivity into the future.”
Yet that’s a pretty broad and vague statement. Bringing it down to a practical level, how might we introduce information and communication technologies into existing educational ecosystems where they can absorb it and own the change?
Starting with cost, where most do, is “sustainability” covering local costs through local fees or taxes? Should national governments be the funder? Or is sustainability actually greater than merely its monetary price, but actually creating community ownership to the point of local customization in implementation, and self-propagating growth and expansion
Sustainability is generally associated with ecological systems. The educational system is a much simpler beast in comparison. A schematic showing the major subsystems can be drawn on a paper napkin over a cup of coffee. Sustainability of the system itself is a matter of getting sufficient funding to keep the accounting books straight. One needs nothing fancier than that well-worn classical tool – cost-benefit analysis – to figure out whether an intended action would make the system better or make it worse.
when considering what sustainability means in the context of Information and Communication Technology for Education (ICT4E) I find myself wanting first to understand what it means for something – anything – to be sustainable. I’m not sure if what we had while I was growing up was a Merriam-Webster dictionary, but this is what that venerable publication offers up: :sustainable – capable of being sustained. As you can see, that definition isn’t very helpful, but if we dig a little deeper we get (among other definitions): “sustain – keep up, prolong.” So something that is sustainable can be kept up or prolonged. This definition is consistent with the common understanding of sustainability in development programs. Generally, one of the explicit goals of such programs is to establish a system – security, governmental, financial, healthcare – that is capable of continuing to function effectively after external support has been diminished or withdrawn
To illustrate the idea of sustainability in the context of using ICT for education I point to a recent news report related to the use of XO laptops in Manipur, a small state of about 2.4 million people in India. The Manipur state government recently announced that it will spend Rs 155 lakhs (around $300,000) in getting 1000 XO laptops for its school system. Those figures are from a news item dated Oct 6, 2009.
Let’s put those numbers in perspective first. The total budget for the Manipur state school education is Rs 6,000 lakhs (around $12 million). That is, state expenditure on school education is $5 per capita for the budget year 2009-10. Assuming that about 40 percent of the state population falls in the school-going age group, per student state spending on education is around $12 this year. These numbers are fairly representative for the various Indian states. Compare that to what the state is paying for each XO laptop: $300.
“Regime change from without has not been very successful.” –Dick Gordon, host of American Public Media’s The Story, discussing Iranian history with a guest. In my opening position I made the case that the traditional tools of policy and financing can help develop and sustain Opportunity and Capacity but that they are not effective tools […]