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How Can Educational ICT be Relevant to the Poorest of the Poor?

Gaurav Tiwari


Consider this: can children in the remotest villages, who can’t even afford proper stationery for school, have access to a top of the line tablet or a laptop for a gamified version of the class exercise? No, but they certainly should.

In what is now nothing short of a digital world—considering the pervasive impact of technology around the world at least—learning and applying already existing skills is going to be several folds harder without access to communication and information, increasingly even in the “developing” world. The lack of exposure to ICT can be a serious impediment to stay relevant in the job market after finishing school. Even in a scenario where people do have a job, it could leave them handicapped or limit upward mobility.

Besides, ICT tools have also become central to continued learning outside of the classroom, and an important part of retraining or improving at the job. Educational ICT can directly enable basic ICT skills, but also help develop crucial skillsets in equally important practices of critical thinking and problem solving.  So the better question is, “can educational ICT be relevant to the poorest of the poor?” The answer is an emphatic “yes”. The policy makers, innovators, and academics should just be more creative to find what fits best.

Why hasn’t more been done?

The question that might follow is, “if the impact of educational ICT is so important, why hasn’t more been done?” It is not that we lack ideas and innovations–there are spots of brilliance everywhere–but successfully scaling them up has not always been possible.

Often times, there have been attempts to boost education ICT in remote parts of the world, and in spite of all the research, hard work, and investment, they have failed miserably. This gives much fodder for the critics (and for good reason) of if educational ICT is relevant in the “developing” world. It is easy to imagine the latest technological breakthroughs in the schools with well-developed infrastructures. The same successes when applied in context of the schools in the remotest of villages would certainly fare better, even in the eyes of the staunchest detractor.

Ongoing projects like NEPAD e-Schools and One Laptop per Child show a lot of promise, but they still face development’s age-old problem of bringing them to scale. With the right policy framework to allow the necessary latitude for the projects to adapt to the new realities, educational ICT could thrive anywhere.

Beyond the direct impact

Educational ICTs also offer the possibility of game changing improvements to school governance, curricular reform, and teachers in the education systems. Among other efficiencies, the introduction of lCT could lower the cost of implementing student learning assessments and better link the results to both teacher development and the allocation of education resources.

The use of ICT could also simplify the supply of up-to-date information on teacher development programs, and expand learning to outside of formal school settings (see this). The empowerment of the school networks and educators in the poorest parts of the world pays dividends to the students.

In many cases, learning for the poorest of the poor is hampered by access and equity issues (due to gender, geography, and socio-economic background per this).  Education for ICTs can go a long way in filling those inadequacies through the efficiency and effectiveness created in learning, teaching and education systems governance and management across the board.

The promise of technology in education and the lessons learned from “failed” attempts not only make educational ICTs relevant to the poorest of the poor, but they are poised to start an education revolution. Today’s policy makers, innovators, and academics need only ask the right questions.

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