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Vision for the use of ICTs for Education in developing countries

Tim Kelly

The Millennium Development Goals target universal primary education and the elimination of gender inequality in education by 2015 at the latest. The greater use of technology, especially information and communication technologies (ICTs), in schools can accelerate this goal and help to prepare students to participate in the information society. Several developing countries have established ambitious targets for the roll-out of computers in schools.

For instance, the government of India has launched a programme to roll out basic ICT infrastructure in all secondary schools by 2012 and at least 2-3 computers in every primary school with electricity. But doubts remain as to the priority that should be afforded to technology relative to other educational needs; for teachers, for textbooks, for premises etc.

For the development community, these issues raise a number of dilemmas with regard to elaborating coherent strategies:

  • Does the one-to-one model, as espoused for instance by the one laptop per child initiative, represent the best strategy for developing countries, or is this an unattainable goal in a world where scarce resources should be focused on shared facilities?
  • What are the real costs of ownership of computers in schools (e.g., taking into account also teacher training, software, maintenance etc) and is the hardware component being oversold?
  • How can the impact of computers in schools be measured, in terms of educational attainment?
  • What role should ICT skills play in the core curriculum and what skills taught now will still be relevant in ten year’s time?

Clearly, it is a question of balance and the priorities afforded to ICT in schools will vary from country to country, given the different starting points and the level of resources available. Such a vision also needs to be flexible and responsive enough to reflect the changes in the underlying technology as well as society’s evolving needs for ICT skills. Nevertheless, is it possible to make a few generalizations that will hold true for many cases:

  • The technology may be getting cheaper, but not the total costs of ownership. Headlines tend to go to the announcement of new low-cost devices, such as the US$100 laptop, the eee PC or new generation Netbooks. But these headlines underestimate the true costs of ownership of ICTs in schools, which are not necessarily falling in price.
  • Connectivity remains the weak point. The great promise of wider use of computers in schools is that they open up a huge library of digital resources via the Web that can be accessed whenever and from wherever it is needed. But, many developing schools lack connectivity, either because of the high prices and slow speeds available from local ISPs, or because of the difficulties of establishing reliable, tamperd-proof, networks in environments where technical expertise is in short supply.
  • Begin with the teacher.ICT4E schools initiatives too often neglect the central role of the teacher as the primary conduit for imparting education. Investment in providing technology and training to teachers – even at a very basic level such as overhead projectors, email or web access – can be more cost-effective that simply equipping classrooms with PCs or providing laptops to students.
  • Don’t shirk on screen size. Learning in schools is a shared experience and that requires a large screen size. While it may seem to make sense to promote learning applications via mobile phones, which are far more common than PCs or fixed internet connections in most developing countries, nevertheless teaching applications that work best will be those that lend themselves to projection on large screens that the whole class can see.
  • You see computers everywhere, except in the exam results. To paraphrase the famous Solow paradox (“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics”), the intuitive expectation that computers in schools promote learning is much harder to prove statistically in terms of educational attainment. If anything, the evidence seems to suggest that computers can be a distraction in the classroom and in the homework room, and can sometimes lead to unhealthy addiction to online games.

For these reasons, a national strategy for promoting greater ICT use in education needs to be carefully thought through and customized to national circumstances. Unfortunately, this does not come cheap.

3 Responses to “Vision for the use of ICTs for Education in developing countries”

  1. How does culture fit into this? Are different technologies more appropriate for different cultures? Take screen size – do countries that tend towards individualistic want large screens or small?

  2. Tim Kelly

    That's a good point. I think people's expectations on screen size (tending to larger) are in opposition to their expectations on device size (getting smaller). There are some technologies (e.g., electronic paper, projection from handheld devices etc) that can help, but I think for anything other than personal use, large screen sizes are to be preferred

  3. joyojeet

    this ITID article looks at the total cost of ownership piece:


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