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If Schools Are Failing, ICT Will Just Increase the Waste

Wayan Vota

Let us, for a moment, take the premise that investments in information and communication technologies could be the best educational investment available to a country, that there was a magical ICT tool, once put into the classroom, would achieve great advances in student learning, teacher effectiveness, and scholastic performance in general.

How would a troubled school system, which has failed it teachers, students, and their parents for years or decades, somehow be able to implement this tool correctly?

This is the question that Atanu Dey posed in his commentary that OLPC is inappropriate for India, and I have to agree. Often, when talking about ICT for education in the developing world, there is the assumption that whatever ICT tool we’re talking about, from radio to laptops, will not only be a magical educational bullet, but it will also somehow magically appear, unaltered and equally distributed across a country’s classrooms.

I would like to shatter that fantasy with reality.

First let us consider the purchasing process. In many countries, funds are dispersed to the regional or local level before supplies are bought for the schools. This negates the ability to create a homogenous deployment of anything – from chalk to textbooks. Then, in many countries, there is a serious lack of knowledge around the number and even location of all the schools, much less the students. So even if you could get a concerted national push for each school to have a basic set of ICT tools, there is no way a Ministry of Education could verify national achievement, and waste and fraud would be rife.

Last but not least, in this management vacuum, how could a Ministry understand if there is a positive impact from a national ICT investment in education? If it cannot keep an accurate list of its schools and teachers, or students and their progress, the Ministry will have to rely on hope and faith. While these two feelings are central to religion, I would expect a more factual basis for education.

So before educational priorities are distorted by the shiny, flashy technology of the moment, let us focus energies on the admittedly slow, boring, yet more impacting increase in the capacity of school systems to administer the resources they currently have. ICT, if its introduced, should be done slowly, starting small, and recognizing that its success is predicated on an overall improvement in educational management systems as much or more than advances in technology or funding levels.

One Response to “If Schools Are Failing, ICT Will Just Increase the Waste”

  1. Actually, long ago I had some experience using computer models to study resource allocation problems in Chile and in Colombia. They turned out to be a very effective means of making the point that a lot of resources were being wasted by lack of adequate planning and management, and stimulating management improvement.

    I of course agree that people who believe that a classy device is a quick fix to systemic problems should be opposed with reasoned argument.

    However, don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Not only can educational agencies use computers and software effectively in their efforts to reform and improve management, but sometimes the introduction of the new technology can be an effective tool in affecting organizational reform. I have found it easier to sell a reform by saying that "computers offer new opportunities to improve management" rather than saying "you guys can't manage for beans and I am going to show you how to do it right".


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