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If & When Schools Invest in ICT, Teachers First

Wayan Vota

Whenever I’m told that the newest technology, be it laptops or lasers, is the killer app for education, and every child should have one, I start to question this instigator. In doing so, I use a very loose form of the Socratic Method, which comes to us from the great thinkers of Western thought – the ancient Greeks.

The ideas and philosophy they developed has since formed the foundation of our civilization, even influencing this humble website’s debate design. Yet from every account known, the Classical Greek philosophers were pioneers without a single computer, and without electricity. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and their contemporaries achieved intellectual greatness that transcends time to shape our very thoughts today without the use of a single transistor. Just a few millennia’s worth of teachers.

So when we talk about including ICT’s into education, let us first focus on the primary educator, the key to inspiring self-discovery and life-long learning, the humble teacher. Let us not try to purchase and support 30, 50, 1 million units of technology in the hands of children. Let us concentrate limited resources in 1/30th of that population, the cultural translators that can share and spread knowledge to hungry minds at a rate they can absorb. Let us equip teachers with educational tools.

In looking at the array of tools, I will be the first to propose that ICT tools should be available – they can be as efficient or more so than other options to empower teachers. I also temper the excitement of the shiny flashy with the reality that the humble chalkboard, pencil, and pointer have withstood the test of time. They should be a prerequisite, long before radio, TV, or computers come into play. In fact, we have Pythagoras constructing proofs before even the slide rule.

When the basics are met, and a school system is ready to make an investment in ICT, I believe that concentrating them in the hands of teachers not only reduces the overall cost and complexity of an ICT deployment, it also increases ICT effectiveness.

First and foremost, at 1/30th of a school’s population, teachers are a smaller number of people to reach. They also have a greater capacity to understand the deeper usage and applicability of ICT than children. Teachers can also help in the maintenance and support of ICT tools in more complex ways than children. Last but not least, a computer in the hands of a teacher can increase his or her own capacity to educate, impacting the lives of 30+ children every year for decades.

We now only have to convince parents, and through them, school administrators and Ministries of Education, that excitement about education should come not from an image of their child using the newest technologies, but from the understanding that their child will benefit even more from the practicality of their teacher using technology to improve educational outcomes.

15 Responses to “If & When Schools Invest in ICT, Teachers First”

  1. I bet that the first ICT investment that most school principals would make would be a telephone, and that that telephone would go in the school office for common use. If the school system provided good educational broadcasting, I would think a radio would be a great investment, to be used by students during classroom hours and teachers before and after school. We are talking about Africa are we not?

  2. John,

    I agree, if a school is at the basic, pre-any-ICT level a phone would be the first technology. Better yet phones for all the teachers and key admin staff (like principals) so they could communicate faster. Next, phones for parents so that teachers and parents could communicate quicker and more efficiently. But I would not think a landline phone – that specific technology is too infrastructure-heavy when mobiles are now flourishing.

    And I am a very big fan of radio for distance education – look at the success in Australia and South America of community instruction (for all ages) via radio. To an extent we have this in Africa through World Space/First Voice across the continent and in smaller, local radio programming. Equal Access does the same in Asian communities to great success.

    • I agree that cell phones seem to be the better bet, but if you get phones into the schools it seems useful to set up something like the Voxiva system (http://www.voxiva.com/) at the central level to respond to calls and send out messages. It calls for some thinking about how best to utilize the phones!

      Check out the use of Interactive radio in Malawi (http://bit.ly/NZILS) and Pakistan (http://bit.ly/Qqyq0). World Space is exciting, but there are cheaper alternatives in some places.

  3. Wayan,

    I think you mostly hit a nail on its heas with the "teachers first" approach. However, the very opposite approach, especially when it gets overhyped (e.g. XO-1) appears to be able to generate a lot of positive press, which might be a foundation for some serious "teachers first" action or campaign. If there was no OLPC, would this site exist? Would you write OLPC News or work for Inveneo? That is the fundamental question of what is actually maximizing the progress…

    • True, OLPC has been a hype-fest and driven much attention with pictures of kids + laptops to create a whole renewed debate (including this one) on ICT in schools. I've always given credit to OLPC for the revival – just hoped the result would be more practical.

  4. Yes, i do agree that the most important part of ICT in Education is to empower the teachers. We should empower teachers from blackboards to digital enabled.

    To do this nationwide we need tools that are simple and straight forward.

    Once teachers are empowered to be digital enabled themselves, they can create their own contents without the need to wait for contents from their Ministry of Education etc.


  5. Anthony Makumbi

    We seem to forget that the teacher is also the parent. So I would like to look at a teacher in general and also not look at the technologies individually. I think its only right for the teacher to know about the technology and what it can do before the student . The reasons for this go beyond just using the technology but to also understanding the risks associated with the technology. And thus provide mitigation strategises in advance. Its also a benefit to the student as it will be supported and promoted by the teacher in their respective capacities and will be able to design curriculums and teaching approaches based on whats available.

  6. Teachers are1/30th of a school’s population per year or 1/150th over a three year period. If the ICT hardware has a usable life of five years, the impact is spread across 150 learners. Image if every teacher in the developing world had an iPod loaded with the audible lessons. The Bottom Billion includes just ten million teachers.

    All we need is One Media Player per Teacher

  7. Now we could call this coincidence, or that great minds think alike, but it looks like South Africa is rolling out a One Laptop Per Teacher program:

    "The Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor MP, today announced a bold and substantive “ Teacher Laptop Initiative”. This is part of a critical strategy to take forward the objective of improving Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in teaching and learning. The initiative aims to ensure every teacher owns and uses a laptop, by providing them with a monthly allowance which will cover the purchase costs as well as the costs of connectivity."

  8. Anthony,

    I agree, there is more to emphasizing teacher usage than costs or efficiency. Teachers are the leaders in the classroom, and often also in the community. If they are not empowered first, or somehow excluded from focus, they can turn against the program, even openly, and reduce adoption and effectiveness.

    One benefit of their early adoption is identification and mitigation of issues that might be viewed negatively by the community. Cultural assimilation is as, if not more important than technical implementation.

  9. What about areas where there are no teachers? Or very few. There are regions with 60 students per teacher. Would not ICTs allow for introducing teacher education in those rural/under-served areas so that the numbers of needed teachers could be increased?

  10. Like Michelle said, that is a common factor in off-city areas in developing countries, in a lot of these areas there are either no teachers available, the teachers that are present know less than the students or as soon as the teacher is empowered or more educated they leave immediately to the cities where they get a better pay and living conditions and more status. It is our experience that the good teachers in general do not want to teach in the countryside of developing countries.

    Also the traditional role of the teacher in these areas: "I am the teacher, now shut up and listen and do as you are told even if I have no clue what I am talking about" is not helping to develop the natural curiosity of kids and their deep longing and ability to learn things.

    Look at initiatives like hole in the wall, no teacher is needed to learn a lot of things. Maybe we should empower the students with ICT and think of a new role for the teacher as the storyteller, passing tribal/country history and providing moral values/traditions/ cultural heritage. That way ICT and the teacher do have less conflicts as each has it's own role. The students will learn how to use the ICT means way quicker than the teacher anyway.


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