What is ETD?

ETD promotes discussion on low-cost ICT initiatives for educational systems in developing countries. Read More

Join ETD

Become a part of the conversation. Contribute your ideas, strategies and expertise to our discussions. Join Now

Ashish Garg on Why Most Investments in Technology for Schools are Not Wasted

Ashish Garg

The Educational Technology Debate is one year old this month and to celebrate, we had a Live Debate: Are Most Investments in Technology for Schools Wasted? at the World Bank offices in New Delhi, India. With six great speakers, we focused on the issues around technology implementation in educational systems of the developing world.

This is the opening remarks and initial response of Ashish Garg, Asian Regional Coordinator for Global E-Schools and Community Initiative to the question: Are most investments in technology for schools wasted?

Ashish Garg: (download the podcast)

Thank you Dr. Kelly and thank you Atanu for trying to make this debate interesting. Even though, I don’t see any reason for us to be here debating about the affrication of using ICTs in schools and education. Nevertheless let me start by quoting not Shakespeare but Ban Ki-moon from recent times.

“Information and communication technology have a central role to play in the quest for development, dignity, and peace. The international consensus on this point is clear. We saw it at the Millennium Summit in 2000 and at the 2005 World Summit and we saw it at the two phases of the World Summit of Information Society.”

Already a substantial number of examples have demonstrated that ICT based systems and servers have the power to improve the quality of life not just for people in the cities but also more importantly for the marginalized and the poor. In the years that have followed, we have seen global spent on ICTs increase consistently the number of internet subscribers have multiplied across the globe depicting the hunger for knowledge, communication, and collaboration. To be debating the efficacies of using ICTs in schools in 2010 in this phase of tremendous progress across the world to me is nothing short of incongruity.

I am afraid I have to fall back on clichéd argument that has now been used a zillion times to support my motion of the day which is investment in ICTs in school is not a waste. I think first and foremost what is required is we need to set expectations right. It is far too easy to take the myopic view of the role and impact of ICTs in the society. ICTs do not exist in isolation and therefore they cannot be measured in isolation to all other elements that impact education. They exist within an educational framework that is part of a larger societal ecosystem.

Jyrki Pulkinnen, CEO of GeSCI, writes:

“I think it is very important to recognize that basically ICT applications are standardized work processes and therefore always social by nature”

and as Shahid Akhtar writes:

“the main challenge across the region is less the matter of access and distribution of technology per say. It is more a matter of creating the enabling environment and capacity building approach.”

I agree that computers may continue to sit in their boxes but the point is that there needs to be a development of an ecosystem and for that it is very important to understand what is the way to assess the investment that is made in ICTs. Wayan ran on this topic on Education Technology Debate, Asessing ICT Evaluations, and there were varied responses to that starting from priorities in developing countries versus investment in ICTs, lack of appropriate tools to measure the impact of ICT versus are ICTs for e-assessments actually effective or not and so on.

To mention Tim Kelly who first started talking about ICTs for E-assessments will help avoid wasteful tragedies and so on. I would really urge you to read that blog for some really insightful articulations on the use of ICTs in schools. As Dr. Kelly even said right the cost of a computer is equivalent to providing a class with a couple of books each but providing the computer is linked to the internet the students and their teachers will then have access to the boundless library of the worldwide web which is constantly updated and which contains a hugely diverse range of views and experiences.

By contrast, the textbook inevitably provides a pre-digested view of the world and one that is out of date the day it is printed. It also brings us to another very important element which is the lack or the presence of political wind and remember long time ago we all lamented the fact that there is no political way to push this wonderful technology across in schools but today we are actually moving from our focus just simply hardware.

Thanks to research and awareness building in not just countries like India but also in Bangladesh and Nepal, countries are more open on spending on teacher training plans, reforming school curriculum, and providing new assessment tool for technology in every class. Clearly I think the risk does not lie in failing to adopt the technology-enabled strategies which are inevitable. You could see the lucrative use of mobile even though I do not really stand for the use of mobile for basic literacy and things like that but these are inevitable and they are lucrative as you can see them across.

The risk is rather tonight doing a poor job of adopting these strategies and then the final point that I want to make is to Atanu’s point where he says that the number schools and the number of people that we have to educate in India and how do we provide technology for all of them? I think brick and mortar possibilities are really going to be difficult.

The recent RTE now says 290 million more students will start attending schools. I think if we are planning on putting up more schools then we might have to stop losing roles because probably we have to put schools everywhere but contrast that with the statistics or the data that IGNOU printed out sometime back, 24% of India’s school going population, higher education population, uses ODL, open distance learning methods, for education. So therefore I think, and Dr. Kelly is showing me the time already, there is really a lot of scopes for ICTs provided we understand a few basic mechanisms of how to make this work.

The last point that I want to make is there really is a phased evolution process on how we use the technology in our countries. Jyrki Pulkinnen talks about the society where the society actually stops the question of relevance of ICT in education. Thank you.

Dr Kelly: How do you think we should be doing evaluation of ICT in education, to make the investment worthwhile?

Actually, the government is going to be beaten any which ways. If they did not spend the money on the ICT then there would be a brigade that would rise up saying the government is not doing anything to put technology in the schools and today the government is doing then the response is that because the government is doing it there is no responsibility and there is no accountability.

I agree that yes ICTs help a lot in various things and there is no debate on that and Sam brought forward a very important point about a tail that wags the dog and yes definitely it is the ecosystem but my point is that for 62 years of India’s independence nobody really decided to question the response of the ecosystem, the development of the educational ecosystem, or the readiness of the educational ecosystem. So what has lead especially in India and this part of the world? What has lead to this question?

It is the coming of the ICT that brings up these questions that what is it about that needs to be done? The reformative or the transformative reforms that need to come in so that new technologies can be adopted. The last point that I want to make is that it is not about just raising a point about what has been the worth of that particular investment. It is not like your log book which says credit and debit and in the end of the day both the sides have to be equalized. It is education.

It is a social change. It is social reform so there is a gestation period. So sufficient gestation period has to be given in order for ICT to prove their point but beyond that let me just talk about the PISA results, the program for international student assessment. Likewise there are several such impact studies monitoring and evaluation studies which have particularly shown how ICTs have helped move scores forward and in one of the blogs Dr. Kelly writes that available evidence of benefits of ICTs in schools is sometimes mixed and hard to interpret.

In the same way we say in the latest survey of 2006 shows the fastest gain in reading standards in any country observant with in the Republic of Korea where students have increased their reading standards by 31 points and not coincidentally he continues to write Korea also scored top in the ITUs digital opportunity index, DOI index, in 2006 which is the most respected measure of an economy’s ICT performance.

So if you kind of correlate the two I think there is a lot to be drawn from there and I think finally that it is these evaluations that are necessary to demonstrate to the local officers and to the national policy makers that ICTs are worth the investment. They need to know what local problems ICT can address or opportunities that are possible.

Dr. Kelly: Do you want to challenge the other side or shake the arguments?

I would really like to go back to what I put forward some time back why we are asking ourselves these questions today? How come we are questioning the ecosystem and its ability to deliver which we didn’t do? I actually want to go back to the time when I was probably in class 10 and then multiple choice questions were starting to get introduced and before that everybody thought it was great to write 5 answers of 20 marks each for a paper of 100 marks and you had to memorize as much as you could.

The reason why these multiple choice tests started coming up was because first computers had these multiple choice standardized tests fed into them and then the government thought that it would be great. So I am just trying to bring the fact forward that technology has been influencing change. Technology has been influencing innovation and it is just not possible for a country like India to wait until the mindset of the government has been changed and we are in a state of readiness to accept not just the hardware but be transformed ecosystem processes or the human ware.

So I don’t think that is going to work and it is a process of evolution but we see a whole lot of new indigenous dynamism that is coming up and it is only a matter of recording them and I am sure a lot of organizations that work at the grass roots level already just-so stories but they are there and you cannot take it away from the process of evolution.

4 Responses to “Ashish Garg on Why Most Investments in Technology for Schools are Not Wasted”

  1. Ian Thomson

    Thanks Ashis,

    Very sensible input.
    I would like to add another high level point. We are actually talking about Education, which has at its core, the function of learning. I would say that we are learning lots about using ICTs in education. Is that wasted? Of course not.


  2. Imagine trying to evaluate progress of ICT among native Tamil (or Chinese) speakers by giving them a Hindi (or Russian) based ICT system (computer, software, educational materials, etc.). This is precisely what's happening in India >70% have no knowledge of English but ICT programs in India are hardly localized.

    So, to all the Indian ICT programs, their good intentions and their well-ensconced fat cats, "Many thanks for creating an extra obstacle – the linguistic one." And yes, we will discuss this until we die of boredom and old age. Of course, we Indians reincarnate, so there is hope the next time around!

  3. Ooops. Looks like not everyone's on board the ICT express. I just wonder how forceful the push-back is going to become?

    On the one side we have the blandly confident paladins of education who are so steeped in the assumption that funding is a substitute for efficacy that it would never cross their minds to point to evidence of efficacy as a means of justifying the ICT programs they espouse. Funding *is* success and failure always has an excuse should anyone be afflicted with poor enough manners to inquire.

    On the other side is, perhaps, I hope, a rising chorus of voices demanding proof of the value of the idea before expending resources. People who are in embarrassingly visible positions who don't pray at the totem of a government education system free of the necessity to prove its value.

    Puts me in mind of those embarrassing, young, African economists who find nothing to value in the river of foreign aid that pours into their various nations and much that's objectionable. What *is* one to do with people like that? They're difficult to ignore, won't shut up yet unimpressed with the unquestionable truths of the past.

  4. Open & Distance Learning (ODL) was mentioned, and rightly so – it is one potential solution to the challenge of scaling up education and training. But I would ask: is ICT-supported ODL any better than the traditional methods that rely on paper-based materials? Does anyone know if this comparison has been made already & if there is data to support either being more effective?


Subscribe to ETD

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner