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Closing Statements on: Are ICT Investments in Schools Wasted?

Wayan Vota

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 concluding statements from all six discussants to the question: Are most investments in technology for schools wasted?

Dr. Tim Kelly at Live Debate India

Dr. Tim Kelly:

I will invite the speakers to present their closing arguments, beginning with this time the “against the motion” side, to conclude their comments and also to respond to some of the issues that were raised in the discussion. So if you would like to conclude your comments in exactly 3 minutes and we will begin with Wayan Vota. (download the podcast)

Wayan Vota:

Again I invite you to vote against the motion and to vote for technology in schools. Yes there are issues, and yes we have bad tests. The tests don’t test us on creative thinking but tests on regurgitation. Yes teacher training and teacher motivation is horribly lacking. I have actually heard some teachers saying:

“You want me to teach computer that is a new subject…pay me more. You want me to learn computers I have to go somewhere to learn this…pay me for that. Or I am just going to stay home and do whatever I really want to do.”

As we all know the buyers here, the government, is often not the users or the beneficiary and depending on your opinion, may or may not even have a clue about the technology much less anything else. But the issues are human ware, they are not software. They are not hardware. The issues are political, “I have something sexy, people vote for me.” The issues are administrative “oh multiple choice tests that is so much easier to grade”.

The issues are also cultural. We are in love with technology, right? No parent here says, “Excuse me, I don’t want my child to grow up to be the next president of Infosys.” Is there any parent here who wants to say, “I don’t want my child to have computer ever?”

Technology again is just tool like any tool and so we should invest in the tool. We should make it better. We should invest in content. Real content that makes children excited to go to school, teachers excited to teach, and parents excited to read and understand and interact with the child about their lesson that day. Let’s change testing so instead of it being multiple choice and about regurgitation it is about thought and about extrapolation and about real learning.

And let’s change the whole way that we think about ICT. Let’s realize that we should not be focusing on ICT, it should be education and ICT is the surrounding area that happens to go with it. When we talk about business we don’t talk about “oh they use a lot of technology to make their product” or “wow I really like this because there is so much technology that went into making this suit” no you say “I look good” and that is what matters to me.

So we should really shift the focus from talking about ICT, and talk about learning, and ICT is merely a tool to achieve that. Again I am calling you to vote against the motion and for ICT because we want invest in the tools that will make our future bright. Thank you.

Sam Carlson:

Thank you for your attention and participation in this afternoon excellent debate. I learnt a lot just by listening to each one of your comments and I also learnt from my opponent’s points of view as well. That said I would urge you to vote for the motion and the reason is this:

Once again I say that the question put forward today is whether or not we should invest in education technology in the future and why we should do that. The question is right now is, most investments in education technology wasted?

That is a present tense question. It is not looking into the future. It is looking at what is happening right now, and I would argue that right now most education technology investment is being wasted.

I would say the big difference between the private sector, where we have measurable returns in terms of bottom lines and profits; you see we don’t have the same kind of measurable returns in the same way in the school system. In the school system, the measurable returns are marks, are grades, and are board exam results. They are not problem solving skills, information reasoning skills, and team work skills. All the things that employers value and it will be important for a country’s social and economic growth down the line.

That is not how a school measures its returns now, and unless schools and society changes the way it measures the returns to education in terms of the investments, then education technology investment will continue to be wasted. Because they are generating learning skills which are not measured or valued by the current education system today, and so teachers will not pay attention to anything other than how they are being measured in the system. What gets measured gets done.

If it is not being measured by the board exam, if it is not being captured by your learning score in math or science, it is not going to be valued by the teachers, and it is not going to be valued by the parents who wants to know is my child going to get into that engineering school or not. If they are not, then I don’t want this noise of education technology.

So there is a far larger ecosystem change within the education sector that has to happen for education technology investments to generate the returns that we would like to see, that we see in the labor market and regular work force. So I will end on that point with the final, I guess, hope to the future.

I believe in education technology’s power to transform pedagogy within the education system. But until that transformed pedagogy towards high order thinking skills and information reasoning skills, until that is valued by the system, then the investment will continue to be wasted and I would urge you in that case to vote for the motion. Thank you.

Robert Lattimore

Yes I think Sam has some additional good points there. No doubt the risk is trying to strive for the absolute maximum level of excellence. The most optimized level seems so out of reach that you almost don’t know where to start. But it always starts with that single step. That is where you learn, as we have already said a lot, from wasting. But you learn from that and that is where opportunities are.

I have a partner here in my firm who grew up in a farm very near here. This is one of my most relevant close personal stories learning from him. Being educated as he stays outdoors, growing up on a farm, you know sleeping outside, watching the crops, and all those concepts I could barely get my head around. Yet he didn’t get much education and yet he got good education.

He continued to advance and work through higher education and got hired by the firm, continued to work hard, and he has been a good partnership for my firm. Now that is like one of the rag to riches kind of stories but that happened in your city. And you know what, he consulted technology. Now he has gone from barely inaccessible to technology to advising leading companies in India in technology. Now something is working. He didn’t go to private schools. He is not a private school educated guy.

So speaking about waste, well there may be some waste, but something is working.

Yesterday I completed an e-learning course. I like the idea about learning as the way of life. I think that is a good thing that all students should aspire to, so I would like to point out that. So I had access to learning material in United States that my Indian colleagues don’t have access to because I have a US laptop. It just has to be configured with the service learning library which is not available here, but I can assure you it was developed here. That is a fascinating thing.

It was developed here – we didn’t develop in United States. It was developed here and accessed by the US professionals, but not by Indians here, but as a model it is clearly available. I traveled 8000 miles here. India has an opportunity to lead the product.

Continue to stay in course with ICT and investments – you have the opportunity to lead a lot other lesson learners and I think Sam has made a good point about that. You should learn from your mistakes. There has been probably some wastes, but in the long run it has made a lot of progress and I would continue to say vote against this motion because it is worth it. Thank you.

Benjamin Vergel De Dios

He who wants to economize will have to organize. Both the parties in this room are in the same boat. We want more ICT investments in education. We want public and private sector to make this a reality in many of our schools.

But do you know what discourages investors to invest in education? How about ICT in education investment? Well, ICT in education projects fail when people don’t see the benefits promised to them.

There is hope and we can do something to improve the current situation. We can raise the awareness of people at all levels, raise awareness of policy makers on how to develop good policies, raise the awareness of education leaders to make better managed schools, raise awareness of principals so that they can better guide their teachers, and raise awareness of the teachers so that they can teach better and utilize technologies provided in schools.

Capacity building is our best investment right now. Secondly, we must improve planning and coordination. We must develop ICT in education master plans to guide governments and implementers. We must clarify the roles of institutions to better improve implementation and coordination and lastly we must continue learning from experience. We learn from our mistakes and hopefully not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Thank you.

Ashish Garag

I want to respond to Shabnam’s question about lack of research and successful methods of monitoring and evaluation of ICT in education projects. Sam, we have worked with him, and he has developed the outcome mapping – this was in 2005 – and the logical framework analysis and both of these are great tools for mapping ICT in education projects.

The former focusing on assessing the changes that programs bring about in behavior and the actions of stakeholder. So in GeSCI even for our personal work plans we now use the framework and I think it is a great tool to use.

Those are the kind of things and to conclude and to use my 3 minutes even though Dr. Kelly gave the other side the last word, I think we will have the last laugh.

We have seen plenty of libraries in this country and across the world. I haven’t yet met a student who has read up all the books in library so that he could justify optimum, effective, and efficient use of the library. I don’t know why ICTs are being put on the block to kind of justify their presence there and it is just a tool and the child uses it for whatever he likes.

So he uses for gaming if that is what he thinks it is going to help in. He uses it for collaboration. He uses it for communication and we have seen the immense success of the social network and these are all really tools of learning. So I don’t think there is any problem in trying to say whether ICTs are really kind of doing that or not.

For the last two years with no success, I have been talking about two very important things that we should do and I talk completely from an Indian perspective because of the work that we have done with NHRD and that comes to Satish your point, an absolutely fantastic point, about we do not know where we are going. That is the simple truth of the entire thing.

We really need to have an exercise in national vision. We need to develop a national vision as far as education is concerned and we need to do this through a multi-stake holder across the education. We need to get the stakeholders on board. We need to get the teachers from the schools in rural India and we need to get students and parents.

We need to create a national vision for the country as far as education is concerned. ICT will only be one of the components of the various things. This national vision is actually important because it will improve implementation, as I have been hearing in the afternoon that implementation is a big problem. It is will improve implementation because it will set standards for accountability and responsibility – those are very important.

In order to aid the implementation of the national vision, I think first and foremost we need to have standards and benchmarks. This is perhaps the only country where we work without the any benchmarks. We are happy putting computers in schools but we do not have standards and benchmarks for them. That does not take away the work that ICT does and that doesn’t take away from ICT as such, but all it does is create a sense about a lot of investments that is going into ICTs.

So to go back to my first point about if we need to assess what is really required, is to see ICTs as a part of a larger ecosystem and that really is what matters. With that I wouldn’t really urge you because I think your presence here really means that you are voting for us. Thank you very much.

Atanu Dey

I think my side has won the moment that proposition was put up on the board for the simple reason that it is not a question whether ICT is useful or can be useful and so on. It is very simple that it has been reached so many times – most of the investment is wasted right now and we have to do something about it.

Mr. Rao there said that wouldn’t somebody think about the children. I think that is the main reason we are saying that it is wasted. We have to start thinking about the children. We have to say that this system is wrong. If the system is broken then there is no point in trying to continue putting ICT on it because ICT is not the problem over here. If you try to fix it by putting ICT in there it is like trying to put lipstick on a pig, pardon that expression.

The system is old because it was invented 300 years ago when the technology and the requirement of the society was different. The old present system is outdated and we have to think about not a system where the teacher is the center of the exercise. Teaching is not that important but the learning is as lifelong learners that we need. We need people who can think. We need people who can ask questions. We need people who know how to answer questions. They have to think very deeply about how to ask questions and the answer is out there you just need to find them.

So from a teacher centric system, we have to move to a learning centric system. We have to learn how to learn because that is what life is all about. We have to learn collaboratively and all that. All this thing about teacher training is I think beside the point. So there is no point in running very hard and in case you are not going the right direction so we have to ask ourselves exactly what do we want to do? What is this education system all about?

It isn’t that the current education system is meeting the needs of the society today. It is not even meeting today’s needs and what we have to do is create an education system which will meet the needs of the people who would be in the workforce 10 to 20 years from now. The world is changing so fast that we cannot ever imagine what it is going to be when these kids grow up.

So we have to have a flexible system and for that we need the help of everything that we can use including information and communication technologies and unless we recognize that there is something wrong going on right now we will be stuck on that problem like wouldn’t somebody think of children and therefore whatever we are spending right now is inadequate. We will just put more money in that.

So I would urge all of you to think deeply about it. I know that you have all finished voting and this doesn’t matter anymore but you are out there doing stuff and intervening in the world out there please be very careful because you still have to think about the children. Thank you.

Dr. Tim Kelly

Before I announce the winners of the vote, I would like to thank all of our panelists for being excellent sport and giving very convincing arguments.

So at start we had 35% for the motion, 60% against the motion, and 5% undecided. The new votes are 45% for the motion, 50% against the motion, and 5% still undecided. So congratulations to the winners, those FOR the motion, and commiseration to the losers, those AGAINST the motion.

This we hope will be one of the series of live debate that we will be holding in the next year or so. So there will be plenty of other opportunities to join in. With that, I conclude the debate. Thank you.


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One Response to “Closing Statements on: Are ICT Investments in Schools Wasted?”

  1. So what did you think of the debate? Did you learn anything? And did any of the speakers inspire you? Let us know as we're looking to have future Live Debates and want to make sure you find them of value.


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