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Wayan Vota: Technology in Schools, in Education, is Not 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 opening remarks and initial response of Wayan Vota, ICT in education consultant to infoDev, and moderator of Educational Technology Debate, to the question: Are most investments in technology for schools wasted?


Wayan Vota at Live Debate India

Wayan Vota: (download the podcast)

I am against the motion; I actually feel that technology in schools, in education, is not wasted. In fact we have some great successes. We have great success at the implementation level. That are actually transforming and improving the grades at the board level.

I think these are transforming when we move beyond a few ideas. When we move beyond the concept of computers, when we move beyond the concept of the classroom, when we move beyond the concept of the student.

So lets start with looking beyond computers.

Information and communication technologies. That’s not just a computer, it’s not even just a cell phone, it’s the actual concept of a phone line. We can go back to the concept of radio, FM radio. They do something called interactive radio instruction (IRI), very successfully, in seven states, here in India. IRI is actually increasing learning, increasing reading comprehension, increasing educational outcomes, as tested by the boards. So we have implementation there as a success.

TV and video. How many of you – come on raise your hand – watch the video or watch TV and learn something? People of this webcast are doing the same hopefully, now. Maybe not with me but with the others.

At the same time phones. As a school administrator I can call up the teacher, “Are you coming today?” The teacher can call back and say, “I am sick.” A parent can talk to a teacher, or teacher can call up the parent and say, “Do you know your son was not in school today?” And the parent answers, “Oh really? Let me go see what happened”

And let’s look beyond the actual students themselves.

Teacher training is mentioned often, also the concept of teachers being able to share lessons plans – be it over the phone, be it over the Internet. Being able to look at the lesson plans from other areas, other subjects and learn from them. The school administration – I really hope that they have a spreadsheet that shows the number of teachers and what they should be getting paid, because if they don’t get paid, they probably not going to show up the next day.

Better yet, a spreadsheet showing about how many students are actually there in a classroom, in each classroom, in each school, in each school. Or at least the location of every school. Maybe we don’t have this, but it will give a good idea, yeah? This is ICT in education. It is beyond the student.

Now think about parent participation. I am not sure if you have this in India – in many countries, we have the parent teacher associations. In the U.S., parent teacher associations until the 80’s – it was all the mothers, the dads says, “I gotta go bowling.” Now, the mothers are complaining because the fathers are all in the PTA’s. “Really? What kind of technology do you have? Oh cool, I can fix that!” The fathers now engage, they are back. It is not a direct impact… actually it is a direct impact, but it is not a direct in the classroom experience with ICT.

So lets actually take a moment and think about ICT beyond the school and how ICT impacts society.

It is an opportunity to change learning, from this rote, “I put this stuff into your brain and you spit it back out to me,” to actually having children think about what they are learning -so when they become our age they are cognizant adults. They can think, they can debate, they and they can make their own decisions.

As well it actually creates a lot of passion in the education. Could you hold up the XO laptop? This little green thing… I don’t know about you, but it definitely got a lot of people excited about technology in the classroom. I mean, we all have our opinion about what it is and how good it is in the classroom, but people actually have an opinion now. People actually care. In 2000 everybody cared about IT, in 2004 if you tried to talk about IT in education, they said that was the dot com – its over. Now people are excited again.

Last but not the least, and I think ICT is our present and our future.

We have to leverage it now. We will make mistakes, there will be problems, there will be failures, but how are you going to have success unless you try? If you don’t try, I can tell you what you are doomed to – is repeating the past – in the exact same way again, and again. So the worst case is we can do is to do nothing. So I call on you to continue support to be against the motion. In the last voting, please vote against the motion, as I will, in the belief that ICT is good for education. Thank you

Dr. Kelly: Wayan , you sort of challenged us to look beyond computers, you talked about the telephone tree a school might use to pass out information, and the Internet. Can you actually look at computers themselves and tell us at least one example where technology has, through a rigorous evaluation process, where technology has been well invested in schools.

Well, actually, I am going to turn that question around a little bit and say that if we found an assessment of ICT and it’s use in schools, and then we made investments outside of passion, and outside of pure politics, it would be the first ever.

We had a really interesting debate on the Education Technology Debate about ICT4E assessments and their validity. I thought the most explosive post, which turned out to have the least comments, which tells me that it wasn’t explosive at all, that everybody already accepted it, was that ICT4E assessments themselves are a waste.

Either we should stop wasting children on more assessments. Because whether we think of it as good, or bad, or whatever, ICT in schools is great politics, and parents love it.

Every politician long time ago realized, you could talk about putting a chicken in every pot, or put a car in every garage. Well currently, and very excitingly for a lot of people, inside and outside this room, is I want to put a computer in front of every child.

So assessments are great and it is wonderful to have them, because we can learn from our mistakes and be better in the finite, in the detail. But at the aggregate, on a large scale, schools are doing it, parents want it, and politicians are making it happen. So we really should make sure that we are with the game, trying to steer the ship, instead of standing in front of it and saying “NO NO NO” and just get run over

So if we keep on the boat and ship metaphor if you will, I think we all can agree that technology can actually be an icebreaker. We can actually break through the rocks.

Often times we think of technology as a thing that we put into existing system and it gets absorbed and the system keeps moving the same. My real hope and my real dream, is what I see technology is able to do, is change this system and change the ship. So instead of ship being slowly sinking Titanic, it becomes a hydroplane flying ship.

So we can have a change here from this concept of education being a very boring and very rote activity. I mean let’s be honest. Making them memorize a list and regurgitate the list back on a test, and the test is a multiple choice, which is easier to grade with a Scantron or through some other automatic grading system – that is horrible. That is wasting children’s life and that is wasting all of our time.

We really need to change this way that we teach so that we have children that are excited about learning, and learn the way that we all work. When was the last time your boss said “Hi, I would like you to regurgitate back what is already in this manual to do your job, and as long as you regurgitate back correctly I will give you a raise.” I have never even heard of that kind of a job.

So the idea is that we want to have children who can learn better and learn in a way that they use as adult, and a way that improves their lives. And for me I feel that technology is one way to break through the logjam. It is an icebreaker through this wall of inertia to say the least.

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