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Open Call for Submissions: What are the Greatest Challenges in Promoting Literacy with ICT?

Wayan Vota

olpc in peru

Building on last month’s Educational Technology Debate on the theme of What ICT can improve reading skills of learners in primary schools?, for this month, we will focus on why there are so few ICT tools available that promote and facilitate reading and literacy skills at the primary school level in educational systems of the developing world.

In this discussion, there are three categories of questions we ask you to respond to:

  1. Technology Restrictions
    Is it a lack of appropriate hardware? Is the software not “smart” enough yet? Do we need more digital content? Is it the cost of the ICT? Do we need better ICT ecosystems?
  2. Human Constraints
    Or are the restraining factors even technology-related? Could it be teachers, administrators or parents that hold back promising ICT-based reading solutions? Might there be solutions we just don’t know about or are not willing to try at scale?
  3. Market Failure
    And this is the most worrisome; are there just not that many solutions because technologists are not focused on literacy and reading as problems? If so, is it a lack of visible profit or do they just not care?

Please join in this Educational Technology Debate by submitting your thoughts and ideas either as short comments on this post, or as longer independent Guest Posts. Please email Guest Posts to editors@edutechdebate.org. We will be publishing Guest Posts throughout the month to maintain the conversation.

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10 Responses to “Open Call for Submissions: What are the Greatest Challenges in Promoting Literacy with ICT?”

  1. The steepest learning curve is that which lacks practicality. Technology is all about applicable solutions. ICT is about solutions that increase efficiency in communication and management of intelligent property: We do not subscribe to technology as we should in our daily routine. As if that is not enough, certain fundamental systems have to be in place for technology to serve as a practical solution, ie, standardized utilization of communication systems and protocols, both in hardware and software, a standardized approach to exposure of different complexities in ICT solutions.

    Since this is not the norm, an unhealthy dependency is developed between users and advanced users, thereby creating a rift in technology transfer. The appreciation of ICT and hence literacy is not in defining its inner complexities, but a gradual exposure using a black box approach…from simple to complex, with practical real life application.

  2. Of the three issues, I believe market failure – in as much as it describes a lack of appropriate and attractive solutions – is the key one. Like Isabelle says, this is true of any content and not all global content needs to be localized. With reading and literacy though, it is much harder to design one-size-fits-all solutions or even something that can be customized or adapted at deployment. Ideally, customization would also have to involve cultural adaptation besides just switching language or font.

    This probably makes the market too complicated/ and comparatively less attractive to design for?

  3. It is important to understand that children pick interest in something they see “interesting”. Until instructors using or in ICTs make it look interesting to the learner, sinking it in shall always be a challenge. This can be using old digital folk stories to arouse the excitement, having games that are self-play then eventually become interact like typing tutor. This would make it interesting, I want to think.Novices also do not like discontinuity, we live in an environment challenged by infrastructure such as electricity, in rural Uganda, pupils study under trees, at this point ICTs tend to be very secondary needs. If all schools and institutions had the desired level of infrastructure, planning on its deployment and diffusion would not be a challenge as it is today.

  4. Wayan, this is timely at a time when there are so many technology education enthusiasts. Every teacher, researcher or administrator excited about the possibilities of how ICT can change education should also be aware that school systems have stubbornly resisted changes to their core practices. In most cases, the school system relies on common and well-tested technologies. Basic classroom tools such as chalk, pen, paper, ruler etc are very adaptable to a wide range of community environments and well suited to the symbol of manipulation.
    The barriers that you have mentioned are core to implementation of technologies in both the teaching and learning activities world wide. These unfortunately have existed from as far back as 19th century, where for instance there were skepticisms when paper was introduced for use by students in place of slates. In the modern age, the use of computers, tablets and other digital devices in teaching is also raising similar concerns.
    There are several other barriers that may as well prevent the use of technology in schools especially in the developing nations. Highlighting just three;
    -Cost and Access: Despite the cost of computers declining, they still remain relatively expensive and in accessible to many, more so in the developing nations. The spirited effort by governments in zero rating some of these equipment as well as giving incentives to organizations wishing to donate computers to schools is one that is addressing this problem.
    -Classroom Management: This can be sub-classified as a human constraint, but classroom management is very important in promoting effective teaching and learning. The kinds of individualized learning afforded by computers or tablets can disrupt group instructions common in many classrooms. The time it takes to get started to get the pupils focused puts pressure on the teacher to cut into teaching time given that there is strict scheduling in most schools.
    -Assessment or Evaluation: The assessment technology that is employed in evaluating the pupils uses multiple-choice and short answers items in order to provide objective scoring. This reduces the possibilities of testing the pupils’ in-depth understanding of some concepts, for instance; the pupil giving a narration of say a comprehension they have just read.
    However, these barriers through deliberate effort can be overcome and in the long run, the children in developing countries will be able to enjoy the same standard of education with their counterparts in developed nations.

  5. Reem Bsaiso

    A dream of mine, to train alphabetically illiterate people using ICT or kids for that matter. How ?
    A whiteboard would be ideal in this situation, or a similar technology – there are now virtual whiteboards (no to low cost that can be projected from the internet on any wall plus a simple digitizing device on the wall to render hotspots – interactivity). Children are to swoop words into the bin, or tuck them in folders by grouping objects that are alike, or repeat a word or record it and play it back. Kids can even write or type or print…what is at an advantage here are the resources, a book may be gorgeously writen and illustrated but the internet has millions of shapes, colours, words, images, scenery, animal photos, movies…that a kids can see.Let’s pause and look at expected results:
    -Physical value, kids / illiterate adults, walk up to the board, swoop object across (exercise) and if it were well studied, as to movements of right and left, up and down, there you go ! You didn’t think of that , right ?
    – The kids is subjected to a larger collection of colours, objects, words hence more knowledge and kids brains can absorb a lot of info at that age
    -The teacher, when preparing the lessons, can have abundant learning objects and material, the teachers becomes more in command and responsive to kids and community needs, as long as the general curricula terms are heeded
    -The kids imagination and creativity goes up high, with the amount of sceneries, movies and pictures, and the amount of colours and shapes he can use, or insert music or record voices, or play back something
    -And your punch line Wayan, kids learn to USE ICT, (they know how to delete files, save files, insert objects and Control their desktop and ICT interface..Finally, can all that happen? sure on a policy level, you need the minimum basic ICT enabling environment, applied in so many countries.

  6. Talking from experience, of watching the deployment OLPC laptops in India or rather delivering school in a box to children 50 miles away from any city, in schools that have no desks, no electricity and few teachers and seeing them write correctly after 4 months for students of 6 or 7 years of age is an experience anyone should try not to miss out on.

    The greatest challenge was the mindset of the teachers and headmasters'. They could not imagine and did not believe what was possible. When they saw the impossible happen, they were too afraid to let the laptops remain in the hands of the children. As always, change has many enemies. Mindsets, values from the past, fear of anything new are bigger barriers to cross than anything one can imagine..

    This is when the laptops were donated to them. The price of laptops was seldom an issue for the leaders, will always be an issue for the purchase officers and followers.

    Imagine that 4 state governments in India ordered OLPC without tendering because at the highest levels they believed in its value and were delighted by the outcome.

    True the experiments were small. All usually under 50 students per school. But then that is how big primary schools get in the villages.

    Technologies are seldom perfect. My cell phone is not perfect as yet. In the past 16 years of using them I have bout more than a dozen. In the past 23 years of using laptops, I have bought more than a dozen. By that standard, OLPC did pretty well. It could obviously do better. But then it still did better than anything else by an order of magnitude.

    Market failure is the reason OLPC was created. Its technology makes it so much easier for children to become who they want to be. Human constraints are the greatest challenge, as always.

    Let us try to make things simpler. More often than not, solutions are much simpler than we believe. Just getting to that level of simplicity is a bit complex indeed!

    • Exactly right. But there is more to it.

      We do not have to create curricula and standards for children to learn to speak. It is only necessary that they have people around them to listen to, watch, and then talk to. Similarly, we do not need curricula and methods to teach reading unless something disastrous has happened to the children. Knuckle-rapping teachers can put many children off learning anything, and there are other ways to mess them up.

      In the absence of such disasters, it is enough to read to children while allowing them to see what is read, and to give them access to reading material that interests them. For children in illiterate families, some of us have proposed having the computer read stories, while highlighting the text read, in the manner of the very effective Same Language Subtitling program for Bollywood movies.

      In sum, there is a place for technology and a place for non-technology, and for the wisdom to know when to use both.

      • Mokurai, tell your first point to a speech and language therapist, and see what they say. 🙂 Not all kids learn how to speak correctly when left on their own. Many (millions?) need coaching, guidance and structured practice to get it right.

  7. We read a lot about how wonderful Internet is for students having laptops failing to realise that it is the Internet that has caused a lot of confusion and problems etc. I do not wish to elaborate what that means but suffice to say that one prominent guys said " Internet is a cesspool " of information.

    In reality, Internet is the main source of challenges and problems for many projects.

    Implementers should concentrate on how to use ICT in education relevant to their text books and what the children need to be taught according to the national syllabi rather than depending on the Internet more often than not very disordered. At the end of the day, children will be accessing all over the Internet without knowing what to find and spends most of the time to sites not suitable for the lessons of the day.

    Try to use the Internet and find contents suitable to be used in class for a selected subject? Google? At best you get all kinds of stuff about the subject but hardly useful to be used in class. Try that the next time you are in class and see what I mean.

  8. Paperless Homework….no one denies the role of a good teacher or computer-based tutor in scaffolding student learning with the Internet. No one would advocate a field trip where we took elementary students to Washington DC, dropped them off on their own and said "Ok, go learn US history." A great tool for guiding Internet use for students is Bernie Dodge's Webquests. http://webquest.org/index.php They're simple, extremely adaptable to any situation and used by teachers around the world.


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