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While the ultimate impact of information and communications technologies (ICTs) on societies around the world can still be disputed, there is no doubt that the introduction of these tools has changed lives, organizations, strategies and discourse in communities around the world. Private sector organizations have led the adoption of new technologies in many respects, but government, and the education sector in particular, are becoming increasingly active participants in the knowledge society. While developed nations have invested massive sums of money and institutional resources in ICT over the last decades, developing nations by and large have addressed other priorities including the preconditions necessary for successful ICT integration.
With the introduction of ICTs, developing nations envision the elimination or improvement of age-old barriers they face such as their geography, high cost of and limited access to quality information, communication limitations, non-transparent governance and, of course, education. In the education sphere, enthusiasm abounds over how computers and the Internet can bring improvement in numerous ways, with technology applications that range from administration to new materials, from distance learning to project-based learning, and from pedagogical re-invention to virtual communities of practice.
In schools and countries around the globe, diverse educational ICT programs have been initiated, strategies have been developed, hardware has been procured and software has been coded. However, there has been far less attention to and understanding of the evaluation of these new ICT efforts. Very few communities in either the developed or developing world seem to understand how to assess how ICTs are working, what their impact is, and what drives their efficacy or lack thereof. Now, as developing world communities are increasingly moving towards the institutionalization of ICTs, policymakers, educators and donors are asking themselves whether ICTs are worth their high cost and the challenges they bring. More specifically, they want to know, whether and how ICTs are changing education, and what they need to do to achieve their goals.
The Global Networked Readiness for Education project seeks to support the evaluation and assessment of ICTs for education in the developing world by developing tools, metrics and measurements that can help to examine these areas, and the understanding necessary to use them to realize successful educational ICT outcomes. Specifically, the GNRE project goals are to:
- Develop surveys geared toward students, teachers, heads-of-school and computer lab administrators in schools in developing countries;
- Deploy survey pilots in 11 developing world countries;
- Create online toolkits, geared toward policymakers, researchers and others, that provide opportunities to participate in subsequent phases of survey deployment as well as provide resources for planning around ICTs and education;
- Build an initial database of ICT/Education indicators based on the survey results; and
- Discern preliminary findings and observations about the current situation vis-à-vis computers and Internet in schools in the project’s 11 pilot countries, especially with regard to learning what characteristics are associated with which outcomes, elements that can be essential in determining best practices for policy and decision making.
The report highlights the findings from the Global Networked Readiness for Education surveys, deployed between August and November 2003 in schools in Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, The Gambia, India (Karnataka), Jordan, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, South Africa and Uganda. In total, over 3,700 students, 1,000 teachers, 120 heads-of-school and 115 computer lab administrators were surveyed in 126 schools. The challenge of identifying the appropriate measures, capturing the data accurately, and analyzing it effectively are great, and these preliminary results from the study should be interpreted as the beginning of our understanding rather than its end. The survey and resources toolkits are available online at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/gnre.
The most basic finding of the first round of surveys is that ICTs are still new to education in the developing world, a reality that affects all use and impact of computers and the Internet in all schools surveyed. While computers are available in one form or another in the schools surveyed, they are still not well-integrated into most core learning processes. The sample schools were selected to be broadly representative of the technological cutting edge of secondary level education within each nation based upon factors including their access to and experience with ICTs for education. In general, the schools had low levels of ICT use and integration – with no significant differences between private and state schools. Indeed, most students and their teachers do not access the Internet in school, and use computers only on a weekly basis. As much as anything, this suggests the incipient state of ICTs in education efforts in the developing world, even in the most technologically advanced schools, and underscores both the importance of understanding its impacts and the difficulty in doing so.
Strikingly, despite their limited exposure to ICTs, students’, teachers’ and administrators’ attitudes and perceptions of computers and the Internet were overwhelmingly positive. While this disconnect may cause some concern that ICTs are over-hyped, it also suggests the tremendous enthusiasm over the new tools and their power to instill a willingness to accept new changes.