International Perspectives

Have you ever thought about technology issues facing less developed nations? Well…that is my perspective for this week. To begin my guest blogging week, I would like to share some of my experiences working in Cambodia on an ICT in education project.

First off, let me say I address the issue of technology leadership from an ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) perspective. My focus is how less developed nations can address social, political, and educational issues through ICTs. An awesome source for grey literature on ICT4D can be found via the Washington Post. The grey literature is a great source for current and relevant pieces on this topic. If you are interested in reading only one piece, you can download ICT4D – Connecting People for a Better World as a good resource.

I could ramble on endlessly about how great my experience in Cambodia was or how amazing the Khmer people were to me. I did keep a blog about my time in Cambodia that included many cool pics but was unable to make entries regularly due to issues of time and technology. But today I would like to focus on challenges of actually implementing an ICT in education project in a less developed nation.

Imagine an expert training you how to ride a motorcycle by using a stationary bicycle. The stationary bike is great, but you do not know how to balance or turn the motorcycle; you do not know how the motorcycle will help you get to work faster when you cannot even start the contraption; once you figure out how to start the beast, you have no idea how to troubleshoot or repair when issues arise; the motorcycle given to you is old, breaks often, and it is difficult to find replacement parts; the only repair guide you have is in another language; and your trainer had little experience riding a motorcycle in your neighborhood and is thus uncertain of traffic rules and road conditions. This analogy aptly describes my experiences:

1) Experts were brought in without knowing the job demands of the teachers. Additionally, the training was focused on skills acquisition versus skills utilization. The skills were not localized to the needs of the teachers.

2) The computers donated to the country were used units. The Ministry had to literally piece together parts to build Frankenstein units.

3) There is no software support for languages such as Khmer. Thus, using drop-down menus to help figure out software was not possible.

4) The keyboards had Roman keys whereas the Khmer language uses Pallava script. Thus, teachers had learn to type using a Roman script QWERTY keyboard with a paper cutout of a Khmer keyboard taped beside the actual keyboard.

5) Donated computers are often old and slow. It was difficult to find replacement parts and find software that worked well together given hardware limitations.

6) The training was not ongoing. The lack of opportunities to practice, seek help, correct misunderstanding, and apply learnings hindered the adoption of ICTs.

Don’t get me wrong…this project did some amazing things like training every teacher trainer in the country, making ICT in education a national issue, creating a national ICT in education policy, providing colleges with over 800 computers, and generally raising the ICT awareness in the country as a whole. However, I see there is still a lot of work yet to do.

2 Responses to “International Perspectives”

  1. I’m trying to get Kobus van Wyk over here to post about some of the issues he is having in South Africa. When I see these posts, I have more questions than comments. What do they want to use computers and the Internet for in other countries? Do they want web 2.0, or are they still in the drill online approach? I ask this because they seem to be at about the same point I remember schools here being at in say the 1990s (infrastructure not up to par, not enough tech support) when edugames seemed to be the rule. Please, I want to hear more so I’m not making stupid assumptions.

  2. I can completely relate to the Cambodian experience. Implementing ICT in schools in the developing world is not a walk in the park.

    Khanya is an initiative in the Western Cape, South Africa, and the the purpose is to assist schools here to use ICT for curriculum delivery purposes. Details of the project can be found on our website: http://www.khana.co.za and the lessons learned and thinking behind the project is documented on the blog: http://www.khanya.co.za/blogs.

    Just a few comments on the points raised in the posting above:

    1 Used computers: don’t touch them with a pole. If they are not good enough for the corporates who discarded them, they are not good enough for learners. There is a lot of emotional blackmail going around: “Poor children, have nothing, half a loaf is better than nothing …” It is immoral to give sub-standard equipment to the poor; if one wants to bridge the digital divide, one must give the very best to the poorest of the poor. Against a lot of criticism, I have resisted the efforts of many organisations to palm off their cast-offs to our poor schools.

    2 Training must be ongoing. Absolutely. You cannot put teachers in a training session and hope they will learn, understand, remember and have the wisdom to use ICT after that. Ongoing, patient hand holding is required. For this purpose we have a team of “facilitators”, skilled ex-teachers with good ICT skills who are visiting schools at least once per week to render support. Acquiring ICT skills is the easy part; to learn how to use ICT as a curriculum delivery tool is completely another kettle of fish.

    And so I can ramble on …

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