Interview

Collaborative Policy Development Suits India : Terry Culver, Deputy Director, Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI)

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Terry Culver, has over ten years experience in partnership and community development, education, and communications.  Previously, he was Project Development Officer at the Harvard Institute for International Development, where he was involved in a number of education, health, and economic projects in West Africa, Southern Africa and Eastern Europe. Recently, Terry was in India to be a part of the ongoing collaborative process in making of the ‘National Policy on ICTs in School Education’ under the aegis of Ministry of HRD, Government of India along with strategic support from GeSCI, when he shared some of his experiences with the Digital Learning Team…

? Policy matters can be lengthy, involve processes that vary from country to country. How has GeSCI’s journey been over the years?
It’s different in different countries. In some places policies are a very quick and centralised process and in other countries they are a more collaborative, long term process. Our preference is that the policy development device is used to engage all the stakeholders, because you may need them for implementation. A collaborative development process is particularly well suited to the ICT in education field because it’s not a single section when you look at it.

Pedagogy, curriculum, training, content, infrastructure, technology also need to be taken into account. So dealing with a collaborative process is a good practice and is particularly relevant for ICT in education.

? How do you handle the logistics, for example, the time taken to get all stakeholders in a common forum?
You might wish it would take a week. But I think to do it right and to do it well, it takes a long time. Up to a point, the longer it takes the more valuable the time is. The process has to move, but at the same time people need to be clear on what the process is. I think it is important to give everybody an equal opportunity to participate in that process. There are low points and high points and in many ways policy development is the easy part of the process. The implementation of the policy is where all the challenges come in and is where the rubber meets the road.

? Which has been the quickest policy  formulated and which are the slower ones? How has the range been like?
In some countries it is still going on, even though deployment has begun. Two years or longer. It varies on country, it varies on the amount of engagement stakeholders have in the issue and with the government. I think a lot depends on the willingness of the government to establish some kind of multi-stakeholder process. Infrastructure helps and scale makes a difference.

In a smaller country with a centralised education system one can develop a policy process much quicker. It also has a lot to do with the amount of awareness that stakeholders have of the value and relevance of ICT in education. You have to integrate the other elements of the education system.

In other words, you have to transversalise ICT across teacher training and  development, across curriculum development, standards, exams, because otherwise it will be an isolated unit and won’t have any impact at all.

? How do you handle the attention  usually given to a third party facilitator in a policy formulation process?
In terms of participating in this process here in India, it’s very humbling because of the scale and complexity, because of the amount of activity and amount of knowledge involved.

In terms of GeSCI our primary role is to support the Ministry in establishing and continuing this process.

We are neutral when it comes to all kinds of issues having to do with ICT in education. Platform, maintenance, delivery, that is all for the government to decide. We try to make it clear that our primary relationship and support is directed to the ministry of education and not to make any decision, but to support the decision making of the ministry. 

? How do you go about the process of policy formulation? What are the milestones that occur?
We think of our work in certain stages and we predict a certain amount of time for a particular stage. There is an assessment that occurs at regular intervals, to make sure, not so much as to specific deliverables have been achieved, but that the process is moving with a certain momentum. There might come a time when we need to have certain things completed but if you are engaged in a process for a year or two, you will know there are problems in the process before you get that far. Often it has to do with the way the ministry works, or it has to do with certain challenges within the country.

Sometimes the holdup is well beyond our control or well beyond the control of the ministry. We do not have a one-size-fits-all answer. Sometimes we try to build awareness about our approach to the issue.

It varies on the amount of engagement stakeholders have in the issue and with the government and I think a lot depends on the willingness of the government to establish some kind of multi-stakeholder process. Infrastructure helps and scale makes a difference.

? What would be a worst-case scenario?
For us, besides natural disasters which are unpredictable, the biggest risk for us is engaging initially, then having things peter out and never begin implementation. So the biggest risk for us is sustainability. We are not designed to stay as an advisor for years on end.

At some point the ministry has to take complete ownership and control. We are positioned as a catalyst to get the process moving. We take a step back when some of the major implementation challenges come forward. In a way it’s a test of the entire process, if the ministry and the stakeholders can adapt to that and respond to that. At the same time it is hard to step away and take that risk.

? What are the things that change if the policy formulation process ends up taking longer?
If there’s been a change in the leadership of the ministry, that is a difficult challenge. Sometimes it takes time to reconstruct that level of engagement. In one particular country, we have had three different ministers of education in two-and-a-half years of engagement. The problem is that you need a higher level of political will to make the policy happen. If a new minister comes in or if there is a change in the staff of the ministry, we really want to get them on board before going too far ahead.

? How  does GeSCI get the ball rolling, so to speak? How is GeSCI organised in terms of these influences?

Some of it is research-based, but it is very focussed on hands-on tools. There were 2-3 things that emerged as possible tools that would have helped in the implementation of the policy. There are all kinds of things that came up that are universally challenging. They provide some guidance at the district or state level. Something very hands on would make the difference between the policy being a policy and the policy being reality.

? What kind of assumptions do you carry while engaging the process of planning the draft national policy?
There is a major presumption

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