The price of good policy

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GeSCI has developed a framework and approach that educational policy makers and school administrators can use to inform their choice of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for schools, in a way that ensures that they achieve their educational objectives. The framework advocates for a consideration of some key elements: a focus on educational objectives as the overriding consideration, targeting an end-to-end approach, and considering the benefits, feasibility and total cost of ownership (TCO) of any ICT choice

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become the latest buzzword in the education sector today as schools and ministries of education clamor to equip the kids with ICT skills for today’s information age. Millions and even billions of dollars have been spent both in the developing and developed countries to provide computers, Internet access and other hi-tech gadgets to schools. However all these endeavours, while well intentioned, have often been poorly implemented or not realised any of the benefits touted. As such, most computer labs especially in the less developed countries resemble small “museums” with banks of old, non working computers, some schools have good equipment but untrained teachers while other schools have no equipment but have had their teachers trained. These “disconnects” and poor implementations are caused by among other factors:

  • A focus on the technology without paying attention to the educational objectives and needs.
  • Narrow interpretation of ICTs to mean computers only and forgetting that other ICTs such as radio or TV can be more appropriate and cost effective in some situations
  • Failure to consider other vital components of implementing ICTs such as providing user and technical support, providing for maintenance, and providing the right educational content
  • And lastly, a failure to consider all of the costs, short term and long term, involved in obtaining and using ICTs.

As a result, ICTs in education are increasingly being criticised in many quarters as aptly put by Larry Cuban (2001): The money spent on computers might have been better spent on other resources such as ‘smaller class size’, better salaries for teachers, renovation of decayed buildings computers in the classroom have been oversold by promoters and policymakers and underused by teachers and students.

Despite these denouncements, there is also no doubt that given right circumstances, ICTs can transform teaching and learning, help improve student achievement, motivation and performance, engage ‘hard to reach’ or disadvantaged populations, support students with special needs, and achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in school management.

However, in order for these benefits to be realised, the current implementation of ICTs is going to take the “lessons learned” more seriously and schools and ministry of education planners are going to have to rethink the approach to acquiring and deploying ICTs.

To this end, GeSCI working with a team from McKinsey and Company, supported by a financial contribution from Intel and pro-bono time and effort from McKinsey and Company, developed an overall framework for thinking about benefits, costs and feasibility of ICT options for schools and created a sophisticated analytic electronic tool that models TCO for various ICT options. The framework and electronic tool have subsequently been revised extensively by GeSCI following feedback from various ICT in education experts and are briefly presented in this paper.

The Framework

The framework and corresponding approach is based on s number of key considerations that arise directly out of some of the major problems facing the deployment of ICTs in schools today. These considerations can also be taken as “steps” in an approach to considering the acquisition and implementation of ICTs in education.

Focus on educational objectives

ICTs are tool and not an end in themselves. Schools should therefore focus on what they need to use the tool for, in the first place. Choosing and deploying ICTs for education must stem from, and be driven by the desired educational objective(s) and outcome. From an extensive literature survey and consultations with various ICT in Education experts, GeSCI identified 11 commonly occurring educational objectives, which can be grouped into four broad categories.

  • Target an end-to-end approach Purchasing and installing ICTs in schools is not the end of the story. It is only part of an integrated, comprehensive and on-going (end-to-end) system that requires that a plan be developed in advance, ICTs purchased and installed, users trained, adequate technical and user support provided, and continuous assessment and evaluation conducted to ensure that educational objectives are being met. The end-to-end system consists of 5 major components: deployment of ICTs, content and applications that accompany the ICTs, user training and support to enable proper usage, maintenance and technical support to keep the ICTs working and monitoring and evaluation to ensure that the ICTs are being used for the educational objectives originally envisaged. It should be comprehensive, demand driven, capable and efficient and well coordinated.
  • Carefully consider your deployment model A study of the different ICT-in-schools models across the world suggests there are six key questions, grouped into four elements that help define those models:
  • Usage approach: Who uses the equipment: administrators, teachers, students?

Where do they use it: office, classroom, lab, open access?

  • Functionality: How interactive is the equipment? Is it connected to the Internet?
  • Numbers: What is the ratio of devices to users?
  • Content and Applications used: What content and applications are required for the educational objectives set?
  • The most important elements are usage approach and functionality and these determine the “technology deployment model”.

There are six most common usage approaches and three different levels of functionality giving rise to eighteen possible technology deployment models. However, of these eighteen technology deployment models, four are not in fact meaningful, since they combine a functionality (non interactive) with usage approaches that would not make sense together. For example, it does not make sense to consider use of non-interactive technology (e.g., TV, radio) only in office administration.

  • Consider whether your selected deployment model helps achieve your desired education objective

A careful analysis of the 14 deployment models, and therefore the e-school models, shows that some models are more suited to achieving certain education objectives than others. “Suitability” in this particular case is based on a combination of the benefits rendered and the feasibility of the given model. The chart shown in the next page summarises the suitability of any model to the range of educational objectives. It uses “circles”

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