Friday, January 15, 2016

Digital Dividend from Analogue Investment

The World Bank (2016) released their "World Development Report" on 12 January. The Report concludes that maximizing the benefits of ICT requires "analogue" measures of accountability, support business, good governance and investment in education and health. Here I focus on the education aspects of the report.

Sector 2  of the report is headed "Education" but this is mentioned through the report (World Bank, p. 146, 2016). Sector 2 starts by pointing out that there was little evidence to show that providing laptops to children improves education:

"The One Laptop per Child project in Peru provided hundreds of thousands of pieces of low-cost computing equipment to students in rural schools. But early research found no evidence of increased learning in math or language. 1 This is one high-profile example of the difficulties faced in introducing hardware-centric educational technology projects conceived in highly developed environments into less developed places without sufficient attention to local contexts." (World Bank, p. 146, 2016)

While I agree that there is little evidence that the OLPC project improved children's literacy or math skills, this was not the aim of the project:
"The mission of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child." From: OLPC Mission.
While OLPC claimed to be an education project, it really was not: it was a technical hardware project, to design a low cost rugged computer, deliver it to children and hope somehow this would "empower" their learning. Not surprisingly, like other such "build it and they will come" hardware projects, the project failed to deliver improved education. What perhaps is surprising is that One Education, a Sydney based organization is now attempting to repeat this process: building a low cost laptop computer called the Infinity Kids Laptop/Tablet.

The report cites more positively an "SMS Story" project in
Papua New Guinea (World Bank, p. 146, 2016). This sent short text messages with teaching tips for teachers. In my reading of the literature about "open" and on-line education for developing nations, I notice that many of the success stories involve in-service teacher training. This could be partly because teachers provide a literate, motivated and easy to teach, cohort of students. Also teacher training is seen as a worthwhile investment for national development and a way to leverage investment in education. This is supported by OECD research, indicating the most effective way to improve education is with better trained (and paid) teachers.
raising teacher quality is a more effective measure to improve student outcomes - See more at:

A major failing of the Report is that it sees on-line education as outside the formal system. There is no mention of e-learning or distance education as part of of formal education, just "online education" and MOOCs as a informal supplement.
It is suggested "Training in advanced ICT skills can also be provided less systematically, and outside of the formal education system. ... through accredited massive open online courses (MOOCs)" (World Bank, p. 268, 2016).

The Khan Academy is highlighted as a "A supplemental educational resource in and outside the classroom" (World Bank, p. 263, 2016). Khan Academy was seen as useful for basic procedural skills, not deeper learning.

The terms "e-learning",  "distance education" and "open university" do not appear at all in this Report. The result could be that digital education initiatives will fail, for the same reason as the OLPC did: they do not fit with the infrastructure, goals and objectives of the education system. It is possible that a digital education revolution will overtake existing education systems, but such revolutions have so far failed. On-line education evolved from old paper based distance education, and run by existing educational institutions, is not as exciting as new startups, but may have more of a future.

The report is 359 pages (10.6 Mbytes PDF) and clearly is not intended to be read by those on low bandwidth links with small hand-held devices. ;-)


World Bank. (2016). World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-0671-1. Relieved from

No comments:

Post a Comment