The future of education is in the content, not the container

Technology’s evolution and increasing prevalence is opening up new realms of possibilities for educators all over the world. Ahead of his ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN keynote speech on Friday 30th November, the ONLINE EDUCA News Service
caught up with Mike Trucano,  the World Bank’s Senior ICT and Education Policy Specialist, to find out his thoughts on the future of education and ICT around the world.


What does the World Bank do for education and ICT?


In general, the World Bank helps provide development assistance, including assistance relating to ICT or technology.  We get an increasing number of requests from countries who are either seeking large-scale investments in educational technologies or feel that the World Bank can expose them to experience in other parts of the world and put them in touch with people who have been doing the things that they want to do.


Other places have had long-standing challenges, be it finding, recruiting, retaining, or supporting teachers. We find this especially in the developing world, where there have been huge gains in the number of kids going to school, but they find that the quality of education hasn’t improved that much. You can build lots of schools, but making sure you have qualified, supported, experienced teachers is more of a challenge, and this is particularly true in rural areas.


It’s not just a case of buying a computer. That computer has to have the right sort of content on it that is linked to a curriculum, it has to be used in support of learning in and out of school and it has to be supported and enabled by a teacher who understands the value, relevance and use of what they’re using it for. There are a whole lot of specific things that need to happen at once.


So how do you go about setting up successful education and technology initiatives in developing countries?


Well, there’s a pretty long record of projects that have cost a lot and haven’t achieved much!


You have to focus on the content, not the container. Often, the focus is on the technology itself- you can become so enamoured with the technology that you don’t think about how to use it to its full effect. As we move to a greater proliferation of devices, combined with the fact that we will be accessing more content from multiple places, it really just puts a greater value on the content and how we use it, as opposed to the importance of particular devices.


Why is there such a disconnect between how people approach content outside and inside the classroom?


Most schools or school environments are comfortable doing what they’ve done before. There are all sorts of processes and procedures that have been in place for a long time. Outside of school, we don’t have that same inertia.


Also, inside of school, there is a very real and very important need, namely equity of access; making sure that all children have access to the same tools in the same ways. Outside of school, this is a decision made by individual families for the benefit of their own children, but we have to accept the reality of budgetary restrictions in schools- these are long slow investments, over time, and there’s just not the same flexibility.


The other big thing in the way we approach content is the need and desire to assess outcome. Assessment models are based on certain types of practices. When you introduce lots of technology into learning environments and schools and then you assess that the old-fashioned way, with pencil and paper, there may be a disconnect in what you’re doing.


In light of OEB 2012’s theme “Reaching Beyond Tomorrow”, what challenges do you think might the future hold for ICT and education?


Education, just like the rest of our lives, will be increasingly suffused with technology. It’s not a question of ‘should it happen’ or whether it will happen – it will happen. As educators and as parents, we have a duty to figure out how that can happen in useful, cost-effective ways to benefit student learning. It’s coming at different speeds in different places, of course, but there’s no doubt that it will happen.


It’s a question of being responsible in both how we utilise technology for education and how we think about educating our kids to live in a technology-rich world. This responsibility is lying with parents, families and communities, but schools have an important value in loco parentis in teaching children how to use these new tools sensibly and safely.


As more technology is used in school, there is an opportunity (if not an obligation) for schools to think about how they can educate students to not only survive and stay safe, but to use these tools to prosper, whatever they decide to do with their future lives.


What can we expect from your keynote speech at OEB, The ‘F’ Word, Worst Practices and a Bunch of Things About Computer Use in Schools You May not Want to Hear (But I’ll Say Them Anyway)?


There are some things that we’ve seen at the World Bank that we think might be interesting for the audience. I’ll be challenging some hypotheses or basic ideas that, from our experience, don’t quite play out how people imagined them to in practice. I’ll also touch on how to identify factors that might lead to wasted investments or failures, as well as how to find a silver lining in some of those.


This year will be the first time that you’ve come to ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN. What are you most looking forward to?


I’m looking forward to the whole experience- I’ve known about OEB for a long time, and I know lots of people who’ve really enjoyed it in the past, so I’m really anticipating just being there and soaking up what’s happening.


Also, I spend a lot of my time focusing on the experiences of medium and low income countries, so it will be interesting for me to see what’s happening in Europe.


Mike Trucano will be speaking at the plenary session Learning Futures: Over the Horizon on Friday November 30th from 9.30 to 11.00. For more information about OEB 2012, please click here.

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