Friday, May 26, 2006

ICT in education in SE Asia

I recently attended a three day workshop for the launch of the Next Gen project, run by UNESCO in partnership with Microsoft and Cisco. It was an intriguing meeting for many reasons, not only because the project itself is very interesting in that it supports the variety of different needs for improving pre-service teacher training for ICT-based pedagogy, but also because of the common problems faced by many countries. 10 countries took part from Asia-Pacific: India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Lao, Thailand, China, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam; they each sent a representative from the Ministry of Education, plus a few representatives of teacher training institutions.

So many countries came back to the problem of infrastructure, being stuck at this basic step before reaching the next level. Lack of understanding of technology, and low capacity in Ministries of Education means that it's very hard for countries to 'leapfrog' technologies, and tend to follow old routes rather than innovating and using newer more effective models.

It really made me wonder why more countries aren't involved in the 100 $ laptop project being run by MIT. The laptops are low powered, and have many limitations, but as an alternative to having no technology at all in schools, surely this is an interesting approach? I noticed only Thailand and India have joined the project so far.

A key problem in ICT for many countries is the lack of electricity supply in many rural areas. So I'm particularly intrigued by the project's wind-up laptops. I also think it's a great way to promote open source technologies, as the laptops run Linux and are likely to include open educational content too. I think this can really be the 'Trojan horse' that so many of us talk about in educational reform - David Cavallo (MIT) has written a great paper on education reform.

A final word on the Next Gen launch workshop: the ladies from the Philippines were extremely impressive. Dr. Vilma Labrador from the MoE particularly so. She was the first person I had seen reminding us of the need to have a heartfelt mission for education, and not just be thinking technically or politically. Not only that, but she did parts of her speech in song. Amazing!

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