Home | 2011 Workshop

Computers in the Classroom: A Lively Debate
August 20, 2009 – 3:30 p.m.

Presenters: Roy Zimmermann, American Institute for Research (AIR)
Patricia Flanagan, USAID Bureau of Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade

This session debated the concept of using computers in classrooms as a means of providing students in developing countries with 21st century technological skills. However, there are many challenges when putting such interventions into practice, including little empirical research on genuine student academic outcomes as a result of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) programs. Teacher attitudes have been studied, along with student attendance and other measures – but not learning outcomes.

The group was given an interactive activity in which they were charged with debating computer use in the classroom - discussing the challenges, risks, and benefits. Participants generally agreed that computers are essential to the success of today’s learners and teachers especially in developing countries where access to and quality of education are a constant struggle. However, there are caveats: the software behind the intervention, and the training, maintenance and follow-up are absolutely essential – one participant called it the “guiding intelligence” behind the intervention. A negative experience was recounted from a project in an Eastern European country in which the government insisted on providing a computer for each child, but without adequate planning. Since USAID and educators’ voices were not heeded about this need for planning, the country has moved forward with the program. USAID has decided to make the best of the situation by filling the computers with good content, and facing the issues of power needs, maintenance, and security.

Overall, it is key for implementers to assess and meet local needs – for example, should the programming focus on academic or concrete job skills? Both can be valid, but should be planned based on needs. Training teachers and laying an appropriate pedagogical model/foundation are essential. Research should be planned to show baseline and program outcomes. This is the only way to know if the ICT intervention is the best value for the resources allotted.

New projects should focus on measuring these outcomes carefully and scientifically to add to this body of research and show best practices and lessons learned for successful programming. The results found in an extensive literature review and interview study suggest the importance of individualizing ICT interventions. If school leadership is not engaged, an ICT project will not last. There must also be a scope for teacher innovation. The total cost of ownership is often underestimated. Peer education is also found to be valuable.

Key take away points from this session included: each country’s context demands different types of interventions, and it may well be that a given country has more urgent needs to attend to first: infrastructure, teacher training, materials development. Much like in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, an education system will receive the greatest benefit from ICT interventions when other foundational tools and systems are in place; students, schools and communities need to have basic needs met before ICT interventions are considered. It was asserted that the “stages” of the types of interventions would be different for each country. If teacher recruitment and training are poor, for example, technology solutions will not be successful for the students either.

To view the presentations, please click on link below:
AIR, Zimmermann : Open

For questions related to the 2009 Education Workshop,
please contact Rebekah Levi at rlevi@jbsinternational.com