A Cautionary Tale on the Limits of ICT in Education


Over a four-year period, the Azim Premji Foundation produced the largest single library of digital learning resources (DLR) in India for children. Contained in 125 CDs, these were exciting lessons for children from classes I to VIII. Made in 18 languages--including tribal ones-- they were designed to be completely integrated in school curriculum.

Yet after 5 years of effort, the Azim Premji Foundation realized that their whole effort was at best a qualified failure. Why? Well let us let them tell you why the use these DLRs in thousands of schools was a big bet that failed in Limits of ICT in education:

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OLPC: A lethal perspective?
If you are an outsider (to our organization), and an enthusiast for "ICT can be a big help to Indian education", you may think of many reasons why we ended up with this qualified failure, including (perhaps) poor design and execution of the DLR and the programs, by us and our partner governments.

We can tell you our view (and that of many independent organizations) --the DLRs were (and are) very good and the programs were executed well, within the reality of the Indian education system (i.e. in most of the rural and semi-urban schools of the 1.4 million in India). Also, consider the fact that organizations usually want to show successes even where there are none. Why would we tout a failure, having given it so much from our side?

The answer is simple. We confess this failure candidly, because we find that innumerable people inside and outside the education system think of technology (always meaning ICT) as something between a panacea and "the-most-important-solution". A number of them are in influential positions, and these misconceived notions can have a significantly detrimental effect on the national effort to improve educational quality.

This effort must lie in teacher and school leader capacity building, in examination reform (away from rote to assessing real learning), improvements in curriculum as well as accountability, governance and management. All this must happen, not just in intentions and policy, but in actual implementation--in a sustained and institutional manner. ICT would have a role in all this, but not the central role.

At its best, the fascination with ICT as a solution distracts from the real issues. At its worst, ICT is suggested as substitute to solving the real problems, for example, "why bother about teachers, when ICT can be the teacher". This perspective is lethal.

And yet its this very perspective that is at the heart of the most recent Nicholas Negropontism: You Can Give Kids XO Laptops and Just Walk Away.


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