Taking a short break from covering OLPC topics to report on the ICTD2010 conference December 13-16 at Royal Holloway University in London.
This was the fourth iteration of the ICTD conference. It has grown significantly in size from about 60 people attending the first time around, to about 580 registered attendees this year.
It was a great opportunity for cross-disciplinary and inter-industry mixing and mingling. The half-hour coffee breaks, numerous social events, and many diverse panels provided plenty of chances for talking and sharing ideas. A number of practitioners with whom I spoke expressed their desire for more academic writing that was relevant for them, which was music to my ears.
I was fortunate to have had a paper accepted to the conference, and presented it to a crowd of about 250+ people—a substantial audience for an academic conference presentation!! I also received a lot of positive feedback on the paper/presentation afterward.
The paper was titled Technology, Teachers and Training: Combining Theory with Macedonia’s Experience. A link to a PDF of the presentation is below.
It focused on the mystery of why, even with fantastic training prior to a computers-in-the-schools deployment, teachers still felt uncomfortable using the technology in the classroom—and therefore weren’t: nearly half of the teachers had never used computers in the classroom two years after the training and deployment.
The short answer we came to is that training can not be seen as a one-time event, and neither can change itself. Change is a time-consuming, energy-intense, years-long process. Teachers being asked to utilize technology in the classroom for the first time (after years of not teaching or being trained in this manner) need to be supported in this endeavor of change for years, in ways that are appropriate to their concerns as these arise and evolve, and we need to not press for instantaneously measurable results to come out of the classroom. Teachers need to be treated as stakeholders in technology-in-the-schools projects, not as afterthoughts, as is far too often the case—and as we’re often fighting against in the OLPC initiatives.
I had a number of people come up to me after the presentation, to thank me for speaking out for teachers, because they were working in the field on ICT-in-education projects in Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Burundi, Iran, etc., and what I had spoken so passionately about—to the point of feeling like I was on a soapbox—was a major problem they were facing on a day-to-day basis—and no one was speaking out about it, no one was fighting for the teachers.
So I’ll keep standing on the soapbox.
Here’s a link to an interview that the Austrian Network for ICTD conducted with me. They were the official media partners for the ICTD2010 conference. The Interview is 3 minutes long. (Give it a viewing!!)
The final plenary session brought together four experts from the donor/sponsor side of the equation, and perhaps this betrays my American point-of-view, but it was very strange for me to think of “donors” as NOT being from the private sector! These were four public sector representatives talking about funding ICT4D and what their (and their organizations’) priorities were…things like prioritizing Public-Private-Partnerships, not getting too reliant on technology or looking to it as a silver bullet solution for all development challenges, etc. Things that seem unbelievably logical, but clearly need repeating—even to this audience.
During the Q&A of this panel, an audience member asked what was, for me, a very insightful question about these donor organizations’ silence regarding the state, which has gotten me thinking again about a topic that I realize I have been neglecting: focusing on ICT and on market solutions and the private sector can be an easy way to neglect the “development” of the state itself in developing countries. All countries—developing or otherwise—need good governance for quality of life and other development “goods” we desire to take hold and increase. We try to work on building local capacities, but we generally focus on the individual level, and on helping individuals realize a better livelihood, or an individual business or school find a better way forward, etc. These things don’t take place in a vacuum! Good governance is absolutely vital to ensuring that the conditions will allow development in the social and economic areas to take place.
I need to return to that topic in the not too distant future…