Monday, 15 July 2013

ICT use in education: How are we different?

ICT Interventions in education are common place now, and so are some of its worst practices, says Micheal Trucano, World Bank’s Senior ICT and Educational Policy Specialist.  True to that, there are numerous ICT interventions in education, especially in India. A majority of them draw on the same base idea and work on similar methodologies. One can hardly see any innovation; let alone massive revolutionary thought.

At such a point comes Michaeal Trucano’s blog post on the worst practices in ICT use in education explaining how most of these projects replicate each other and eventually, struggle to make an impact. Reading this article was quite an interesting experience; we learnt how most of these ‘worst’ practices are actually ‘mindsets’ and how a small shift in your focus can turn your project upside down. Above all, however, we were happy that the ‘Learn, Out of the Box’ project aimed to be different from this and how it did not adopt any of these practices, despite operating in the same sector, location and target segments.  Right from inception to execution, we have tried to adopt a different approach towards various aspects of the project. We would like to share some of those here:

Dump Hardware in schools and forget it

This was mentioned as a ‘classic’ worst practice that is followed in almost every ICT intervention, the logic being ‘If we supply it, they will learn’. However, technology is only a means and can never be the end. Our project treats technology as a teacher support tool and makes a conscious effort to focus on the teacher and their skills, rather than the device. Extensive trainings aimed at integrating the Webbox with the teacher’s natural teaching style, lesson planning with teachers, and constant support are just some of the things we provide to ensure that hardware installation is only the first step to a process that is solely centred on the teacher.

Designed somewhere; Implement elsewhere

The framework and ICT-related model is almost always developed in one place and implemented elsewhere. The core set of requirements that the model needs are assumed to be present in another environment. This is not at all true, especially when working in rural areas.

Though we started out with a pre-existent framework, we tried out level best to adapt it to the local realities, competencies of the team and teachers, school response levels and needs of the students. However, after Phase I of the project, we re-analysed the framework and found it to be too complicated, and non-intuitive. Apart from technical issues such as slow streaming of videos, there were too many divisions within the content, making it difficult for the teacher to comprehend and navigate. So, we decided to re-develop the framework keeping all these issues in mind. For Phase II, we have a new framework that is teacher-friendly and more engaging for the students as well.  This process has made us realise the benefits of an evolved framework based on experiences vis-a-vis a rigid developed framework.

Think about educational content only after you have rolled out your hardware

As discussed, since the focus is on hardware dumping, most of the other tasks get postponed, leading to a huge risk. However, our project has been carefully thought out in all areas including content and training. We make it a point to train the teachers and acquaint them with the content before the hardware is actually installed in the schools. That way, when they finish training, they are well equipped to use the Web box immediately.

Despite fresh and interesting new content being a key priority in Phase 2, we waded through numerous challenges - coordinating with script writers, editors, and the production company so that everyone aligns to a common goal and delivers on time. We also translated the content into Hindi since we wanted to reach the remote interiors of the country, and so on. Although the development of content was a mammoth task, we were determined to develop a strong content base before the role of out Phase 2. All this gave us key insights on team capacities, time management, relationship management and crisis management.

Assume you can just import content from somewhere else

The basic ethos of our project is to empower the teachers and help them integrate the Web box with their everyday teaching and learning practices. This would not be possible if we imported the content from elsewhere, since the teachers would not find it relevant. 

We have worked very hard to design relevant content according to the local environment, taking a great deal of teacher feedback along the path to improving our content.  The SEE, THINK and DO sections of our new content framework have been designed with relevant situations, images, videos, activities, projects and games (For example: names of Indian rivers, trees and personalities are used in the relevant context). We also ensure that the resources required for conducting any activity are easily available for the teacher in her local surroundings. During trainings, we encourage teachers to adapt activities local requirements and use substitute resources in the event that all required resources are not available to them.

Read about our new content framework and see some sample of our new content here.

Don't train your teachers

This is the biggest mistake that can be made by any ICT-related model. Teacher training is crucial to the success of a project, especially when they play an important role in its implementation.  The impact of our project is almost entirely dependent on the importance we give to teacher training. This point makes even more sense now, when we have just chalked out an entire teacher training schedule for three months in 12 states of India. We also appoint Regional Program Associates, our primary field staff who give regular pedagogical and technical support to teachers for a period of 3 years. They are responsible for lesson planning with the teacher and providing classroom support as and when needed. As we hope to train more than 2000 teachers and empower them through our project, we feel they will be the future faces of ‘Learn Out of the Box’ and take this forward.