10 Principles for Developing ICT In Education Programs
USAID is among the world’s largest bilateral supporters of information and communication technology (ICT) projects in education. Such projects use technology to increase access to basic education, to support the development of literacy and numeracy skills, to improve the management of schools and education systems, to enhance the relevance and quality of learning and to extend educational opportunities to marginalized and vulnerable populations, including those in crisis and conflict environments.
Once thought of as merely desktop computers with fixed-line Internet connectivity, ICT has expanded to include many different types of devices and pathways for introducing technology into schools—with positive results. ICT integration has shown to increase student motivation, promote change in classroom practices and support other improvements in education systems.
USAID adheres to 10 key principles when conceptualizing, designing and implementing ICT in education systems:
- Use ICT to achieve education and development goals. Technology should be used to address areas where system capacity is poor, schools are underperforming or there are gaps in student learning. A well-designed technology solution can be used to disseminate resources, connect students to information, enhance teachers’ practices and students’ performance in all subject areas, improve school management and support data-driven policymaking. Program example: In India, the USAID-funded Right to Read project delivers audio-visual lessons and learning materials via computers and mobile devices to assist teachers in assessing individual student needs, bridge gaps in teachers’ own teaching skills and knowledge, and create integrated school and community reading programs to improve students’ reading skills.
- Use ICT to enhance student knowledge and skills. If schooling is intended to be relevant to work and important to a society, success in school should be accompanied by the development of a broad body of knowledge and a complete range of skills—including literacy, numeracy, information literacy and independent-learning skills that contribute to achievement in later life. ICT should be used to help students build these skills. Program example: USAID’s Strengthening Education in Afghanistan project uses tablets and solar panels to support girls’ preparation girls for the examination, required to gain admission to public universities and improve their learning achievements.
- Use ICT to support data-driven decision making. Regular and reliable data are essential to planning and policy, financial management, management of school facilities, decisions about school personnel (including teachers) and support for student learning. Program example: In Guatemala, USAID uses a mobile application (EscuelaApp) to provide the Ministry of Education with access to data about education services. The application provides access to data on education statistics and indicators to allow policymakers to incorporate evidence-based decision making into their programming.
- Include all short- and longer-term costs in budget planning. Estimating full capital and operating expenses of technology projects in schools requires consideration of all equipment and activities needed to ensure that hardware (and software) are installed, operated, maintained, repaired and replaced, and that teachers and other personnel have the skills and resources they need to use their new tools to meet project goals. Program example: In Nicaragua, USAID promotes a culture of appropriate adoption and effective use of technology. Through the private sector partnership "One Laptop per Child" program, USAID’s Community Action for Reading and Security project introduces the use of computers and software as tools to improve early grade reading skills and to expose children to reading materials.
- Explore technology alternatives to find appropriate solutions. The proliferation of new tools and new approaches is accelerating in both developed and developing countries; these innovations challenge project developers to think creatively about emerging opportunities. Program designers should consider alternative ways of meeting proposed educational objectives, including broadcast or other technologies, low-cost/low-power computers, and mobile telephones. Program example: In Mali, USAID’s Education Recovery Support Activity uses interactive audio instruction (IAI) through USB/MP3 solar-powered radios to enhance literacy and math instruction for conflict-affected children and youth.
- Focus on teacher development, training and ongoing support. In-service teacher professional development is frequently among the most important and complex components in an education-technology project. Teachers are essential to student learning outcomes. Program example: In Kenya, Tusome, USAID’s national early grade reading project, supports schools through training of education officials to use tablets containing support materials for classroom observation and feedback to teachers to improve delivery of lessons while building the Ministry of Education’s capacity to support reading instruction for increased reading outcomes.
- Explore and coordinate involvement of many different stakeholders. It is vital to engage multiple stakeholders in education technology projects, as they frequently cut across several sectors and entail great expense as well as technical and organizational complexity. Valuable contributions can be made by international and local organizations, including donor agencies, charitable foundations, NGOs, private-sector technology firms and government agencies, in addition to ministries of education. Program example: In Jordan, USAID partners with the mobile operator Orange to incorporate technology and innovation in outreach and communication as well as monitoring and evaluation activities. Orange provides tablets for MOE employees to record teacher coaching session observations and to use the data to create community awareness messaging campaigns around educational programming.
- Develop a supportive policy environment. Establishing policies, plans, and central agencies to shape the use of technology in education can help ensure that initial expenditures and activities support government objectives and that high-impact activities receive ongoing funding. Program example: USAID has supported the ICT Council for Burma to release a white paper entitled “Empowering Myanmar through Technology,” which included a set of recommendations for key policy reforms and a range of possible ICT-related capacity building initiatives, including digital literacy and technology for educational purpose.
- Integrate monitoring and evaluation into project planning. Planning (and budgeting) for monitoring and evaluation of education-technology projects should begin during the first phase of project design. In most circumstances, it is important to emphasize using randomized studies and experimental statistics; such methods typically require collecting baseline data or collecting data from control-group samples. Advanced planning, budgeting and preparation are essential if these measures are to be put in place. Program example: In Pakistan, USAID conducted an evaluation that helped assess the current integration of technology within USAID/Pakistan programs, identify challenges and opportunities in the external environment, and contribute to the development objectives of the upcoming country development cooperation strategy.
- “It takes capacity to build capacity”—System strengthening precedes system transformation. Developing-country school systems rarely have the capacity to effect substantial change in teaching, learning or school operations—whether technology is used or not. Schools and school systems that lack basic levels of management, leadership, teacher professionalism, resources and other core components must build the stable foundation needed for the equitable and effective delivery of public education. Program example: Liberia’s Civil Service Agency is using the biometric registration system to more easily verify payroll information during the entry of mobile money enrollees into the payment system. USAID’s Liberia Teacher Training Program has upgraded the human resources system of the Ministry of Education (MOE), helped establish a biometric identification system, vetted teacher payee lists to remove ghost workers and issued biometric identification cards to a large portion of Liberia’s MOE workforce, helping to put into place systems that enable the digitization of civil salary payments in the MOE.
Designing Education Programs Using ICT
Today, few countries have mastered the use of technology to improve their education systems or to help today’s students thrive when they leave school. However, these students will, over the course of their lives, confront challenges and encounter opportunities that demand new ways of thinking and acting that rely on their powers of communication and analysis, and on their ability to operate in environments that are dense with information.
Starting now on a path of change that makes use of new tools and acknowledges current capacities and existing challenges lays the necessary groundwork for future improvements. First steps along this path, guided by these principles that have emerged out of years of practice, will lead to improvements that enable all individuals to flourish in their economic, social and political lives.