Saturday, October 1, 2011

Stop the ICT (Incredibly Counterproductive Trend)

One of the words that I hear often here is ICT (information and computer technologies), a fancy word for computers.  It is an active turf in the development field, installing and teaching various computer stuff in public bureaucracies.  Benefits exist, no doubt, but now ICT as an incredibly counterproductive trend is entering secondary schools in Tanzania.

Last weekend, three headmasters of Mtwara secondary schools and a colleague went to a conference on ICT.  They were shown the magic and miracles of Microsoft PowerPoint, and were instructed to use this in their classrooms.  A true scientific revolution in the education sector, my headmaster would acclaim.  The schools shall receive five computers, three projectors, and a technician to be shared with three other schools.  Not bad.

Then I look around the school.  There is not a single classroom with its ceiling fully covered.  Teacher quality is low because incentives are low.  The lab is just a large room.  I have to teach 80 students per period because two of my classes were combined in order to accommodate extra space required for national examinations.  Students do not have books because while education may be public service, textbooks are private goods.  In the list of priorities of what must be done to improve public education (80% of my students are failing, when the bar is set low at 21/100), ICT should be on page 4.

One may contend that I am opining a false priority, meaning that several measures do not necessarily need to be lined up in terms of pressing concern, with the second task only implemented when the first is accomplished.  But in this government system where tax revenue is so low and little political will to improve education quality, I wish the ICT money were spent differently.

Reading the news on aid donors in Tanzania, ICT is thrown around like the cure-all pill.  Transfer of technologies is touted by development agencies, because on paper, computers can do no harm.  Unfortunately, these agencies, as the real public policy decision makers of this country, are setting an incredibly counterproductive priority. 

NO-PC, a British NGO that donates computers in Tanzania, shows some of the perils of ICT.  NO-PC has donated five computers to Sabasaba a couple of years ago.  These computers are Linux based, so that costs are low, and came with no instructor.  I had some trouble navigating the unfamiliar OS, but more importantly, I had no interest.  I came to teach math, and I felt no desire to put my energies into a project that I had no association whatsoever.  In fact, the pressure from the administrators to do something about these “gifts” was a personal burden.  Last year on one Friday, a young Israeli volunteer from NO-PC, eating half an orange on her hand (it was the season), came to the staff room to tell the teachers that she will be instructing teachers the very next day.  The teachers replied okay, because Tanzanians have a very welcoming culture, but in reality, it collided with an important seminar most teachers had to attend.  Few went to the training, and I have not seen the volunteer since.  She must have been disappointed.  Although, more importantly to note, even if the teachers went to the session, they would not have learned enough to become computer instructors.  Now, the computers are absolute bust.  I keep on urging the school’s secretary to change her crappy dysfunctional CRT monitor with the LCD that came belong to the NO-PC computers.  At least one LCD monitor will be used properly.  NO-PC, please, no more PC.


kabs said...

India just launched a $35 tablet, which the government is selling to students at a subsidized price. I've also not seen an effective desktop-learning programme, but my understanding is that it's more to do with the teachers than the product. I think if we actually could give tablets to students, they would learn to use them on their own (assuming parents give them some freedom). I'm also very sceptical of these ICT magic bullets, but I'm very curious to see how this particular plan will do. Ultimately I have more faith in individuals than in systems, so I'm guessing that students playing with ICT will have a much better impact than teachers teaching them how to use computers.

TK said...

i've read a brief description of a math program that tracks student performance as well, indicating the instructor which subtopic the child needs more help on. I can imagine similar software or other forms of program for visual heavy subjects like biology. The problem is that for these programs to be good, there has to be a company that services them.

i'm all for individual discoveries of computer technologies. I was able to buy three netbooks last year and the initiatives teachers have taken to utilize them has exceeded my expectations. this particular program i'm annoyed about is just three computers and two projectors. i expect a handful of poorly constructed powerpoints that will replace the blackboards briefly. One computer illiterate teacher will go on a six week seminar to become the school technician, another bad idea.