Bett Latin American Education Leaders: What are the key challenges regarding education and technology in Latin America? (Part 1)

jorge_sequeiraWe are carrying out a series of interviews before the Bett Latin America Leadership Summit takes place. This is the first in our series with Jorge Sequeira who is Director of the Regional Bureau of Education for Latin America and the Caribbean, at UNESCO. This is part one of the interview in which Jorge outlines some of the key issues the region faces in regards to improving educational and technological standards. Stayed tuned for part 2, where Jorge explains where he believes the solutions lie:

“Information Communication Technology has indeed become a fixture of classrooms in many parts of LAC. From low-cost radio and television, to laptops and tablets, teachers are increasingly using technology to enhance and extend learning.

Thus, it is not so obvious to generalise in this regard, considering the great heterogeneity of the region in respect of ‘e-readiness’. There are countries where less than 1% of schools are connected to the Internet or where the provision of basic electricity in schools is a challenge, with an average of 122 pupils sharing a single computer. At the opposite end, in Uruguay broadband coverage at schools is universal.

Challenges may range from provision of electricity (in several Central American countries) to teacher training in use of ICT for learning (most countries).

The latest UNESCO-UIS report reveals that Caribbean countries have higher levels of ICT-assisted instructions using computers and the Internet, more so than South and Central America, where lack of infrastructure is an obstacle to ‘e-readiness’.

Despite the relatively high integration of ICT into the schooling system of some countries, there is a serious lack of teachers properly trained in the use and monitoring of ICTs in the classroom. Thus, a general challenge across the region is the development of appropriate contents, and teaching strategies to integrate ICTs in the classroom. As for in- and pre-service training of teachers on ICTs, while it is clearly considered as paramount, it is neglected when it comes to formulate and implement ICT-related projects in education.

According to the following study: ICT in Education in Latin America and the Caribbean: A regional analysis of ICT integration and e-readiness (carried out in 38 countries), shows the extent to which factors such as education policy, teacher training, and infrastructure drive or hamper the integration of ICTs in schools. This report provides regional benchmarks for countries monitoring the integration of ICT in education.

Energy/electricity is an important pre-requisite for effectively using ICTs in schools and most countries in the region have 100% coverage. However, there are exceptions, even in countries with relatively high per-capita income such as Brazil where around 10% of primary schools do not have electricity. Countries even more affected include Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Panama.

In general, there are many countries in LAC that are developing and implementing policies that use ICT as a main component to improve the quality of education e.g. in Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico. It is being recognised that ICT4E and escaping the ‘middle income trap’ i.e. changing the structure of the economy to a knowledge-based one are both interrelated. Conferences on this theme across the region have multiplied e.g. Virtual Educa, Educa Digital, Tijuana Innovadora and many others.

The transformation required for the introduction and use of ICTs in the classroom is not that simple. Schools are traditionally institutions designated to preserve and transmit previously established practices, knowledge, abilities and values. They generally tend to work at a different pace as opposed to the speed and interactivity that characterize the use of modern technologies.

The introduction of ICTs in the classroom thus requires new definitions of roles, especially for teachers. ICT tools allow students to acquire greater autonomy and responsibility in the learning process, compelling the teacher to go beyond his/her classic role as the “sole” source of knowledge. Unfortunately, in many countries harnessing ICT skills does not make part of the pre- or in-service teacher training. It is not uncommon to observe the perception that students are sometimes ahead of their teachers in this subject.

This generates uncertainty, tension and fear among teachers, students and parents. New education practices through technology are needed, from pre- and in-service training to the assessment of learning outcomes. Thus resulting in national and sub-national policies that need to be:

  • Time-bound
  • Pragmatic
  • Measurable
  • Realistic

As for schools, teachers and students, they should develop practices that include:

  • Access to digitalized information, not printed on paper
  • Images in motion and music, rather than text
  • Feeling comfortable while performing multiple tasks
  • The acquisition of knowledge and experiences by processing discontinuous, not lineal, information.

At the policy level, there should be an increased understanding about how ICTs impact on the school system:

  • Curriculum management: how the curriculum is organized, how the teaching is planned, what the teacher’s actions and responses should be in the classroom, how to integrate ICTs properly into the curriculum
  • Leadership: school management, the role of the school principal, monitoring of the progress and any obstacles that may occur
  • Free and fair access and training for all students, and eventually parents and communities, including websites and portals to improve school-family communication
  • Paramount: professional development of teachers i.e. pre- and in-service teacher training, and participation in specialized groups of interest
  • Assessment of learning outcomes i.e. how to monitor the education progress of students whenever ICTs intervene in the teaching/learning process, including interactions with the teacher: reading, interpreting, Maths, Sciences, etc.

Which decisions and considerations are taken regarding the setting up of policies of ICTs in education?

  • National or commercial software and the implications
  • The case of intercultural and multilingual societies and teachers. How to cope with it?
  • Are ICTs a factor that contributes to reducing inequality or exacerbating it?

Please stay tuned for part 2 of this interview, which we will publish in due course, where Jorge explains where he believes the solutions lie.

Jorge Sequeira will be a part of the Bett Latin America Leadership Summit taking place on the 31st October 2013 in São Paulo.

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