Category Archives: Developing World

In Thailand, no child left without a tablet

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The government of Thailand, only a couple of years removed from deadly political turmoil, has embarked on an ambitious educational reform. Every one of the country’s 9 million schoolchildren is to get a tablet computer.

Education leaders say that putting 21st century technology in the hands of students is a dramatic leap forward, especially for those from poor rural areas. But critics wonder if it’s not a gimmick diverting attention to more serious problems of corruption and poor teacher training.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head explains the issue in this video clip.


Yingluck Shinawatra, campaigning on a tablet platform: Reuters photo

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra campaigned on a “one tablet per child” platform during the 2011 elections that brought her party to power. It was probably her most popular proposal.

The program began rolling out last year with the distribution of 860,000 tablets to first graders, according to the Bangkok Post.  The $32.8 million purchase was the largest tablet-distribution deal to date, Digital Trends reported in 2012.

The students are to hold onto the tablets for the rest of their school careers. This year, the government is providing 1.8 million tablets to the new crop of first-graders and to seventh-graders.

Is a blanket infusion of technology the best way for Thailand to catch up? Some have their doubts.

The Economist:

The chief problem is that children’s educational attainments are falling, even as more money is being lavished on the schools. Thailand now spends about 20% of the national budget on education, more than it devotes to any other sector. The budget has doubled over a decade. Yet results are getting worse, both in absolute terms and relative to other countries in South-East Asia…

Why does Thailand fare so badly? Somkiat Tangkitvanich, an expert at the Thailand Development Research Institute, claims that there is no mystery. Most of the swelling education budget has gone on higher pay for teachers (who now often earn more than the starting salary of a university lecturer), yet no improvement in performance has been extracted in return.

Mr Somkiat argues that schools have to be made more accountable to the people who use and pay for them.



U.S. lags far behind in pre-school



The United States is lagging far behind much of the developed world when it comes to enrolling children in preschool programs.

The U.S. ranks 24th and 26th among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in the enrollment and three- and four-year-olds, respectively, reports the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank:

While the U.S. enrolls just just 69 percent of its four-year-olds and 51 percent of its three-year-olds, other countries enroll nearly all of their young children in preschool programs.

But it isn’t just enrollment where America falls behind — it also fails to keep up in other areas, such as when children begin school, how much it spends on preschool, and the teacher-to-child ratio in its early childhood education programs.

The gap between the U.S. and other countries leads to gaps in achievement later on in childrens’ lives:

Japan, for instance, enrolls nearly all of its four-year-olds in preschool programs and outscored the U.S. by 40 points on the latest international test of fourth-grade math, CAP notes.

In the U.S., state-level pre-kindergarten programs have led to substantial gains for children compared to those who don’t receive early childhood education. Children in Tennessee’s state-funded program, for instance, “saw a 75 percent improvement in letter-word identification, a 152 percent improvement in oral comprehension, a 176 percent improvement in picture vocabulary, and a 63 percent improvement in quantitative concepts.”

But the U.S. isn’t just lagging behind countries it traditionally competes with. Emerging industrialized countries are also setting loftier goals and standards for the enrollment of children in public preschool programs, while the U.S. hasn’t followed the same path:


Here are more details about pre-school in America and the Obama Administration’s $75 billion proposal to boost enrollments.

We at Innovations for Learning believe fervently in the importance of early education. We are impelled by the knowledge that too many children are starting school without the necessary foundations.

We’re working hard to bring our TeacherMate® and TutorMate® programs to school districts across America in hopes that every child can learn to read in the primary grades.Because we want to give every child the chance to succeed later on.

— Infographics from Center for American Progress



World’s best education systems respect teachers, reflect culture of learning

The countries that top the world in education tend to offer teachers higher status in society and nurture a culture of learning, according to a chief adviser of the education firm Pearson.

Unfortunately, the United States is not one of those nations. According to a new global report from Pearson,  the world’s largest economy ranks 17th among developed countries in educating its young.

Finland and South Korea hold the first two spots on the list of 40 countries, followed by Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. The Huffington Post reports:

The study notes that while funding is an important factor in strong education systems, cultures supportive of learning is even more critical — as evidenced by the highly ranked Asian countries, where education is highly valued and parents have grand expectation.

While Finland and South Korea differ greatly in methods of teaching and learning, they hold the top spots because of a shared social belief in the importance of education and its “underlying moral purpose.”

The study arrives at a moment when the linkage between American education and America’s position in the world is getting serious attention from two very different men who seek to influence policy.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a perennial potential Republican candidate for president, said yesterday that the U.S. should adopt global benchmarks for students. He told an audience in Washington, D.C., that American students are competing in a world that is increasingly global and digital.

“Where is the outrage?” demanded Bush, who has long made education reform his signature issue — with some controversial results.

According to ABC News:

Education gaps yield income gaps, Bush said, which are perpetuated by a lack of knowledge, particularly among socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

Those who are born in the middle class tend to stay there, Bush pointed out, but those who are born poor also tend to stay poor, so upward mobility is limited.

“This idyllic notion of who we are as a nation is going away,” he said.

The United States spends more money on its students than other countries, yet many students are not qualified for jobs. Even in this tough economy, there is a dearth of qualified candidates for many jobs in science and engineering fields. Conversely, countries such as India graduate an increasing number of qualified jobseekers.

And just this morning, Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist and best-selling author, offered his own, unorthodox choice of U.S. secretary of state to replace Hillary Clinton, who is soon to retire: Arne Duncan.

Friedman wants the education secretary and former chief of Chicago’s school system to represent America on the world stage because education is so crucially important.

The biggest issue in the world today is growth, and, in this information age, improving educational outcomes for more young people is now the most important lever for increasing economic growth and narrowing income inequality. In other words, education is now the key to sustainable power. To have a secretary of state who is one of the world’s leading authorities on education, well, everyone would want to talk to him.

Back to that global ranking. Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief adviser on education, said the survey’s findings show that spending on education is important, but not as much as having a culture that supports learning.

The BBC writes:

Spending is easier to measure, but the more complex impact of a society’s attitude to education can make a big difference.

The success of Asian countries in these rankings reflects the high value attached to education and the expectations of parents. This can continue to be a factor when families migrate to other countries, says the report accompanying the rankings.

Looking at the two top countries – Finland and South Korea – the report says that there are many big differences, but the common factor is a shared social belief in the importance of education and its “underlying moral purpose.”

The report also emphasises the importance of high-quality teachers and the need to find ways to recruit the best staff. This might be about status and professional respect as well as levels of pay.

The rankings show that there is no clear link between higher relative pay and higher performance.

And there are direct economic consequences of high and low performing education systems, the study says, particularly in a globalised, skill-based economy.




Give an illiterate child a tablet, see what happens

Plenty of people are wary of laptops and other mobile devices making their way into classrooms. A couple of weeks ago, a Pew survey of teachers found that almost 90 percent said digital technologies are hurting kids’ attention spans.

But here’s a side of the story that compels attention.

In April, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)  project delivered about 40 PCs to a remote Ethiopian village, a place with no written language — no street signs, no newspapers, not even  labels on boxes or bottles. None of the children had ever seen a written word.

OLPC left the tablets in several sealed boxes. The Motorola Xoom tablets, charged by solar power, were loaded with books, games and other apps in English. They also had tracking software to let researchers see how the tablets would be used.

The organization’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte, described what happened:

We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes!

Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up.

Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village.

And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.

Ed McNierney, OLPC’s chief technology officer, elaborated:

The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kids’ tablet looked different.  We had installed software to prevent them from doing that. And the fact they worked around it was clearly the kind of creativity, the kind of inquiry, the kind of discovery that we think is essential to learning.

The continuing question, Negroponte told a conference last month in Cambridge, Mass., is whether those Ethiopian children learn to read and write in English, and how quickly they might do it.

This is critical because “if you can learn to read, you can read to learn,” he said. “If they can do that, it [could] not only impact the 100 million kids who can’t go to school, but might also help us understand how to help the educational system here.”

The implications of such powerful evidence of self-learning can be enormous, even for the developed world. American school administrators generally work very hard at regulating students’ use of high-tech gizmos. Maybe they should think a bit about leaving the kids to their own devices.

“I’ve seen what my 6-year-olds can do with an iPad,” says Robert Schwartz, a Los Angeles educator in the Huffington Post. “This generation of students are digital natives and we need to honor that by encouraging them to surpass what we know and are able to do with the technology.”

Schwartz says that adults shouldn’t abdicate their responsibilities, but should use technology to change the way they interact with students.

For example:

Create a culture in the classroom/school where students help each other by teaching each others what they learned on-line while the teacher steers and guides each student through the completion of the specific task, helping them when they are stuck or off-track. Sometimes that help may be telling them to learn from another student who knows more about that than the teacher.

Where do you think Negroponte’s experiment could lead to?

(Photo: One Laptop Per Child)

See TeacherMate in action in Rwanda

Here’s a portrait of TeacherMate in action.

An organization called Edify, which says its mission is to “improve and expand sustainable affordable Christ-centered education in the developing world,” is using TeacherMate in a school in Rwanda.

The Imena Preparatory School has been using TeacherMate since June.

Gates Bryant, Edify’s director of education partnerships, recently sent us this update:

“TeacherMate has been an integral tool for setting up learning-centers within the classroom – effectively driving down the teacher:student ratio and providing a structure for more individual/small group attention.  We are cautiously optimistic about the pilot at this point and are looking forward to seeing post-test results in November. “

Edify produced this terrific video to show what’s happening at the Imena school:

Edify is now training teachers to use TeacherMate in two schools in Ghana.  It hopes to expand to more schools in Ghana and to start a TeacherMate pilot in the Dominican Republic.

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