Special Report

Global Links

By The Editors — May 06, 2004 4 min read
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Singaporean educators are finding that technology is useful in fostering more self-directed learning, a shift away from the traditional “learn and drill” culture of that Asian nation’s schools. A cultural affinity for digital technologies in Iceland—spurred largely by a historical need to overcome geographic isolation—has filtered down to the schools in the North Atlantic island nation. Meanwhile, in Canada, some schools have scaled back aggressive technological approaches to make more time for basic academic teaching.

The world outside the United States is rich with lessons about how technology can be used in schools. Technology Counts 2004—the seventh edition of Education Week’s annual report on educational technology—presents a groundbreaking overview of technology in schools around the world, examining data, lessons, and trends in North America, Asia, Europe, South America, Africa, and the Australia/Pacific region.

To enhance that global perspective, three Education Week writers also traveled to schools in Singapore, Iceland, and Canada—countries where technology is an important feature of the educational landscape—to get classroom-level views of what’s happening.

This perspective on the use of technology in education reflects Education Week’s increasing emphasis on international coverage. Over the past three years, the newspaper has sent writers to at least 10 countries around the globe to see how issues of common concern are unfolding in different places and what lessons might be imported to the United States. Along the way, the paper has found a burgeoning K-12 international community, educators who live in different countries and speak different languages sharing ideas and lessons, and even commiserating about the challenges of teaching in the 21st century.

Technology holds a special place within this emphasis on the international dimension in education. In so many ways, it is the tool that makes it possible for educators from faraway places to establish links with one another. And when educators establish those links, they help build the global understanding and cultural awareness that are vital in today’s connected world.

Some organizations have already begun to examine the world of educational technology. The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, for instance, released a report in summer 2003, “Technology, Innovation, and Educational Change: A Global Perspective,” that looks at 174 case studies in 28 countries.

Chris Dede, a professor of learning technologies at Harvard University’s graduate school of education, writes in the report that the “conditions necessary for the successful integration of learning technologies vary—and are uniform—across subject areas, grade levels, teaching philosophies, cultures, and other contextual factors in classroom settings.”

Much is happening, or is poised to happen, in classrooms around the world.

By most standards, for instance, Mexico lags behind the United States and Canada in access to basic technology. But Mexican and international observers predict the nation is likely to see a vast expansion of technological resources in its schools in the years ahead. Mexican officials are investing an estimated $1 billion to install a computer in every classroom in all of the country’s primary schools by 2005.

The emphasis in the United States has evolved beyond the goal of simply putting computers in schools. The American focus now is on judging technology programs’ effectiveness, a push that has gained new momentum under the current Bush administration, observers note.

Schools in the more advanced countries in Europe have a similar emphasis, experts say.

“The challenge is how to use it in your school,” says Joke Voogt, an education researcher in the Netherlands. “Most teachers have basic [technology] skills; but the next question is integration in their practice, in their subject areas.”

Meanwhile, countries such as South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have adopted far-reaching national “master plans” to install high-speed computers in schools, train teachers to bolster their lessons by using technology, and encourage students to conduct online research, build Web sites, and tackle Internet-based projects. But some of their poorer Asian neighbors—such as Vietnam, Laos, and Mongolia—lack such blueprints, and many schools in those nations are literally decades behind the more advanced countries.

Most nations in Africa are also decades behind. One of the biggest obstacles to bringing technology to schools in Africa is simply a lack of sufficient infrastructure, such as phone lines and electricity.

Still, “there is an upward curve of awareness and policies [regarding educational technology],” says Shafika Isaacs, the executive director of SchoolNet Africa, a nonprofit technology-advocacy group. Thirteen of Africa’s 53 countries now have some kind of broad policy that promotes technology in education, she says, though governments have highly uneven success in carrying out those policies.

The global theme of Technology Counts 2004 is supplemented by the annual features of the report, such as a review of national trends in the use of educational technology and snapshots of the steps that states have taken to use educational technology more effectively. Data tables with state-by-state statistics on technology use in schools are also included.

We hope you’ll find information here that will put the use of technology in its global context and help you see valuable lessons that can be learned from other nations.

A version of this article appeared in the May 06, 2004 edition of Education Week


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