Monday, February 24, 2014

Making Connections b/w Computing Education & International Development Expertise

The concerns and constraints impacting computing education efforts in developing and developed countries surely differ in important ways that effect strategy and policy. To cite just one obvious example, when electricity is not reliable or perhaps even available, assuming people will learn on computers is not a given. Hence, as I mentioned in my previous post, the centrality of mobile phones as communication and delivery mechanisms in the developing world.

On the other hand, based upon much that I heard at the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week (UMLW), many issues of related to economics, pedagogy, and equity are shared by many countries and regions regardless of where they are on the development spectrum. What this means is that in policy conversations there are significant opportunities for cross fertilization of knowledge and understanding.

For example, let's consider pedagogical knowledge: Over the past few decades the education research community has delved deeply into both quantitative and qualitative studies of cognition and affect as it relates to student learning. Branches of this community have specifically focused on educational technology in the classroom. Other branches have focused on the STEM disciplines. We learned some time ago that technology in and of itself does not solve problems and that computing technology brings with it new classroom control and assessment challenges. In response there has been, and continues to be, research and significant dialog about how to leverage technology in support of student learning.

If you are part of the computing education community then most likely I am preaching to the choir. The reason I bring it up is because at the UMLW many people asked questions about basic pedagogical issues that arise when computing technology enters the classroom. My impression was that this was, for many, a new topic and a serious concern. It appeared there was a lack of awareness of existing relevant research. Here lies an opportunity for the education research community (computing, engineering, STEM) to share with like minded peers in the development community.

Now let's consider gender issues: The development community has extensive experience with the relationship between gender participation and economic development. My understanding is that it has been well documented how targeting women for education and training leads to improved economic circumstances well beyond that achieved by the women themselves. A lesser impact is seen when men in the same communities are the sole recipients of interventions.

You often get more bang for your buck (literally) by actively working to equalize opportunities for women in arenas where they are under represented or excluded. Fact, not philosophical position. Why should this be thought a phenomenon that applies only to developing countries? When one starts to delve into the details, it seems crazy to make such an assumption. Here lies an opportunity for the development community to share with like minded peers in the education research and policy communities (computing, engineering, STEM).

Then there is the matter of high wage high skill computing jobs world wide. In the US we have recently been discussing Department of Labor statistics about the large and growing number of well paying computing jobs predicted at least through 2020 (as far forward as current projections go). I heard virtually the same story about ICT workforce development projected statistics in Europe: a projected increase of 16 million high skill workers needed by 2015, and a projected lack of 900,000 people to fill these jobs by the same year. The speaker who rattled off these statistics then discussed affiliations with industry, education and policy leaders that sounded much like those we are cultivating in the US.

Although I didn't catch statistics, I heard reports on the growing need for engineering and technology savvy workers in countries across Africa as well. There was an interesting presentation about an Engineering education initiative that UNESCO has started in response to this need.

Policy and strategy implementation have to be contextualized. Considerations of such things as whether a country has a centralized government, an active Education Ministry, an established national curriculum, and a host of other things too numerous to mention are reminders that one size will not fit all when it comes to computing technology (ICT) education initiatives we may contemplate.

By touching on just one or two areas where I see opportunities for sharing and collaboration between communities working in the Developed and Developing world, I hope I have piqued your interest. Whether you are in education, industry, computing/ICT or the development field, I hope you are pondering ways we can learn from one another in pursuit of our common goals.

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