Researchers released illuminating results last week from a study of Romanian school children with access to computers. Students who bought PCs through a state-sponsored assistance program spent less time sleeping or doing homework and performed worse on tests than their peers without computers. This may surprise some, given the perceived advantages of educational computing. But the devil is in the details. In Romania, the computers were provided and used with no meaningful supervision or guidance from parents or teachers.
Commentators correctly point out that the findings weaken claims by the One Laptop Per Child initiative that students can construct their own learning with the right equipment and little or no help from teachers. The “constructivist” approach sounds great in theory, as teacher training expenses – a major cost component for school technology projects – could be dramatically decreased. But it does not resonate with career educators who emphasize the crucial role of teacher training in successful IT implementations. To truly reap the benefits of computers in education, teachers need more extensive and continual multi-faceted training, onsite support, a platform for meaningful collaboration, and access to relevant content.
The education segment is one of the most strategic markets in developing countries because the budget is reliable and today’s students are tomorrow’s consumers. A few multinational companies have developed programs that help reduce the cost of teacher training for emerging-market schools. Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program and the Intel Teach program have made considerable contributions in many countries, but training is often limited to the conveyance of basic computer literacy, and online resources require reliable, affordable Internet access. There is an opportunity for MNCs to win greater brand loyalty among all education stakeholders by broadening their teacher training and content development assistance. When MNCs address this significant pain point for schools, education officials will be able to prove the value of tech expenditures and justify continued and larger investments.
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